Not being content with Mick’s trot I made yet another change to my padding system, this week I put the Corrector UNDER the wool saddle blanket I had adapted instead of on top of the saddle blanket.  To recap my experiences so far--with triple fold woolen Western saddle blanket Mick gave me a non-banging sitting trot but he would not move his forehand freely; with a double fold wool blanket with the Corrector between the folds Mick still gave me a sittable sitting trot and he moved his forehand better but there was no elevation of the forehand at the trot;  and then I spent hours and hours of sewing cutting down and altering the wool saddle blanket so it would move with the Corrector properly, put the Corrector on top of the altered wool blanket and Mick still gave me a sittable sitting trot and gave me the tiniest bit of elevation at the posting trot, but I had to work for hard for it.  This week it finally came together, I could both sit Mick’s trot and Mick cheerfully elevated his forehand when I asked him to do so at the posting trot.

Now, after two years of riding Mick, I have his fitness, training, and tack all working together so Mick can move like he is built to move (I am also doing Ttouch circles and a wooden ball roller massager on his back before I ride.)  Debbie was really pleased with how he moved under me at the trot during my lesson, especially when we elevated his forehand at the posting trot--she yelled out that Mick was giving me a “Arabian floating trot”, that absolutely magical Arab trot where the horse looks like he is floating over the ground, barely touching the ground with his hooves.  This trot does not have high knee action, the horse does not pound the ground at all, and the horse makes it look effortless.  I am thrilled, now that I have both ends of the trot it will be much easier for me to improve the middle of his trot.

This work will go SLOWLY.

First I will have to persuade Mick to start “swinging” his back at the trot.  I have not worked on this previously because Mick’s back was so hopelessly stiff making his sitting trot feel like I was riding a jackhammer.  Since my MS has caused significant damage to my brain I refuse to try to sit a jackhammer trot, giving myself mini-concussions to my brain makes my MS symptoms worse.  So all these years I have been patiently waiting for Mick’s back to INVITE me to sit his trot, spending my time working on getting the proper muscles built up and on keeping my seat light enough so Mick’s back muscles would have a chance to relax when I sat.  Lately I had been getting frustrated, his muscles back muscles were developing, he occasionally started “swinging” his back at the walk, but whenever I tried to sit the trot his back muscles went into spasm and the jackhammer was back, which is why I started experimenting with keeping the saddle more still on his back.  Once the saddle stabilized I was able to sit his trot much more easily, and, more important, the jackhammer disappeared.  Now I have a chance to get his back swinging by using a light and supple seat to “lead” his back into using itself correctly.  Since I only ride him half an hour a week this will take time to accomplish, and all during this time I will have to make good and sure that my seat bones NEVER, EVER bang on his back, or else the jackhammer will come back as Mick tries to defend his back by stiffening all his muscles.

On the other end, the posting trot, I will have to make sure to build up gradually.  Each time the horse alters his body to obey his rider’s aids the muscles have to get fit.  Mick is perfectly fit for doing a posting trot around the ring, a sort of slogging posting trot that feels vaguely downhill.  But he is nowhere near fit enough to do an posting trot with his forehand elevated for more than a quarter of the ring (at least that is where Mick feels like he might start falling apart.)  So long as I am patient enough to give Mick enough time to build up his muscles properly for this new type of movement I will be able to avoid creating resistances in Mick, but if I were so unwise as to constantly demand more and more of this trot Mick would probably start “spitting out the bit”, hitching his hind legs, going crooked, and I would ruin, absolutely ruin, what promises to be a somewhat spectacular trot, one in which Mick cheerfully springs from one diagonal to the other floating over the ring at a decent rate of speed.  Patience and time, for me with my handicaps this is the only road to success, the patience to realize that the horse is doing his very best within his present capabilities, and giving him the time to develop his muscles and nervous system enough so he can eventually give me whatever I ask for easily.

Last Sunday Cider gave me more lessons on getting my seat centered correctly.  I was very tired and did not get out of the walk, even so I made some progress.  More and more Cider refrained from bulging her shoulder out, though if my seat shifted at all she bulged one out immediately.  I could not pay any person enough to get the immediate corrections Cider gives me when I mess up!  Once I got my seat re-centered I had to gently convince Cider to take an even contact with the bit on both sides of her mouth.  Then I got a few steps of straight movement, a turn came, my seat shifted, and Cider bulged a shoulder out again.  Sunday I finally got my seat centered enough to make it almost halfway around the ring without a shoulder bulging out, at which point I ended the ride since I was so tired I was not going to get anything better that day. 

Cider is a mare that is perfectly content to carry me around in a haphazard manner so long as I do not ask for anything exacting.  However she will not move forward correctly at a walk--straight, on contact and with impulse--unless I ride her up to her exacting standards, with my seat perfectly centered, light leg aids, and supple hands.  If I mess up with any of these her shoulders start bulging out and she refuses to keep contact with both sides of her mouth.  She has taught me that to correct these problems it is up to me to center my seat properly FIRST, then she lets me use light leg aids to get her to meet the bit, so long as my hands are even and supple.  But the moment my seat drifts off center, my leg aids become stronger, or my hands stiffen up she bulges a shoulder out.  Cider’s reactions to me messing up are IMMEDIATE, nothing mean, nothing too emphatic, it is just that a shoulder starts bulging out and she drops contact with one side of her mouth.  I’ve had this problem for years, at first I thought it was all due to the saddles not being wide enough for her super wide back, but now that her back is comfortable with the EZ-Fit treeless saddle she has told me in no uncertain terms that a lot of our problems start with MY SEAT.  If I want better movement from her it is up to me to correct the centering of my seat, then she is willing to give me what I want.

I used to dream of being able to take lessons from a top teacher on well trained expensive horses.  I never had enough money to do that.  I have found though, that cheap ruined horses are just as capable as the top riding teachers in pointing out my many, many faults and in telling me immediately when I do something right.  Cider is now teaching me something that I could spend thousands of dollars with a dressage teacher to learn, and riding Cider just costs me $10.00 USD a ride.  When I finally get my seat, legs and hands up to Cider’s standards I will be a much better rider and I will not have to spend a lot of money getting there.

You want to become a better rider?  You want to get your horse moving properly?  You do not have the money for expensive lessons?  LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE.  Your horse’s reactions to your seat and aids are real, they are immediate, and they are absolutely correct in pointing out the faults in your riding.  Let your horse teach you how to be a better rider.  You will know when you get there because your horse will start to dance under you instead of plodding. 

My riding teacher keeps my seat correct, and I need her help with this because I lack a proprioceptive sense.  But it is the horses who teach me how to become a good rider.  They are never wrong.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran           

  

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