|"Sorry no work today can't you see I'm trying to take a nap!"|
Spring is officially in the air and it’s time I started riding consistently again. This past weekend I decided that Blue and Dusty should start getting back in shape after being virtually on vacation for the winter.
Blue, who hasn’t been ridden all winter and has been an eating machine at the hay nets, is very out of shape and dare I say a little on the pudgy side. Much to his dismay that’s all about to change. As soon as the grass comes up, Mr. Blue will be sporting a grazing muzzle.
As for riding, Blue’s definitely not a push-button pony. He knows his aids well enough. Whether he chooses to listen is another thing entirely. Blue is never dangerous or malicious, but he can be lazy. And if you let him get bored he will use that excuse to amuse himself at your expense. He also has an extensive bag of tricks in his arsenal.
As for riding this weekend, we’ve starting back slow because he is overweight and out of shape. I didn’t want to put him on the longe because circles might be too hard on his joints right now. Instead, we walked, working on basic steering and bending. Blue has a tendency to become stiff and tense when the aids are applied (they mean work!) so we've decided to start from the very beginning and working on just getting him to relax and stretch rather than ball up and get ready to resist the non-work we were planning to do.
When we first started out Blue began by counter-bending and popping his shoulder to the inside. This is his way of letting you know before you even begin that he doesn't feel like doing all of that bending and collecting hard work you probably have in mind. Little did he know I had no intention of doing any of that stuff. My plan was to beat him at his own game. He’s a very strong horse and there is no sense fighting with him. Instead, all I worked on was getting a soft, gentle bend in his neck to the inside with an opening/leading rein. I didn’t care where he went as long as he kept the bend. To avoid the temptation of neck-reining or leading him out to the rail with my outside rein, I just dropped it completely. I actually put my hand on my outside knee so I wouldn’t inadvertently use it. There was no seat direction from me--only a relaxed following seat; no leg cues either. Just the pressure and release of the opening inside rein to guide him.
He corkscrewed a few times but I just led him across the arena, changed direction, etc., and eventually he caught on. He softened his entire body, stretched his head and neck down and sighed. We made a few impressive 20-meter circles with just the inside rein to steer by in either direction and ended with that for the day. I was surprised by how much riding I was able to finesse out of him with just the pressure and release of a single inside opening rein--no neck rein, no indirect rein, no special leg aids other than riding him forward, etc. By the end he was soft, relaxed through his topline, stretching down long and low, tracking up with no resistance anywhere. It was a totally new Blue. It was surprisingly EASY!
As I said Blue knows his basic cues and if he’s being difficult I know I can make him do what I want. This year, however, I want to try a different type of riding with him. I would rather he be light and willing, enjoy his job and look forward to our rides. So we’re starting with the basics as if he’s a green horse and sort of re-training him to a different mindset. It will take time and patience and I’m hoping he will enjoy his riding time more than he has in the past. Not that he’s ever done any heavy lifting. I haven’t ridden him much at all through the years so it will be a learning experience for both of us. Who knows, he might even look forward to seeing me when I show up to ride in the future.
Until next time
Quote for Today
A horse is an animal not a machine and is only as good as it's rider.