Slogging Along

For me the beginning of the Summer weather has been a lazy time, very lazy time. I had gotten over whatever was wrong with me, I was really looking forward to my lesson, but when I went outside for my lesson two weeks ago I faced a new challenge, extremely dirty air. This was from the wildfires in eastern Canada visiting us just in time for my riding lesson, bummer.

MJ was totally sure that it was not a good idea to do any physical exertion that day. He tried to sneak out of the riding ring when Debbie had to go check on something (usually he stands unheld quite well) and I had to quickly get hold of his reins as he headed for the open gate. Since I had helped with his grooming I was already tired and the bad air quality was dragging me down. When we started our lesson MJ did not really want to move out. All through the lesson MJ insisted on keeping his speed to the most efficient speed, a little bit faster than his normal QH plod at the walk and a sluggish trot, because he did not have any extra energy to spare. This is in spite of me keeping weight off of my seat bones, with my crotch right up next to the pommel. Every other time I had used the crotch position on him he had moved more freely, but for that lesson he just did not have the extra energy.

We mostly walked of course, but we did get a few posting trots in, one almost all the way around the ring. I was barely able to get him to move into a trot with some real impulse, he just gave me barely enough to get praise from Debbie, then it was just not worth the effort for him. I did not blame him, he was trying but the air quality was just too bad for any sane mammal to do any vigorous exercise. Though it felt like my crotch seat was not doing much good the few times I sat back MJ just sucked back, going back to his normal lesson horse speeds of going as slow as possible.

This lesson in the bad air tired me out so much that I have done nothing with my Home Horse especially since Shannon could not come out last weekend. I just did not have enough extra energy to get up on the HH at all, much less “ride” it trying to keep those bubbles on the balance centered!

This week the air was much better for my lesson but I had still not totally recovered from my previous lesson and I wore my ice vest just to keep a little cooler. MJ was stiff so I immediately got into my crotch seat or into 2-point and I had to stay there all lesson. He had been used for 3 Walk-Trot classes in a small show with his young rider the previous weekend and MJ's back was not very happy. He moved much better than during last week's lesson but only if I was sitting in my crotch seat or in 2-point, if I dared sit back in the saddle he went back to his lesson horse shuffle. We did 2-3 posting trots, and I had to use less leg than the week before to keep him moving, having cleaner air helped there.

For the first time I tried to do a super slow walk while I was in the crotch seat. MJ was not too sure about exactly what I wanted him to do though he did finally shorten his stride, some. We got nowhere as slow as we normally do. My aids were my alternating lower legs as the horse's barrel pushed against them, with encouraging feathering of the curb rein to ask him to go a little bit slower. MJ did not totally understand me there, if I wanted to go real slow why in the world was I sitting so far forward? The slower he walked the harder I found it to keep my crotch seat, so much so that Debbie noticed me working harder. Since he had been so insistent that he did not want much weight on his back I did not sit back like I usually do for the super slow walk. I am sure we will both figure this out eventually.

Ever since rereading “The Rider Forms the Horse” by Udo Burger I have been trying to understand why MJ moved so much more freely when I sat in the crotch seat. This has led me into the very deep rabbit hole of studying my horse anatomy books. I had bought my first book solely on horse anatomy back in 1962 or 1963 when I was still living in Uruguay, I found it in a book store display at the Montevideo airport and for a wonder my mother let me buy it. “The Horse—Its Action and Anatomy by an Artist” by Lowes D. Luard is still in my book collection and though it was first published in 1935 it is still being reprinted. Of course back then I did not really understand this book but nowadays I am doing much better with it 60 some years later. Several years later I added “The Anatomy of the Horse” by Way and Lee and after a few more years I added “Anatomy of the Horse” edited by William E. Jones from the “book” (it is 6 volumes long) “The Horse: Its treatment in Health and Disease” by J. W. Axe, and “The Horse Structure and Movement” by R. H. Smythe, revised by Peter C. Goody. Lately I added “ABC of the Horse—Atlas” (anatomy) and “ABC of the Horse—Biomechanics” both by Pauli Gronberg.

I am mostly concentrating on the upper neck muscles and the back muscles for right now. I mostly look at the pictures, opening each book to the pictures of the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles, and looking from one picture to the others and reading what these books say about the muscles etc.. I am trying to build a 3-D “model” in my brain of the horse, then I will have to also add movement.

In his book Udo Burger says on page 25 “Some of the upper neck muscles together with the nuchal ligament have the task of maintaining the normal position of the back under the rider's weight.” On page 26 he writes “The riding instructor requires the rider to sit near the pommel of the saddle, as close to the highest point of the withers as possible. This is very important for the performance of the upper neck muscles, which support the rider's weight together with the arch of the back....The rider must sit as far forward as possible, and in the case of young horses , further lighten the load on the horse's back by slightly inclining the upper body forward.” Trying to figure out exactly what Burger is saying here is why I am now compulsively reading horse anatomy books every day, for an hour at least.

As I educate myself with this I will write about it here once I am content that I actually understand how the horse's anatomy acts under the rider. This will take me a while. The horse's back was not designed to carry a rider and it is up to us riders not to hurt the horse's back by poor riding that is based on erroneous assumptions about the horse.

It will be a slow process. Hopefully this knowledge will make me a better rider.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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