Yet Another Turning Aid

MJ was a little bit less sensitive this week. I had learned my lesson and curried his back with my gentlest curry comb, the Zoom Groom Cat grooming tool, with soft and flexible inch long prongs that feel rubbery, this is the tool that I use on his head. He did not flinch at all when I used it on his back, but when I used my wooden massage roller on his back he flinched at on point in the center right of his back. Debbie told me he had been used in lessons to teach beginners how to sit the trot and that was probably what made his back feel sensitive.

Since I made good and sure not to irritate him unbearably when grooming MJ stood nice and still when I worked on him. Debbie did not have many problems either, again by avoiding all the grooming tools that MJ considers just too harsh for a sensitive soul such as himself. I remember reading in several books from the olden times how horses could be driven completely insane by harsh grooming and harsh grooming tools. So long as I figure out the grooming tools MJ finds comfortable and as long as I do not press down too hard with these tools, peace should rule in the wash stall and everybody will be happy.

When I started my lesson Debbie asked me to work a little bit on his sitting trot. As I have explained before I tend to avoid the sitting trot now because I do not like jarring my brain and spinal cord, but since Debbie said MJ needed training at the sitting trot I will make an exception for him. MJ's slow trot is not terrible, but there is definitely jarring when he lands on a diagonal while he keeps his back muscles STIFF. I do not blame MJ at all for this, he is such a quiet and reliable horse beginners get put up on him and his back can suffer from these beginners' seat bones crashing into the saddle.

After our first trot I concentrated on getting his back “swinging” at the walk, using my alternating legs to get him to move out and making sure that my seat bones did not impede the movement of his back. After a while he relaxed, got his back “swinging” and I asked for the sitting trot again.

This time he started off stiff too, so I got into a half seat and concentrated on moving my hips so that my seat bones moved with his back muscles. After a little while he finally started “swinging” his back some, so we stopped the sitting trot and I praised him for being such a good boy. I told Debbie that if I rode MJ twice a week it would probably take me a month or two to get his back muscles more relaxed. Of course Debbie realizes that since MJ has other riders that I won't get immediate results, and all it will take to get MJ's back stiff again is beginning riders pounding on his back until they learn how to sit the trot properly. This can be a difficulty for someone trying to re-school a horse, but since I am now just riding lesson horses it is just something I have to work around.

Then we got into the fun part of the lesson. I started off by using my rectus femoris muscle on the front of my right thigh to move my right lower leg an inch or two forward while at the same time I was looking to the left with my shoulders following my head, at the point in MJ's stride that I used my outside leg aid at the girth for a turn. My reins started off sagging and they stayed pretty loose even though MJ stretched his neck some to take a really light contact. I was not expecting much, but MJ obeyed this new, completely unschooled aid, pretty well, he turned gradually to the left.

I then stopped and told Debbie exactly what I had done to get the turn, where I had read about this method, the history and high achievements of the author (in other words he was NOT an unschooled wacko way out on the fringes of European higher horsemanship). I had discussed this method with Debbie over a decade ago, back when I had not figured out how to keep track of my foot. But now, keeping track of the big muscle in front of my thigh I can tell that my foot has moved forward and I have a rough idea of where my foot ends up in relation to the horse's side.

I then went on trying it in both directions, though mostly turning to the right. I noticed two things about my position, first my foot—when I moved it forward this way my foot ended up parallel to the horse's side. My heel and spur were definitely not touching MJ, and my lower leg was not putting any real pressure on MJ. My lower leg looked like it was operating in thin air. Debbie told me that when I was turning MJ this way he had gotten off his forehand. Thinking about this afterwards I realized that the only muscle that could have influenced MJ into the turn was the medial soleus right above the inside of my ankle, and if that muscle was giving the aid it was a really subtle aid with no force behind it, unlike my usual leg aids. This muscle is the one I've occasionally used since I read about it for my driving leg aids, and every time I used it Debbie said MJ got off his forehand. So maybe this muscle which I've ignored all of my previous riding life works even if my foot is not at the girth.

The other thing I noticed is that when I moved my right lower leg forward a little more weight ended up on my left seat bone. I did not intend for it to affect how I weighed my left seat bone, it just did, so that probably helped in making my new turning aid understandable to MJ. Throughout my riding life I have occasionally played with trying to weigh one seat bone more than the other seat bone, and every time the horses went “Huh?” and did not seem to give me any results, in fact the attitudes of the horses were more that it was an irritation that blocked the movement of their backs. MJ did not act like that at all, he did not seem to consider it a rude aid that interfered with his movement, and went on turning peacefully without showing any irritation. So maybe I have finally found a polite and subtle way to weigh my inside seat bone for a turn. I will experiment with this further if I remember to.

We also did a good bit of trotting, more trotting than I have done in years during a lesson. Debbie was complaining again about him being on his forehand but now I have a a leg aid that is truly subtle, does not drive the horse up against the bit, and does not irritate the horse, to get him off his forehand. This is good to know and it will make me a more effective rider. I will just have to figure out how to coordinate my legs during the trot, both sitting and posting, so I can get MJ off his forehand enough to make Debbie happy with us. I did get him off his forehand by making my contact firmer but there are times when my hands get so bad that I do not want to keep contact at the trot because the horses get irritated. Now I have a hope of getting the horse off his forehand without using my hands much at all.

Debbie enjoys it when I bring something I've read in my equitation books to her attention, and then try to show her how it works on the horse. Debbie is always ready, willing and able to learn new things that will help her teach her students how to become better riders. I am so fortunate she is my riding teacher!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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