This was a wonderful week. For the first time in three months I got to ride 3 times in one week!
I got to ride Mia twice at Debbie's, which was nice. Even though it was still hot on Friday I gave up ignoring Mia's hooves and hoping that what the farrier did would be enough to see her through. So I got out my rasp and hoof knife and started on her front feet, trimming the sole a little and evening out her hoof wall. Her back feet may have to wait a few weeks as I get stronger and better able to do a quick trim. As it was, even trying to be REAL careful I still cut myself with the hoof knife--not badly, just a little slice. The farrier had not trimmed the frog enough, there were BIG flaps, so I even tried trimming with her leg between my knees so I could work on it two handed. This did not help, my wrists and hands just don't seem to be strong enough to deal with the frog and I am unsteady which makes her nervous.
At Shannon's I finally got to ride Cider again since her hoof has grown out enough that Shannon was able to stabilize the crack in it. I promised to stay at the walk. Cider was pretty cooperative about not breaking into the trot, probably because of the very sticky heat. This mare had come to Shannon's with the idea that the proper way to be ridden was at top speed, very reluctant to walk and constantly trying to accelerate, so it was VERY nice that she only broke into the trot once and immediately obeyed my aids to go back into a walk. A great improvement in her former approach to being ridden in the ring.
The more I ride at a walk the more I appreciate why dressage riders do most of their schooling at the trot. It is so much easier to get the horse into contact, it is so much easier to straighten the horse, and the horse seems to take the work more seriously. At a walk Cider seems to think that she can meander wherever she wants, mostly to the center of the ring where Shannon is or to the fence where her pasture mates callously view her working while they rest. Most of the time at a walk I am constantly telling the horses to stretch their bodies out, to stride forth confidently and with IMPULSE. When I get impulse at the walk I can at least begin the gymnastic work that all horses need so they can carry us more easily. Meandering around the ring at 1 to 2 1/2 miles an hour does not develop the horse very much. However most horses seem to prefer meandering at a walk, reserving their strong efforts for the trot. This is a great pity. I am of the very small school that thinks that horses should be active at the walk, full of forward impulse all the time while on contact or on loose reins. I also think that it is important that the horse should practice shifting their weight back and forward at the walk (3 speeds of the walk), and I think that the horse is not fully trained if they cannot or will not do everything at a walk that they do at a trot. Yeah, it is a lot harder to get good performance at a walk, but if you do not work on the walk you can have enormous gaps in the horse's physical development and training. FORWARD IMPULSE IS IMPORTANT AT ALL GAITS, and if the horse knows it has to work at the walk I find that they come up with fewer evasions at the faster gaits.
Of course I occasionally do the relaxing loose rein walk to rest the horse. For around a minute or so I do let the horse meander some (not to the center of the ring or to its buddies) as a reward for doing WORK. But I use this as a REWARD, and I do not allow it all the time at the walk. I expect the horse to immediately respond to my leg and extend out when I decide that the horse has rested enough. I want to feel the horse working its body, reaching forward with each leg with a relaxed movement and with no unnecessary tension. I aim for a swinging walk where the horse is using all its legs and its back to move forward boldly. When I feel the back moving freely and the legs moving like pendulums I KNOW that the horse is ready to really work effectively at the faster gaits.
And, after riding Cider for around 25 minutes, she politely asked me for more rein. When I gave it to her she asked for the rein to be loose, and then that sweet, sweet mare gave me a decent walk, straight, full of impulsion, and not taking advantage of the loosened rein. What a difference! So I ended the lesson, quite happy with this sweet little mare, who, when I ride her using my aids correctly, then rewards me with exactly what I want. What more can you ask for, especially since she has not been worked for 2 months?
I am looking forward to around a month or a month and a half more of walking. Shannon and I decided that if we waited until it gets cool in the morning (middle to lower 50's) then Cider's hoof will have enough time to grow the crack out completely, and then I can get to work on the trot. And because of all this work at the walk she will be so much easier to work at the faster gaits, moving forward confidently, reaching for the bit, understanding my aids and fit enough so she can do the work easily.
Have a wonderful time with your horses.