A Favorable Beginning

When I got to the stable Friday morning for my lesson, Debbie told me that Bingo was having an attack of his moon-blindness. She gave me a choice of three horses. I rejected riding on poor Bingo because I've read that horses eyes hurt during an attack, they are treating him and he just needs to chill out until he gets better.

I picked MJ, the horse Debbie introduced to me last week. He has navicular in his front feet but he is properly shod with a special shoe for navicular horses and Debbie is limiting him to walk, trot, and canter rides, no jumping.

Well, I am not jumping anyway.

She brought MJ in and I got to look at him closer. He is around 15.1+, decently conformed, a nice rich chestnut, and he reminded me of my first horse, Hat Tricks. He is in his early 20's, I checked since he's in very good condition. Then Debbie started grooming him with her HandsOn grooming gloves.

MJ is a sensual horse. He LOVES being groomed, all over. He LOVED everything Debbie did and he loved me grooming his mane, head and ears. He stuck his upper lip out, his relaxed eyes and ears were back to where Debbie was grooming, and if he had been a puppy he would have been wiggling all over the floor wagging his tail. He is also an eloquent horse, somehow he “told” me that he wanted me to start brushing out his mane up by his head, not down by the withers as I usually do it, by subtle movements of his head and neck.

Debbie decided to just use the fly sheet on him, so it was a little quicker to tack up. We had to find a girth since the girth I use on Bingo was WAY too short. This was MJ's first time for the fly sheet, my BOT pad, my Pegasus Butterfly saddle, the Micklem bridle and the Fager Bianca snaffle with the roller. He accepted everything and on the way to the riding ring he was obviously relaxed and happy.

Debbie was sort of worried that I would find MJ too tall after riding all the 14+ hand horses I ride. I told her it was no sweat, he was around the size of Hat Tricks and I had no problems.

We started off walking around the fences while Debbie told me about his history. He'd lived at her stable years ago, his owner went off to another stable, he ended up being a lesson horse, and Debbie got him after his navicular disease became obvious. I could feel the navicular pain a tiny bit, then he warmed up and felt sound.

MJ showed a lot of the usual gaping holes in training that I find with a lot of lesson horses. He was stiff to turn, slow to stop, and found the gate very attractive, but he moved forth fearlessly so I just concentrated on teaching him my language of the aids. After a few minutes of testing me (if I would let him carry me off, at a walk, to the gate) he started to find what I was doing interesting. This horse has a pre-frontal cortex and he knows how to use it!

At first I worked mainly on his turning. It was not that he refused to turn, he was very cooperative, it was that his whole body felt as stiff as a board while he turned from a hand aid, from a lower leg aid, from some light seat aids, and I finally found some success using my inside thigh when my seat went up on that side. Then I could minimize the hand aid, just using my hand lightly a little bit to add some emphasis to my thigh aid. He improved.

Debbie started telling me that he was crossing his hind legs correctly when I asked him to. He reached out more for the bit, giving me a light supple contact with a relaxed tongue and mouth. I introduced him to my aids for a turn in place, both hind and fore. Every time he started to move where I wanted him to move I stopped my aids, counted to 10, praised him to the skies, and sent him to Debbie for further praise. MJ was not totally sure about what praise meant at the beginning, but he learned quickly and was very pleased with the experience, especially when Debbie praised him. He was so pleased that Debbie became the great attraction over the gate.

After around 20 minutes Debbie told me that MJ had started off all strung out (like he usually does apparently), then he started to bring his hind legs forward under his body properly. He “put himself together” and moved well. She also told me it was not from any specific action of mine. I think she was saying I was not “formally” driving with my legs to send to the bit, I just asked him to do stuff and he put himself together because I did not interfere.

He was rather “sticky” when I asked him to back up. At first it was shifting a foot back a tiny bit, and the first time I accepted four of these micro steps. The second time he was even stickier on his right side, and again I accepted it when he finally gave me the four micro steps I asked for in response to my light hand and leg aids. This was the worse part of my ride and it was not bad at all, just a little sticky moving back. Normal school horse behavior, as was his stiff turning and reluctance to halt (especially headed toward the gate).

At one point MJ was pointing to his right shoulder with his nose. I checked his fly sheet and it felt a little tight over the front of his shoulder, so I asked Debbie to loosen the neck part of the fly sheet. After that MJ stopped pointing to his shoulder and walked on happily.

I am THRILLED! MJ is a properly conformed riding horse with a very amiable disposition, there is nothing to prevent him from becoming the type of riding horse I prefer, with free forward movement, accepting the bit, light in the mouth and responsive to my leg aids. All I have to do is not mess up, and as long as I give him time to think stuff through, accept his first steps, and praise him lavishly and frequently I think we are off to a great start!

MJ is already a GOOD horse. The sky is the limit on the flat.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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