I had fun riding this week.  I didn't think I'd get my lesson in on Mick on Wednesday because there was rain all around, and it started sprinkling when we tacked up, but then it stopped and did not start again until my lesson was over!  Then it poured.  And it was warm, 65 F at dawn, with a warm wind, and I ended up riding in my shirt sleeves, in December no less.  I don't ever remember riding in December and working up a sweat!


Mick went well, which was good since Debbie found a scrape and a little swelling on the outside cannon of his right hind leg.  So I started off slow, just walking normally at first and as he warmed up I started asking him to stretch out a little.  After several minutes of normal and a slightly longer striding walk with plenty of turns going around the jumps we tried the trot and he went sound with no head bobbing at all.  After several more minutes of walk, regular trot and turns I asked Mick to extend his trot and he responded and Debbie was very pleased with his trot.  We did not quite get to the "flight without wings" trot but I was not really expecting it because of his hind leg, Mick being Mick he tried to give me what I wanted within the limits of his comfort and I accepted that.  There are plenty of years ahead for exciting "flight without wings" trots, I already know he can do it when he feels completely well, and there is no reason for me to try and force him into one when one hind leg is sort of sore.  Toward the end of my lesson Debbie told me to canter, so I am cantering again!  I kept up in two-point, Mick is still holding his back muscles stiffly, and I am waiting to sit to his canter until that magic day when Mick's back INVITES me to sit.  I don't think that will happen until Mick's back gets more inviting at the sitting trot, and that is going to take me some time to accomplish.  First I have to prove to Mick that my seat will never pound on his back during the sitting trot, because he will never have an inviting back for the sitting trot until he stops expecting riders to pound on his back.  Horses believe in defending themselves from the imperfections of their riders, and after years of imperfect riding it takes a while to get their trust.  This means I have to be CONSISTENT, if I ever start pounding his back at the sitting trot I would have to start this work all over again.  Once I get his back muscles a little more relaxed at the sitting trot then I will start working at sitting at the canter. again avoiding all pounding with my seat.  I just have to get his back muscles to trust my seat.  Since other people are riding him it will probably take longer than if I was his only rider.


Friday it was colder, I kept my jacket on the whole ride.  Mia was sort of stiff when my son brought her in for grooming and tack up so I started off slow again.  Riding Mia is different from riding Mick, for one thing I've ridden Mia for about two years now and she trusts me.  It took me several months but I EARNED her trust, I never pound on her back, my hands are light, I listen to her, and I do not demand that she go beyond her current capabilities.  Sometimes I might ask her politely to do a little more but if she tells me she just can't that day I accept it.  She IS 30 after all.  So Mia and I puttered around until she felt less stiff to me and then we started some trotting, just a normal trot with some sitting trot thrown in.  After a while I asked her to extend her trot, the first time I got the two strides of extension and I backed off with my legs and there was no head slinging.  Then I changed directions and asked for two strides of extended in the other direction, only this time I did not stop using my legs soon enough and the head slinging started.  I backed off with my legs, she stopped slinging but slowed down, I asked her to get back into her regular trot and the head slinging started again.  So we trotted around the ring at variations of her normal speed with my hands following every movement of her head, keeping a light contact, and after a few more times of slinging her head when I urged with my legs she finally relaxed, kept good contact with a steady head and I finally got to stop trotting and rest.  I was tired, but at least I got plenty of practice following sudden movements of her head with a light contact. 


Once Mia starts slinging her head it is pretty obvious that she expects punishment from the bit.  I think that Mia's head slinging when I ask her to extend her trot some comes from a kink in her neck, we went through this two years ago when I started riding her.  Back then, at certain points, Mia would start slinging her head and then dive her head down, often yanking the reins out of my hands.  Then, as Mia got stronger, got the kinks out of her neck, and decided to trust my hands, the incidents of head slinging got fewer and fewer and had stopped around a year ago.  If I had ever punished her for slinging her head back then I would have never gained Mia's trust.  Right now I am wondering if I will ever get Mia to extend her trot, but we have successfully worked through all her earlier problems, often much to my surprise.  With patience and acceptance that sometimes Mia HAS to get a kink out of her neck I am hopeful that we can work through this too.  And in return for my patience with her Mia is now patient with me, she forgives me when my body does not work perfectly, and I can trust Mia.  Mia now takes care of me.  I don't remember trusting a horse as much as I trust her (so long as there is nothing that looks like a snake moving around, no horse is perfect.)


