Sunday, April 17, 2011

Softening Snaps Into Place and Using My Seat

Finally we got some weather that permitted riding - it got up to almost 50F although there was quite a bit of wind - steady at 10-15 mph with higher gusts.  We're supposed to have lousy weather for a few days, including some snow tonight, so I wanted to get in some rides on the only good day we've had for a while. It was my first ride on Pie in 5 days and the first on Drifter in 4 days - Dawn's been neglected for a bit because she's been in heat and it's been very windy, and (call me a wimp if you like) I don't usually ride Dawn under those conditions - she's spooky and reactive at the best of times.  She's also pretty well-trained and will come back into work pretty quickly once we put together a string of riding days.

First up was Pie.  We did a serious work session in the arena, which was amazingly not too wet to use, after he walked around with me to reset the cones and poles that had been removed for the arena to be dragged.  I had him in the ported Mylar snaffle.  Despite the wind and having been off for a number of days, he was positively mellow.  We worked in a serious way on our softening at the walk and trot.  It took him a little while to start consistently softening at the walk, and once that was there we moved up to trot.  We were working on adding soft steps - 3, then 5, then 7, etc. - with looser rein breaks in between, when all of a sudden it was as if he shifted over - he was able to soften consistently at the trot, just like that.  I find this often happens - the horse may be struggling with something for several days and then all of a sudden the logjam breaks and the horse figures out what you want and is right there for you.  It was a lovely thing to feel - he's often had a hard time staying forward and softening at the same time at the trot, but his trot was round, and lifting through the hindquarters, and just wonderful.  I praised him extravagantly.

Then we did a little bit of canter work.  His preference is to always take the right lead canter, and he struggles a bit with the left lead.  When asked to take a right lead canter, he takes it easily.  Left, not so much.  With the left lead, I need to be sure to set it up correctly to help him and be sure my position is correct - by changing the rhythm in my mind from the 1-2 1-2 of trot to the 1-2-3 1-2-3 of canter, timing my canter cue to coincide with his outside hind leg leaving the ground so he can plant it and initiate the canter, and remembering to exhale as I ask for the departure.  I also think the stiffness/crampiness on the right side of his neck may be making it harder for him to take the left lead - I'll continue to work on massaging that.  After our arena work, we had the reward of a short trail ride.  Very good Pie!

Then Drifter was up.  He really didn't need to free lunge after a couple of minutes, so we moved to some lungeing and didn't do that long either - I just wanted some nice trot work in both directions which I got. We groomed and tacked up - I need to work with him on staying ground tied while tacking as he tends to fidget (we aren't tying yet as I want to work him through some of his pulling back on the lead issues before we do that).  We did figure work with the cones - the bracing and rushing at the walk are almost gone, although we're not 100% of the way there yet - we're close but when he's a bit distracted he sometimes starts a bit of bracing.  He got to a good point on this - he knows where the soft spot is now and tries to find it and stay there, and did some nice soft backing, and we did a bit more trot work.  His upward transition is very nice, but on the downwards transition the brace tends to reappear, so we worked a bit on that, using turns and circles to help.  We also did some very nice lengthening and shortening work at the walk off only my seat (I either allow (medium walk), enhance (lengthening) or restrict (shortening) with my seat to get different length steps), and also did some halt work with seat cues as well.  He has a really nice walk, and the lengthening was lovely.

I was delighted with his progress, and told him so - good Drifter!  That was my 10th real ride on him (not counting groundwork, leading work and standing for mounting work) and so far I'd say that he's coming along really well - the bracing is starting to disappear, his focus and work ethic are improving with every session - I think he's actually enjoying our work, he's making good progress at listening to me and following my directions as to speed, direction and destination without trying to take matters into his own hands and his leading and ground manners are greatly improved.

Now when it rains and snows and blows for the next several days I won't feel so bad after these good rides.


  1. Drifter has come a long way in a short time. He sounds like a fun project and of course we all adore Pie.

    One day I hope to regularly ride my horses again!

  2. Sounds like a nice time was had by all. I do have a question. As a "girl" approaching my 50's I am finding myself quite a bit more stiff these days, do you have an excersize routine that helps you to keep fexible? Understanding right now, that I haven't been up one a horse now, for...quite some time. I rode from the time I was 8 until I had my first child, 20+ years or so. I would like to prepare myself as much as possible to hopefully stave off really hurting myself. Ay suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  3. It's always nice to head into non-riding days remembering two good rides. Pie and Drifter both sound like they are coming along nicely. Glad you had these rides before the weather turns. Snow? That's just not right at this time of year, but at least it won't stick around.

  4. Snow??? Yuck, not again. No more be said on that topic.

    My theory is that once a horse feels how much easier it is to carry a ride with a rounded back, he will start to offer is more often than not. Sounds as if Pie had that " light bulb" moment. Good Pie!

    And good Drifter too. He is progressing really well. Fortunately, I think, despite some of his little habits, he was actually not badly trained, but rather not really trained before you got him. Makes a big difference, and it's showing in how quickly he's changing.

  5. Kate-

    I always leave your blog inspired to work with my horse :) Thanks!

  6. i think it's great you put so much thought and attention into the work you do with them :-) what you describe with pie about the 'logjam' breaking i have found over and over again with mine too. most recently it has been grady who came to me so braced and stiff he actually looked and felt lame on his left front when it was on the outside of the bend.

    after slow, patient softening work showing him how to relax those braced neck muscles and use his shoulder fully, one day it was like a revelation - his whole posture and attitude changed when he realized not only could he go like that, but it was more comfortable for him too! now he even carries himself like that out in the pasture... he's like a whole new horse.

    it always rewarding when you can show them something that not only makes your riding more productive, but makes their lives easier too :-)

  7. jme - Interesting you should mention watching him move in the pasture - I've noticed recently that Pie now has the slightest curve in his neck - not much yet, just a little - when before the top line of his neck would have been straight or even a little inverted.

  8. Mary - I have serious back issues, so for me it's all about core strengthening. So anything that strengthens your core is useful. I also think it's a good idea to work the quads - squats or lunges are good for that, and the upper body - bent knee pushups or using weights. There's a good video called Pilates For Dummies that's got some exercises that are good.

    I also think that if your core is strong, your posture is better and you are more stable on your horse and are less likely to brace or interfere with the horse's motion/balance.

  9. Thank you Kate, I will search for that.


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