It Takes a Great Amount of Time
Instead of another boring tale of another boring ride on Bingo, this week I will describe WHY Bingo's rehabilitation takes so much time. When I started riding Bingo on April 6, 2016, my first impression of Bingo's conformation was that he was a total disaster as far as suitability for a fine riding horse. Bingo had a VERY high croup, his back definitely sloped downhill to his withers, his back sagged into a distressing sway back, his throat latch looked like it belonged on an 18 hand Belgian stallion, and his neck looked very low set when he just stood relaxed. When I started riding him Bingo showed no signs at all of training in the finer points of horsemanship. While he took contact readily enough he had only a vague idea of what my rein aids meant, and I had to teach him how to react to my legs correctly. If Bingo had ever been ridden by a skilled rider, the ensuing years of bad riding and neglect in a pasture wiped all evidence of that out. That day I realized that Bingo would be a LONG TERM project. As I rode around the ring I told Debbie about his obvious lack of training as a fine riding horse, and she just said that no sane rider who saw Bingo would ever pick him as worthy of good training. Why waste time and effort on a horse who has no hope of ever advancing beyond the basic gaits?
Debbie and I agreed that the first thing we HAD TO work on was getting Bingo's swayed back stronger. Bingo totally lacked the “normal” QH back muscles, and his back looked weak. Because he had such a short “flat” part of his back that was suitable for carrying a saddle we had to get creative. To be brutally honest my wonderful 17” Crosby was too long for his back. We used the Corrector, which helped some, and the Contender II BOT/ThinLine saddle pad, and I concentrated on keeping my seat as far forward as my saddle would let me. For the next four months progress was SLOW, I just concentrated on teaching Bingo the language of my hand aids, the language of my leg aids, and I worked a lot on teaching Bingo that he did not HAVE TO run around inverted, his favorite defense against being ridden.
After riding Bingo for 5 months I finally got the money to buy a good saddle that could fit on a wide variety of horses. I had been looking on the web at three brands of saddles, the Tad Coffin saddles with his Smart Ride tree (which did not look any shorter than my Crosby,) the new Bua saddle (which did not “feel” right in my imagination for Bingo's sway back,) and the Pegasus Butterfly Saddle. I bought the Pegasus Butterfly saddle because it was the only saddle that looked short enough for Bingo's back. and because it was the only saddle in which I had any hope of getting my seat bones forward in the seat and off of the weakest part of his back. After several distressing rides we switched to just using the Contender II pad with the bridging shims, and the saddle finally stabilized somewhat on Bingo's back.
That was when I finally started to make some progress in “rebuilding” Bingo's physique. Since the Pegasus Butterfly saddle does not have the pommel arch of normal English saddles I was able to get my seat at least one inch closer to his withers which took the weight off the weakest part of his back. This enabled Bingo to use his back muscles for something else than cramping up desperately so his back would not sag painfully under my weight. This in turn meant that Bingo was able to relax his back some and to start following my guidance in how to use his neck effectively. With his back muscles and his neck muscles able to work smoothly instead of cramping up painfully, Bingo was better able to use his hindquarters effectively and to build up the muscles in his hindquarters. When I finally got my silicon full seat tights in May I rediscovered my security in the saddle and I quit bothering Bingo's back with my unbalanced riding and his back started working even better.
That was when I started to see Bingo's back muscling up in spite of me riding him only 30 minutes a week. Greatly encouraged I continued our walk (three speeds) and trot (3 speeds, well sort of) work, along with the smooth curves and turns on the hindquarters, turns on the forehand and backing up. While doing his physical therapy I also worked on his mental therapy, trying through lots of praise to get Bingo to take PRIDE in his work. Bingo has a great “gift” of looking sullen and thoroughly pissed off with the Universe, a certain look that just about guarantees a miserable ride. My challenge was to make the necessary physical therapy as interesting and pain free as possible. This is the one thing that is helped by me riding him only 30 minutes each week, our lessons become relief from the boredom of just hanging out in the pasture with nothing much to do, instead of being daily, boring drudgery, and his muscles have plenty of time to recover.
Gradually Bingo started looking at us kindly instead of with his usual sullen expression when led to the grooming area. He started “expressing” appreciation for the grooming (especially after I got my HandsOn grooming gloves), for all the various Back on Track gear we use on him (saddle pad, exercise boots on each leg, exercise sheet, poll cap and the Fenwick mask with ears), and he stopped acting up when Debbie led him out to the ring. His ear shyness improved greatly, and we finally got him comfortable enough with his girth so he quit threatening to nip us when his girth got tightened. Debbie and I got Bingo to stop DREADING being groomed, tacked up and ridden, and now he accepts our actions and understands what we want him to do.
While I worked on softening Bingo's response to my hand aids, getting Bingo to step under himself with his hind legs, and improving his use of his neck, my major concern has been to deal with his weak back. Since I can now get my weight FORWARD in the saddle, and since I finally got strong enough to get my whole seat out of the saddle in two-point I have been able to make progress when Bingo's back is stiff. My main concern is to get his back “swinging”, so I can FEEL his back muscles working under me. When Bingo stiffens his back up from pain his back does not “swing” at all, his hind feet do not track forward under him, and he does not use his neck correctly. All he does is make his physical problems worse. When I get his back “swinging” his neck relaxes and starts working properly, and his hind feet track forward under his center of gravity. My goal is to get his back muscles relaxed enough and strong enough so he has some hope of bringing his back up under the saddle. Will Bingo ever be able to do this with his swayed back? I don't know. I do know that if I do not get Bingo's back and abdomen muscles strong enough he will never be ABLE to raise his back under the saddle.
All of this takes TIME. Bingo cannot grow himself a whole new body in an hour, a week, a month, or a year. It takes time for muscles to get stronger, it takes time for him to learn how to coordinate his body to move properly, and it takes time to teach Bingo how to be intelligent physically when he obeys his rider's aids. If Bingo had good riding conformation it would still take months to develop his muscles so that he could carry his riders properly; with his thick throat latch, his neck attached low on his breast, his swayed back and his HIGH croup it will take much, much longer to get his physique good enough to become just a so-so riding horse. Luckily Debbie is not looking for Bingo to become a high level riding horse, she just wants him to give beginners and advanced beginners a somewhat decent ride. She wants obedience to the aids, not superior movement in response to the aids. Bingo has already shown some progress in becoming a lesson horse, lately he has not run away with anyone and he is behaving a lot better during the beginner lessons. He has even stopped inverting himself each and every time he trots, even under beginners.
As a Forward Seat rider I do not have goals of collection and fancy gaits. With each horse I ride, my goal is to get the horses to develop as the best riding horse they can be within the limits of their conformation. Bingo has a good chance of becoming a decent lesson horse for beginners, and maybe even for intermediate riders, IF I keep my eyes on that goal. If I get too ambitious I will be in danger of ruining Bingo even further. Slow and steady, this is the only way that Bingo will ever reach Debbie's and my goals for him. Patience, patience, and even more patience. That is the key to success with Bingo and every other horse I ride.
And this week I noticed something wonderful and new about Bingo. Where the bottom of his neck comes into his breast it looked like a pair of his muscles (one on each side) had become firmer, and the front of the bottom of his neck looked about 1/2” higher where it joins his breast. I was amazed, I never realized that a horse could alter HOW his neck joined his body. It “only” took us 15 months to get there.
Have a great ride!