My Second Lesson This Year

Over 5 weeks into this year, and all the riding I've gotten in has been 2 lessons.

It could have been worse, at least I did get some lessons!

Debbie was pretty pleased with my riding. I used the Fager Alexander Sweet Iron with Wings with a copper plate in the middle, and MJ seems to like this bit more every time I use it on him. MJ reached out confidently for contact, and on Wednesday he was a lot lighter in hand than he had been with this bit. Every halt was easy, all the boring down on the bit disappeared. When I asked him to back up he readily complied, another vast improvement. He has switched from his old “is this an aid, am I supposed to listen to this? I guess I'll obey you” to promptly responding to my minimal hand aids, cheerfully and without any resistance.

Backing up I WAS expecting the same old discussion, but this time he acted like everything had been settled to his satisfaction. Ah, progress, such sweet progress!

MJ is a really sweet horse who does not seem to have picked up any mental trauma from his previous training. He does not actively argue, he does not flip out when he does not totally understand me, and he obeys me to the best of his ability. All distractions are viewed calmly and he deals with everything with the same super calm attitude. No wonder Debbie grabbed him when he was looking for a new home, he is an ideal lesson horse on the flat (he's not jumping because of navicular disease.) MJ is very popular with the people who ride him and he is the least complicated horse I've ridden for decades.

The day before I had to go to my doctor because my possibly “Covid toes” on my right foot were looking a lot worse. He did not see anything majorly wrong, but when I rode Debbie noted that my right lower leg was not as good as usual. At least this time I had a valid reason for my imperfection.

When I got MJ warmed up a bit we started working on extending his walking stride. This time, instead of alternating pressure with my middle and upper calf muscles, I tried using the medial soleus muscle. The soleus is one of three calf muscles and the upper part is underneath the other two calf muscles. Around halfway down my calf this muscle splits and the medial side comes closer to the surface above and to the back of my inner ankle bone. I have been trying to locate this muscle with my mind and trying to feel it for when I ride, and I was finally ready to try using it (as in this was the first time I had been up on a horse since I read about this muscle).

It was an interesting experience. My leg aid was much further down than my usual leg aid, and I had to get the weight off of the ball of my big toe. I used this new to me muscle and immediately concentrated to getting my foot back to its usual stance, both to give MJ a release from my leg aid and to reestablish my security in the saddle. As I was doing this MJ was giving me a different reaction than usual, I could feel his barrel lift up a little bit and MJ became more animated and alert as he strode out. Debbie like how his gait improved and she seemed to appreciate his mildly increased animation. MJ was confidently striding forth to meet whatever he might encounter, with interest, more definite movement of his legs, and an attitude that he was ready for whatever might occur.

Using the medial soleus muscle also helped backing up. Instead of the usual shuffling back reluctantly while boring on the reins he willingly stepped back with regular strides, obeying every aid.

Then Debbie wanted me to trot. Since it had been a few months since I had trotted I prepared myself and MJ for the trot, checking my position so I would be ready and shortening his reins. I asked him to trot, he immediately obeyed and trotted well until I asked for him to change direction and he went back to the walk. This was MY FAULT, my legs were not there to catch him as he slowed down so I concentrated on making the downward transition the best I could.

Debbie was very pleased with me. She said she wished she had made a video on her phone to show her other students because the transition was smooth, prompt, and I did not have any excess movement in my body. She told me it was the best walk-trot transition she had seen for a while after telling me what she had seen from her other riders lately. Note to myself, next time Debbie asks me to trot prepare myself and MJ for the transition instead of just shuffling into it.

Debbie did not complain about my back at all. By using my teres major muscle at the bottom of my scapulae I am finally getting my back much, much straighter. When I use this muscle it feels like my scapulae act like a splint preventing my back from slumping down into an undesirable curve. And after a while I can relax these muscles and my back still remains straighter than before. The other advantage of this method is that I only have to use one muscle on each side to straighten my back instead of the multiple muscles I had to use for the other techniques of getting my darn back straight and erect. The only other method I used that gave me equivalent results was carrying an Equicube which, I suspect, made me use these particular muscles.

Hopefully I will get a lesson next week. It has rained every day since then and the forecasts show even more rain, everyday, except maybe the sun will come out next Wednesday, the the rain will come back, everyday. At least the field crops will have plenty of water to drink when the warm weather comes back and they sprout.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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