I am so fortunate, I am getting to ride three horses a week now regularly! The last time I got to ride three (well at one time it was five) horses in a week was back decades ago and I owned all the horses. On the good days, when it is cool and the sun shines, I miss feeding and taking care of my horses, but when it is bitter, windy, and cold or super hot and muggy I am so grateful I no longer have to get out there to take care of them. Of course if I didn't have MS it would be different, but with the MS sapping my energy it is nice to ride horses that other people take care of and feed and give me help with the grooming and tacking up so I have enough energy to ride.
This week during my lesson with Mick Debbie told me she had gotten bored teaching me on Mia since Mia has reached a plateau, still limping some from her occult spavin. Mick, fortunately, does not have that problem. Since we fixed the saddle, bit, girth and put him on the Acti-flex supplement Mick is much, much happier with me riding him. When Debbie asked me to put Mick into a stronger trot he responded, he not only lengthened his stride he also started elevating his forehand. Arabs tend to be built so that it is easier for them to elevate their forehand than other horses, and when they play in the pasture this natural forehand elevation causes those wonderful floating trots and their exciting gallops along with those fantastic jumps, bucks, kicks and squeals. Fortunately when they are under saddle they tend to tone down the exuberance of their movements, otherwise I would not be able to stay in the saddle! Wednesday, when I asked Mick to stretch out at the posting trot I changed my usual aids, still squeezing with my legs every time I sat down I gently squeezed and then immediately relaxed my fingers while rising instead of just keeping my fingers stiff all throughout the stride. I was not expecting Mick's generous response, it felt as if the drive of each hind leg was going directly to my hand and Debbie was REALLY happy with what she saw, Mick's hind legs were coming under him and he was moving his forehand freely. Of course I have to be really careful that I do not pull myself up with the reins when I do this, it is very good practice for keeping the actions of my hands independent from the movements of the rest of my body.
It has been a long time since I got such a response at the trot. With a BIG smile on my face I rode around the ring. Each time I asked Mick to lengthen his trot I felt like we were going to take off like a jet airplane. So much impulse! THIS is why I love riding Arabs, this is the type of movement that caused the Bedouin to say that their Arab war mares had the gift of flight without wings. Luckily for Mick I get tired really quick posting this trot, otherwise I would be tempted to overdo it, just because it felt SO GOOD!!!! Mick was also very good at the walk though I will have to work some more on the extended walk. His sitting trot is still a bit too bouncy for my comfort. This is probably a reaction to most of his previous riders pounding his back when trying to stay seated, and it will take me a while to convince him that he does not have to brace his back with me. Until that magic day arrives I will try to keep my seat as light as possible, moving with his back movements. I am confident that Mick can have both an exciting and impulsive posting trot as well as a comfortable sitting trot, I just have to ride well enough for long enough until he gets there.
Mia is still too lame to give me flight without wings, but Debbie told me that now she often sees Mia galloping around the pasture playing with her friend Amira, another Arab mare. When I first started riding Mia she just basically stood around the pasture moving as little as possible. With gentle exercise to build up her muscles and with the Acti-Flex senior supplement she is much more comfortable moving and now she plays, at nearly 30 years of age! Since I haven't had a lesson on Mia since Mick arrived I asked Debbie to give me an extra lesson on Friday next week so she can tell me if she thinks Mia is ready to extend her trot. Mia still limps on turns going to the right but she limps mostly when I am posting, when I sit her trot or stay up in two-point I can hardly tell she is limping. This is so much better than when I started riding her and she was limping badly every stride of the trot in all directions and on the straight. I don't know what Debbie will tell me, but I am getting the feeling that if I want to get Mia's hind end stronger I need to add a stronger trot to her other gymnastic exercises for her hind end. At least I am having more luck in getting Mia out of her usual inversion at the trot, she rarely inverts on turns nowadays, willingly extending her head to keep good contact, and it is only on the straight line trots that she inverts. I keep the posting trot going until she starts reaching out with her nose even though I get really tired posting waiting for that movement. I raise my hands some so I am not pulling down on her mouth and I advance my hands a little and do a gentle give and take with the bit while keeping contact, and after doing this for several strides she now reaches out with her nose, it just takes her a while to relax.
I had fun riding Cider today. She is the horse that responds the best to my new way of turning, advancing my outside hip and shoulder. Ever since I started turning like that Cider has stopped continually lugging on her outside rein at the rail, and I can do a circle near Shannon and not have to touch my reins or use my legs. I had enough energy today so I could let Cider trot more, Cider LIKES going fast at the trot but after a minute or two I can usually slow her down to a more reasonable pace. Cider's fast trot is not extended, she is a little motion machine under me just chugging along with her legs moving fast. I tried to extend her trot by using the same aids I used with Mick but Cider did not respond, though a few weeks ago she extended her stride a little bit when I stiffened my fingers and used my legs when I sat down at the posting trot. Cider is half Welsh, and Welsh ponies trot differently than Arabs do, and Cider inherited her trot from her Welsh mother. Maybe different trots require sligtly different aids to extend? I don't know if I will ever get Cider to the point of flight without wings, but I will be working more to get her to extend her stride at the trot. She now will extend at a walk if I keep after her with my legs so there is hope, I just have to ride well enough to get that extension in the trot too (and it might help if I can get her saddle further back so it will miss her shoulders.) I suspect that Cider has an absolutely magnificent trot in her, and I just have to figure out how to convince her to do it when I ride her. Now that posting in my new saddle is not bothering my thighs as much I may be able to last at the posting trot long enough to get her to extend her stride. Maybe next week.
I am a lot less bored riding three different horses. They are individuals, with different temperaments and different movements. I often have to come up with different ways of using my aids with each horse to get the same results. This is good for me, it keeps me mentally active and makes me use my muscles differently. Right now my goal is to ride each horse at a high level, and to do that I have to adapt my riding to their temperaments, motion, and conformational limitations. None of these horses is perfect, all of them went through several riders who did not ride at a high level, and though Mick and Cider have obviously had very good training, the defenses and resistances they acquired being ridden by their subsequent leasors or owners present me with the challenge of how to get them moving correcty under saddle. All these horses know how to move perfectly in the pasture, it was the limitations of their riders that caused the imperfect movements under saddle (along with uncomfortable tack.) If I had access to hills my job would be much easier, but right now, because of my MS, I am pretty limited to riding in the ring.
At least now, with Mick, I have the hope of flying without wings.
Nothing like it.
Have a great ride!