Three Speeds—A Work in Progress

Another week of just one ride, but it was my riding lesson!

When I got to the stable for my lesson on Wednesday Debbie was not there yet. Mary kindly brought MJ in for me and started grooming him, starting with cleaning out his hooves really well under the bar across his frog. Then she proceeded to using the Strip Hair Gentle Groomer on his coat, and he is still shedding of course. The cloud of hair was not too bad since he has been groomed several times since my last ride for giving students riding lessons. I concentrated on grooming his head and mane, since MJ, like many horses does not enjoy being groomed in two different places at once, I got my work in during Mary's pauses as she moved from one place to another. We had finished this when Debbie drove up so we could move on a little bit more quickly than usual.

It was getting warm, and it was going to get up to the mid-80s F, so I put on my summer technical fabric shirt, tights, neck gaiter and mesh half-chaps, but I kept on using my protective vest which meant I ended up sweating some anyway. MJ had his BOT Exercise Sheet on only for the walk to the ring, it was warming up quickly so we took it off before I mounted. Fortunately the flies have not gotten too bad yet so I did not have to put on his riding fly sheet.

I had been reading in “Invisible Riding” by Sylvia Loch. Even though the book is about dressage mainly, it is the Portuguese school of Dressage, more like the French school than the dressage of the Germanic schools. To my amazement there was plenty I could use in this book to improve my riding without messing up my normal Forward Seat riding and schooling. This book is rather DENSE, her writing is excellent and very understandable and she has plenty of apt illustrations down to the picky, picky level, but she goes through SO MUCH in this rather short book (123 pages). I'll be reading this book for years.

Anyway reading this book inspired me to become slightly more vertical in the saddle. MJ did not mind, Debbie did not mind, and my body was able to do it all right in spite of my balance problems. According to what I have read in Sylvia Loch's books the way I sit and move in the saddle is already similar to her methods, I just had to become a little bit more vertical. Since I had finally learned to fix my shoulders by using the teres major muscle my back remained relaxed and supple while I became more vertical.

Sylvia Loch described the seat basis of her turning aids, a little bit more weight is allowed to sink down to the inside leg at the girth, and while this is happening the riders inside seat bone becomes more weighted, not much, nothing glaring to the horse or observable to someone on the ground, just a little bit. With a light inside opening rein rhythmically applied, MJ quickly understood what I was “saying” and turned quite well without diving to the inside or the outside.

Then I started working at the three speeds of the walk. After establishing a nice forward, relaxed walk with a “swinging” back I asked him to slow down with alternating my bradoon rein lightly. It took a minute or two for MJ to slow down into a really slow walk, but he got into it. After a minute or so and a few turns I had to use my leg aids a few times to get him established back into a normal walk. I was proud of him, he ended up keeping pretty much the same speed both going away from the gate and toward the gate, just what I wanted.

It took a good bit more leg to get MJ to extend his walking stride, but he got better at it when I finally remembered to flex my calf muscles when I gave my alternating leg aid, relaxing my calf muscles after I gave the aid. Between his stiff back from carrying students in the regular lessons and him not totally and deeply understanding that my leg aid means “stretch out your front leg a little bit more” it will be a while before I finally end up with the walking extension I want. Quarter Horses were not bred to develop a long striding walk so this is sort of like a foreign language for him, but by his built he has pretty recent TB blood in him so I just have to be consistent with my aids and PATIENT, it will come when he is physically developed enough.

Then came the trotting. First, of course, the normal trot, then when headed for the gate I asked him to slow his trot down by light alternating aids with the bradoon rein. A slow trot is not foreign to the nature of a QH so it was not difficult to get him to shorten his stride, and he kept in the slow trot without too many reminders from my legs that I did not mean him to transition down to a walk. His slow trot was still jarring, so I only sat down three strides.

Then, after a while at the normal posting trot, I started working on extending his trotting stride. Several weeks ago I had tried to do this by alternating my legs with using my bradoon rein, and the results were sort of “meh”. This time I alternated my leg aids when sitting down with tweaking my sagging curb rein around 1/8” with both hands when I rose, while keeping a constant contact with the bradoon rein. I do NOT engage the curb bit fully, all the MJ felt was that the curb bit moved a little bit when his head was at its highest point. This time he did MUCH better, I could feel his stride lengthening a little bit and he also elevated his forehand a bit. He was not “flying” through the air but he was definitely starting the process of lift-off. I don't want to run MJ into the ground, he is too heavy on his forehand anyway, I want him to go forward elevating his forehand enough so his front legs have enough time to extend more. Tweaking my sagging curb reins accomplished this, tweaking my bradoon rein while on contact did not.

All this trotting made me tired and I did not ride too much longer since it was heating up. MJ certainly did not mind going back in, he thinks he works too hard as it is!

When we got back in the barn I brought out the Shoo Fly Leggings that I am giving MJ, hoping that he won't aggravate his navicular disease by stomping at the flies all spring, summer and fall. I had to look at the video on the Shoo Fly site again, they go on sort of snug right beneath the coronet, but at the top they are LOOSE, there is a gap of at least an inch going all around his knee. Luckily the Shoo Fly leggings have a stiff plastic strip going up the sides of the legging so it does not collapse down the leg. MJ did not know what to think, at all. He acted like he had never had any type of boot on his leg before, when led back to the paddock he was lifting all four legs high and kicking out just a little bit. I hope he got used to them quickly! Fly season is coming, and in NC the flies can be vicious!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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