After Five Weeks off Cider Turns into a Pretzel Again

After Five Weeks off Cider Turns into a Pretzel Again   

Last Sunday I finally got to ride Cider again.  She did not seem too thrilled about the prospect when Shannon groomed her and tacked her up.  She did nothing bad, she just did not seem to like the fact that her vacation was over.

Going into the ring was fine.  Everything was fine until I asked her to walk by the fence on contact, the Cider started twisting herself, head toward Shannon, bulging out against my outside leg, and resisting every request I made for going straight.  I brought her off the fence and did many big smooth curves around the ring, and after I got her on contact I tried back by the fence again.  There was no change.  Cider acted as if she had never been taught anything of higher equitation, contact, light responses to the leg, and the influence of my seat.  I brought her off the fence again and this time I asked her to back up by advancing my waist--absolutely no response.  Remember, the very first time I had asked Cider to back up by just advancing my waist and holding my hands still she responded readily, and she had responded readily each time since then when I asked her to back up by just advancing my waist.  She did not respond at all, she did not change her stance, and she showed no signs of recognizing the fact that I had advanced my waist, much less that advancing my waist was an aid at all.

Fine, Cider’s vacation was obviously too long.  Among all the horses I have ridden Cider is the only one that “forgets” her training after several weeks off.  Hey, I had an Arab mare that remembered a new aid after a TWO YEAR break from riding.  Cider is half-Arab, she is reasonably smart, but after an extended break (three weeks or longer) it seems like I have to train her all over again, just like a reluctant school boy going back to school after his summer vacation.  I stopped her and thought hard on how I had dealt with this recurrent problem before, but I was too tired by then to go through all the hassle.  Then I remembered reading on the COTH dressage forum about the idea of “from the inside leg to the outside hand.”  I had no real idea of exactly how the dressage riders do this, but I figured if I did the leg aid with my inside leg when her hind leg on that side was in the air, and then alternated with just a “feel” on the bit with my outside hand, that maybe I could do a close approximation.  Since I had never done this specific combination to correct her crookedness, I hoped she would not have a built-up resistance to it.

So we went back to the fence.  Cider immediately wanted to dive in toward Shannon, of course.  For short stretches I did the new aid combination and after a few strides she started to straighten out.  I was too tired to do this perfectly, I had no contact on the inside rein and at most only a sporadic contact with the outside rein, but even so Cider responded.  Every time my concentration lapsed Cider would start diving to the inside again, then I would reapply the aids and she would straighten up for a few strides.  I was really relieved that I no longer had to keep a death grip on the outside rein, but as I got more tired I had difficulty keeping my concentration.  Finally I rode her up to Shannon, and I explained to Shannon what I was trying to do and explained the timing of my aids so I could rest a few minutes.

When Cider and I went back to the fence I told her that if she gave me one whole circuit of the ring without becoming a pretzel I would end my ride.  Cider actually cooperated, not that she was perfect but whenever she started to become crooked I did my new aid combination and she responded without any arguments.  We made it all the way around the ring, and then I kept my promise and got off her.  I hope I get to ride her tomorrow, and I hope she remembers last Sunday’s lesson.  I admit that I get somewhat frustrated with Cider when she “forgets” everything I have taught her when she has had a few weeks off.  Of course when I get back to riding her regularly she magically gets her memory back, and then things go smoothly.  Until then I just have to be consistent and firm.  Shannon told me that Cider often wants to test her rider, and boy, did Cider test me last Sunday!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran        

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