This morning when I got up it was below freezing.  Since it has gotten colder Shannon has let me come out an hour later and the ground was almost thawed out.  There was this bittler, cold. and strong north wind blowing too, sometimes it was so strong it whistled through my helmet.  Cider was NOT pleased.  All of Cider's old problems came back.  I have this hypothesis that horses change when conditions change, and when conditions change you are no longer riding the same horse!  Training is forgotten, that training happened to another horse.  Cider is particularly prone to changing with conditions, and Cider is not completely trained in something until I have trained her in it in ALL weather conditions.  If I was riding her outside the ring I would be faced with this "retraining" everywhere I went too.  So when the weather changes we always go around 5 steps back and I have to teach her what to do all over again.  Since we had not previously ridden on a cold sunny day with a wind chill of 23 F in the Wintec Wide, today was challenging.  At least her resistances were not as emphatic as usual, maybe since I changed to the wider saddle she is comfortable enough so her protestations are not as bull headed.  After a thorough warm up we started trotting, and Cider was back to her quick moving pony trot.  I finally got her to extend a little bit, and everytime she extends her trot her nose goes down and out to the front.  I do not think that anyone had really worked on extending her trot before, and if that is so extending her trot is a whole new way of moving for her.  It may take a few months before she figures out how to do it properly, and there is absolutely no point in me trying to get her there any faster.  Cider is trying to obey me, she is trying to give me what I am asking for, but because of her thick shoulders and mutton withers it may take her a while to learn how to get everything coordinated right and to get the correct muscles strengthened.  Until then I will just ask for a few strides of extension at a time.


Cider does not trust me completely yet.  I don't blame her, it took me a long time to save up for the Wintec Wide.  While my dressage saddle may have a hoop tree, thus fitting a wide backed horse better, it still was not quite wide enough for Cider and even with the Corrector pad she was not really willing to extend freely.  Now that the saddle fits better and I have fixed all the other things that irritated her with the tack, MAYBE I will get Cider's trust, IF I am consistent, patient, and ride her well.  I don't know, I find that the pure Arabs are much more willing to forgive me for my disabilities than other breeds of horses, even half Arabs.  I might even have to save my money up for a Thorowgood synthetic saddle, they have one with interchangeable pommels that has a hoop tree.  It will take me over a year to save that much money though.  Right now I am grateful that I got a saddle that is wide enough, and comfortable enough so long I can get it far enough behind her shoulders, that she will consent to give me some extension at the trot.  This is progress, and I hope we will progress even further. 


Horses trust comfortable people more than people who cause them pain.  If a horse does not trust me at all I first try and find everything that might be causing them discomfort.  I have spent a lot of money trying to make horses I do not own comfortable when I ride them.  I now just ride bitted in the Micklem bridle because the horses are more comfortable in it.  I try different bits until I find some that the horse likes, and then when my hands get bad in the heat of summer I switch to bitless.  If the horse decides that the first bitless system is not what he wants I change to another system.  I do the best I can with the saddle fit and I use my Corrector pads to protect the horse's back.  I let the horse tell me how much contact with the bit he is comfortable with.  I listen to the horse if the horse is trying to tell me that something is wrong, and I try to fix it.  Since I am Mia's only rider I pay for Mia's supplements, and since the supplement makes her more comfortable she is a better ride.   I am handicapped and quite irritating to the horses I ride, if I did not do everything I could to make them comfortable I would never earn their trust.  Of course this means that I now own A LOT of tack, in all different sizes, so I can make the horses I ride comfortable.


Consistency also helps, but only as long as I am willing to listen to the horse and see to his comfort.  Some days horses do not feel totally well, and those days I back off, I may be planning on doing all sorts of exciting stuff but since the horse does not feel up to it I just walk around.  I am consistent with my hands, consistent with my legs, consistent with my seat (when sitting my seat bones are lightly glued to the saddle), consistent with my aids, and consistent with releasing my aids.  Whenever my horse does not obey me I consistently blame myself, either my aid was wrong or I did not hear the horse telling me something was wrong.  It is always my fault, and it is up to me to improve.  I have found that it is THIS type of consistency that earns me a horse's trust.  And when I mess up the horses are more willing to forgive me my faults.


Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran   




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