Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer is here

The flies are out, the grass is growing, and the ponies are fat, shiny and happy!

And I also finally have time to do things like... you know... RIDE!! including getting Bijou out almost every day over the last week or two (time has a different meaning during summer, days of the week are unimportant, weeks and months are way too complicated).

We've been taking baby steps. I've done a lot of research over the last few weeks of being laid up and I'm trying to use what I've found and move forward. I tried side reins, partially because that's what I have, and partially because that's what I've always done. She really didn't seem to figure it out. She'll put her head down for half a second as more of a 'shoo fly' movement to rid herself of the pressure than actually stretch into the contact. I'm afraid if I make them any shorter she'll just end up behind the bit, and that's not a habit (or muscles) that I want to be developing.

I feel like my baby steps are so small compared to what I'm reading about on other blogs (for example, the whole bitless journey at Science Vs. Tradition or the path to barefooted-ness with Andrea) but I know that when I was looking for blogs I loved to hear about all those people who were right where I was, or one or two steps ahead so I'll continue on for you phantom readers. The normal day consists of walking the eight million miles to the FURTHEST pasture they could put my horse in (but whatever, she's on grass 24/7 so I'm ok with it) and walking up to her as she walks up to me - Improvement #1 - since it used to take me 20 minutes to catch her. I can't tell if the carrots or the neck and belly scritches did it.

I have been working on dragging her over to the trailer. She's pretty not enthusiastic about leaving her friends to go hang out with me, to the tune of tiptoeing her way slowly forward as I keep even pressure on the lead... not ok. Today I stood only at her shoulder, didn't let her get behind, and every time she'd get extra sluggish I'd take the end of the lead and flick it at her rump. Boy did that speed her up! All of a sudden she's so much happier to be following along :D. Then I park her near the trailer somewhere, tell her to "whoa!" and brush off the dusty dirties. She gets her saddle pad, with no flinching now, and her saddle, with only one or two steps to the sides rather than 10-15 like it used to be. Improvement #2 - I can tack up my horse without fearing a loss of toe, finger or both!

Depending on if she's been out the day before, I'll lunge or not lunge. Usually over a pole in the small arena. I don't know why but she does better in smaller spaces. Or maybe I'm just a wounded shrimp who's lost all her chutzpa? The big arena still scares me/us. We're putting that on the to-do list for a day I feel brave, in addition to walking the outer loop around the pastures where there are stinky cows! Lunging has become a non-ordeal - Improvement #3 - I can lunge in many surroundings and over obstacles!

Riding consists of a lot of head in the air and impressions of a giraffe. She'll happily walk over poles, although with much care taken to EXACTLY where she puts her feet. I'm glad she's careful because hopefully that translates to clean jumper rounds long down the road? My current sequence of thought goes something like:

"squeeze for a walk, Good girlie! now sponge the inside hand, hold outside steady. Use alternating leg taps to swing the barrel and keep her forward, sponge more inside hand, more more more there! Good GIRL!!"

"squeeze.... squuuueeeeze...... trot yay! keep hands steady against all the jostling around between her imbalance and mine, no really, steady hands! ok yay there was a moment of give at the poll! sponge inside hand, both hands steady, inside leg, inside leg, inside reign, outside rein supporting... awesome giraffe impression... then two steps of brilliance"

"sit, outside leg to canter, bumpity along for a moment while she thinks about which direction and hopefully picks up the right lead?! yay we have the right lead! Light in the saddle, following motion with the hands, must steady that lower leg that's swinging everywhere, little more contact, beautiful!!"

reverse, rinse, repeat. Her canter work is somehow stronger than trot work? She seems to get the being on the bit more. I'm wondering if it's a contact thing, I can keep contact better at a canter.

Overall, many important improvements with only more to come! I'd really love to hear what people are thinking the moment they ask for a trot, or when they finally get roundness from their horse. I feel like the thought process will give me clues to the series of perfect cues I'm supposed to be giving.

I'm happy with baby steps for now, its tough because I want to be progressing so fast, but muscles don't grow in a day, and neither does either of our patience. I'm happy it's summer time and I get to spend all the time in the world (after I'm off work of course :P) loving on my beautiful girl!


  1. A lot of horses are more balanced at the canter/lope than trot. Trotting is a lot more work than cantering mainly because of how a horse breathes. With a canter a horses insides work as a great big piston. The breaths should match the stride. Think of the horse breathing at the canter like a rocking horse, inhaling when taking a stride (front end up in the air) exhaling when completing the stride (hind end in the air). Makes sense why a lot of horses can canter a lot longer than trot and find it easier a lot of the time.

  2. That is so great to hear about all of the progress you have made! :-) One tip that really helped me with teaching Hampton to be round was to ride with the feeling that you are carrying their mouth on a tray (like a waitress). If your horse gets above the bit, carry your hands a little higher. It sounds like you are really on the right track though!

  3. Thanks Sydney for the breathing thing, I had heard that before and use it to tire a horse out on occasion. Make them canter to get heart rate up, then trot to keep it up, or something like that. Been thinking about bitless a lot lately, what do you think of the Micklem.

    Karen- Good to hear from you (who has done such a great job with Hampton) that it sounds like I'm thinking the right things! I'd be interested to hear what you're thinking while riding too.