Debbie Tells Me to GET MY HEELS DOWN

On Wednesday, when I got to the stable, Debbie had already groomed Bingo.  She told me how MUCH she liked having her own pair of the HandsOn grooming gloves since she could go ahead and groom Bingo for my ride.  She really appreciates being able to get down and scrub the horse’s skin, especially his back and cannon bones where crud tends to accumulate.  Using these grooming gloves really seems to prevent the accumulation of fungus in the horse’s coat and that awful crud that builds up on the cannon bones, all while the horse not only accepts the scrubbing but also goes more, More, MORE, enjoying every second of the process!

Since Debbie was ready, it was not as hot as usual when we got out to the ring.  Bingo and I did our normal warm-up of wending our way around all the jumps in the ring, gradually tightening the curves and doing more drastic changes of the flexion of the his body.  I was using my inside thigh to encourage Bingo’s inward flexion in the turns, and he loosened up enough that I felt free to trot before it got even hotter and more humid.  Bingo gave me a decent trot on contact, and at no time during our trots did Bingo try to invert himself.  I was so pleased!  After a minute of resting I trotted Bingo in the other direction, and Bingo continued trotting properly, keeping a good contact with my hands.  He was somewhat sluggish, as usual, meaning I had to use my lower legs a lot to keep him in the trot, and while I trotted I noticed that my lower legs did not feel as secure as they usually do.

Bingo also did not invert the one time I backed him up.  From a soft halt I first made sure my weight was on my crotch and in my stirrups, and I gently closed and opened my fingers on the reins while nudging his ribcage with my calves.  Bingo started mouthing the bit, I asked again and he backed up with one diagonal.  Then I told Bingo he had to back up a full stride, one diagonal was not enough, reapplied my aids and Bingo backed up with the other diagonal.  He never set his jaw or neck against my aids, he did not get upset, and his back remained pliant.  This is the first time Bingo has ever given me a truly decent full stride of backing up, and I praised him mightily.

Since, during this backing up Bingo never set his jaw or mighty neck muscles against the action of my hands, his hips did not “lock up” like they normally do when backing up.  While it took a few strides of the walk to get his back moving again, I did not feel the need to massage his loin muscles behind the saddle.  We went back to meandering around the jumps, and after a while I asked him for a super slow walk.  At first Bingo did not want to slow down at all, then he got the message that he was supposed to slow down, and he decided to halt.  Nudging him with my calves I got him moving again, I softened my hands and reapplied my hand aids, and after a few false starts I got several strides of a super slow walk that turned into a halt if I did not keep after him with my lower legs.  Then we went back to our normal speed of the walk.  Then I got Bingo to extend his stride somewhat without hurrying his steps too much, and we happily finished our schooling at the three speeds of the walk.

As we wandered around the jumps I was concentrating on using my upper inside thigh as his back sank under my seat.  After several minutes of this Debbie told me that she wanted me to work on my two-point more since my heels were coming up.  Great, I find a great new aid and it ends up weakening the very basis of my security in the saddle, a stable lower leg with my heel down.  No wonder I felt more insecure at the trot!  By that time I was too hot and tired to do much two-point, but I did concentrate on keeping my weight in my heels and Debbie said I improved some. 

No wonder this aid did not make it into the Forward Seat tool kit, since a Forward Seat rider’s security in the saddle comes from stable lower legs with the heels down.  This stable lower leg enables us to keep our front-to-back balance better and it keeps the calf muscles tight enough to apply effective grip when needed.  To keep my security in the saddle I will have to use my upper thigh aid only on Bingo’s most resistant curves, and I will have to make sure to get my heels down again after completing that curve.  That means I will have to forget about doing my experiments of getting Bingo going truly straight using mostly my alternating upper thighs.  At least I will not make myself as tired as I have been ever since I started experimenting with using my upper thigh as an aid.

This means tomorrow, when I get to ride Cider again and my grandson will get to ride Magic, I will go back to encouraging straightness by keeping my seat centered from side to side, using my lower legs and by establishing even contact with the bit.  This process is nowhere as simple as just using my upper thigh, but it will not weaken my seat which, since it will be hot and humid, will not be as tight and secure as I want it to be anyway.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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