Tercel was SO GOOD this week, though I did not think so at first!
When I got to the stable I told Debbie I wanted to figure out if Tercel could use shims in the Corrector pad. She brought him in, I put the Stubben on his back without the pad and it looked pretty level. Then I put the Corrector pad on first, put the saddle on, and, just by the addition of the Corrector, the front of the saddle was definitely lower than the cantle (I think that the horses relax their back muscles when the Corrector protects their backs from the points of the saddle tree.) I added the smallest of the front shims while Debbie groomed Tercel, and then I worked on his ears a little bit more. He was concerned about his ears but he finally let me brush them on the inside as well as the outside but he was not particularly happy about it. I was so concerned with the shims and his ears I simply forgot to put the Dy'on blinkers on my bridle.
Luckily for me it was pretty cloudy on Wednesday, and there was not much of a breeze. Tercel did not “startle” or spook at all as I walked around the ring though he seemed a little bit more tense. He responded quite well to my leg aids and strode off with a really nice ground covering walk. My first indications of a problem was when I asked him to halt, I twitched my little fingers and it was like I had done nothing. I did a slightly stronger alternating hand aid and there was no response, he just went on walking like I had not given a hand aid at all. I finally had to set my hands, releasing whenever he slowed the movement of his legs, and after about a minute he finally consented to the halt. This happened for three halts, even though when he was moving he took great contact and I had no problems with my hand aids for turning and I could influence his speed at the walk.
After the third halt, while I wondered why I was having these problems, I looked at the side of his bridle and realized I had forgotten the blinkers. That was when I realized how GOOD Tercel was during my ride, he ignored several “excuses” to startle, shy or bolt without flinching and he even passed the dreaded judge's stand with minimal problems. Debbie went to get the blinkers while I walked Tercel around the ring some more. When Debbie put the blinkers on Tercel seemed to relax a little bit, his walk became more fluid, and he seemed happier. Then came the big test, I wanted to halt, I did my normal alternating little twitches of my little fingers, Tercel yielded with his jaw and halted immediately. Good boy! It was like without the blinkers Tercel had been using one part of his brain, a part of his brain where he is suspicious, afraid, and not very well trained. When we put the blinkers on his bridle it was like Tercel switched the part of his brain he was using to a calmer, happier, more responsive area that remembered the end of last week's lesson perfectly. It was an amazing instantaneous change, I felt like I had changed from riding a green broke horse to one that had some training on him.
As for the shims, I knew that I had done the right thing when I walked Tercel, both without and with the blinkers. I LOVE a long-striding walk, where the horse gets into covering the ground at a good rate of speed. Last week to get this long-striding walk I had to alternately apply my leg aids throughout the walk or he would slow down. This week I hardly had to use my legs at all, just enough to get Tercel up to the speed I wanted and then I could relax my legs. It was like I had worked on “stabilizing” Tercel, teaching him to keep on going at the same speed without any more aids, instead of just adding two little shims to the front of the Corrector pad. When I asked him to trot I did not have to use much leg either. And there is another thing, I had gotten chaffed “down there” before I put the shims in, this week everything felt fine and I did not get rubbed raw.
Little subtle tack changes can make a BIG difference with a horse. The blinkers I use project upwards maybe 3/8”. They are so small it is difficult to see them from a distance and I have to look closely when I am riding him to make sure they are on the bridle, but they seem to block the “scary” part of his retina so he can relax. The shims I put into my Corrector pad are just ¼ ” thick, yet they altered the way my saddle sat on his back so he was more comfortable with my saddle. These two small tack changes had transformed Tercel from a scared horse, always ready to bolt but at the same time needing pretty constant leg aids to keep his speed up, to a relatively calm, happy horse who gladly strode out with minimal leg aids. With these two small pieces of tack I could relax somewhat on his back, sit quietly and enjoy my ride, and because I changed my stirrups from the regular Prussian sided stirrups to the off-set Prussian sided stirrups, my lower leg stabilized enough so Tercel realized my leg aids were not just meaningless movements of my legs. Altogether they delivered an amazing improvement that did not take me months of battles, cursing, tears of pain, first making progress then losing all progress whenever Tercel got scared from something behind him, something I was quite ready to go through but I am very, very glad that I do not have to do it.
Right now Debbie seems very glad that I started riding her horse. Everybody else had come to the conclusion that this horse was “just this way” and held out little hope for improvement. Tercel is the best conformed Arabian I've ridden. He has all the marks of a superior “fine riding horse.” It is my goal to get him to where every one else can see what I and Debbie see in him. When I finally get there I will definitely look like a much better rider than I really am with all my disabilities. This is a GOOD goal, and if I do it right Tercel should enjoy the process too. Light mouthed, responsive, cheerful, and with correct gaits. Heaven could weep with envy.
Have a great ride!