Yes, the BOT Exercise Boots DO Help Bingo
My lesson was on Friday, and it was a simply gorgeous May morning. The sun was out, the birds were singing, the balmy breeze wafted around, and Bingo looked like he had shedded out most of his winter coat. Unfortunately his Guardian Face Mask had rubbed the hair off of his head in two places, the bare patches were not big but they were there. Debbie said she'd leave the face mask off for a little while, not ideal for Bingo's eyes but we do not want open sores during fly season.
I did a bit more grooming him than I did last week, brushing him mane out (which he LOVES) and grooming his head lightly after Debbie had cleaned it off by scrubbing lightly with a wet wash rag. I almost forgot his hats but Debbie reminded me, and we both forgot about his BOT exercise boots until rather late in the game. Debbie was looking at his normal wind-puff on his right hind leg which was smaller though he had some puffiness further up his cannon bone, and we decided to see how Bingo would do without his exercise boots. A half hour ride of mostly walk and a little bit of trot, I was not going to overwork his legs after all.
Bingo was not hostile about my leg aids, but when I started off walking him around he was “sticky”, his nice free swinging walk had disappeared and he was sluggish to my leg aids. He most certainly DID NOT want to extend his stride at the walk. At the same time his back was much stiffer, so stiff that I checked to make sure we had put his BOT exercise sheet on. Debbie noticed that his turns to the right were a lot stiffer than his turns to the left, but on both directions he acted much stiffer than usual. I concentrated on trying to get Bingo to loosen up, and we trotted a lot earlier in the lesson than usual. In a posting trot I concentrated on big gradual turns, changing his flexion to the side pretty frequently. He loosened up a little bit, I'd go back to the walk, then I would have to trot him again to get any hint of impulse. Turning at the trot was harder for him and the curves had to be bigger than usual to get him to change the flexion of his body from one side to the other, his back would just jam up on the sharper curves.
We sort of “accepted” his stiffness the first half of the lesson, of course we did not have much choice since Bingo was stiff for reasons other than my riding. Debbie kept after my right hand which would go wandering off on its own, getting me to shorten that rein and take better contact. She did tell me that it did not seem to make much difference to Bingo if my right hand was drifted off to the side instead of staying in its proper position, but it offended her riding teacher's eye. That was fine with me, I do want to become a good rider! She was pleased with my left lower leg, the one that usually drifts back, and praised my lower legs as strong and stable. I am so glad I figured that one out!
After a little bit more than half my lesson I gave up on reaching “perfect” contact, loosened my reins and did my turning signals with my upper thighs. Turning to the left Bingo was sort of OK with relaxing his spine during a turn, but to the right he remained stiff, stiff, stiff in his back. So we meandered around the jumps, I used my thighs to change the flexion of his body and my lower legs to keep him moving at a decent speed (he wanted to go about 1 MPH), keeping the reins loose and making sure that I kept breathing with my diaphragm. His turns to the left improved a little bit, he was reaching for the bit better, but it was not the usual delightful, light response to my aids.
The last few minutes of my lesson I concentrated on getting his spine to loosen up turning to the right, mainly with my thigh, and I only used the rein aids to keep him from getting too close to the jump standards. Finally, finally, his spine started to loosen up a tiny bit and I could feel him starting to change the flexion of his body, so I sent him to Debbie for praise and I got off his back.
I knew that Bingo liked his exercise boots, when Debbie puts them on his head starts to come down, his eyes soften, and he starts chewing and licking. His whole attitude towards life improves. He leads better with a nice swinging walk stride, and when I get up to ride he moves off with suppleness. Without the BOT exercise boots that all disappeared, his whole body stiffened up, he dragged being led, and he just did not want to relax into moving.
Now I know, Bingo NEEDS his exercise boots to feel comfortable enough to give me a good ride. Without them I could feel the effects of the “minor” pains in his lower legs (he trotted sound, both directions, on and off contact) go all the way up to his spine and from there to his mouth. Usually now when I ask for contact or for him to reach out to the bit more his lower jaw remains relaxed and mobile and his tongue is the first thing to reach out to the bit. Usually when I ask Bingo to extend the stride of his walk he relaxes into the longer stride, pushing forward with his hind legs. Without the exercise boots that all disappeared. He did not balk, but he was not confidently reaching forward with his head and his back was reluctant to “swing.” He turned from a delightful, sensitive and responsive riding horse into a riding school plug, loathe to move and resistant to the aids.
Next week I will make sure that Debbie puts his exercise boots on.
I have noticed with horses that they do not agree with us about whether something is minor or not. From the headpieces of bridles, the bits, how the saddle fits on their backs, whether they find the saddle pad comfortable, horses have definite opinions about all the little, picky details about their tack and how it fits them. The horses really do not care that we, the riders, think that they should move some particular way, if the horse is uncomfortable in any way we riders can think all we want about perfection but the horse will not give it to us. We can flail around with our legs, get really handsy, do contortions on their backs with our seats, but the horses will not give us what we want usually just because the horse is uncomfortable with something, either our gear (or lack of a particular piece of equipment) or our riding.
The horse is always right.
LISTEN to your horse.
If you do you may well turn your problem horse who flails around uncontrollably into a delightful, responsive riding horse who obeys every aid cheerfully.
Have a great ride!