Note the boots...
So I spent all night on Tuesday, and all day on Wednesday, worrying about my Mr. Moon.
Terrible thoughts of permanent, unknown disability circled in my head, as is expected of a chronic worrier. Who knew what could be the ‘real’ cause of his lameness? Never mind the fact that I have no idea of his history, and while he’s well-bred, he’s been a backyard pony for at least 2 years. Why? What dark hidden past does he have?
Getting to the barn later then usual yesterday, meant I didn’t have a lot of time to evaluate his soundness before making the call about whether or not to take him to my regular lesson. BUT, thanks to a very awesome horse-y friend, I was able to borrow a pair of “Old Macs”, the horse sneakers. I picked out his feet, saw what was either dark staining of his sole, or very prominent purple bruising and got his borrowed boots on.
Into the trailer, off to W’s, and unloaded. Walking up the gravel driveway he seemed alright…
Once in the barn, one of the boarders exclaimed “Moon Boots!”. I love it!
Lucky me (I do honestly consider myself lucky), she decided to warm up in the ring with Moon and I. I NEED opportunities like this to work him in the ring with other horses. I think we’re really going to like this pair when we move here in October.
Moon’s walk was fabulous, so we moved on to trot. Sound. Completely sound.
I’m not wanting to jinx it since it could still be something else, but I think there’s no more reason for overreacting. Just me being nutty is all.
After last week’s bracey-stubborn-resistant lesson, I was really hoping to pull it together this time around. Prove that our hard work was paying off.
Well it was. At a walk, we were awesome. Yes, it’s a walk, but we’re still very proud. Our serpentines and circles were spot-on, and we even managed some very, very nice leg yielding.
At a trot, things fell apart at first. Moon is learning to rebalance his body, soften and bend. This is hard. Imagine you’ve been walking and running around a certain way your whole life, and then someone takes you to this class where they tell you to move differently. And it’s kinda hard. Your body feels tight, muscles ache afterwards, and you feel awkward. It feels ‘different’, and different is wrong. You lack a lot of the balance and muscle required to move that way, and the muscling you do have, is all tight and locked up.
That’s what this is like for Moon. He’s 12 years old, and for probably 9 years at least, he’s been wandering around very braced. Tense. Anyone who’s seen him, can see the great big muscle on the top of his poll. It’s big and solid. And it’s the WRONG muscle to have developed. Strong muscling on the poll means that the horse is not engaging his back and hind, and failing to lift, hence, very little topline muscle development. It can also mean that they are over-flexed to the bit, but this isn’t the case with Moon, who is not very flexible yet.
So all of this for us, is physiotherapy in a way. Teaching Moon to move differently in a way that will build and strengthen his topline, allow him to work more effectively and loosen up. Make him feel better and more balanced while working.
(lunging without his head in the air...)
While learning, Moon tends to brace against me or try to avoid contact, since that’s what his past experiences have taught him works. Or makes the experience less painful. Easier.
So he’s was doing a rather good job of having a tantrum, throwing his head everywhere, snorting and shoving out his hips, sticking his nose way out…(W finds it a bit amusing, because he comes across as a bit of a lazy backyard QH, and then suddenly he wakes up and his appendix history starts coming out).
I oddly enough, I suffer from some of the same bracing faults, which typically just makes things worse. Yesterday, I finally got a good picture of my own failings in our riding.
While working him out of his stubborn streak, I was using the lifting and bending techniques W had taught me. I was determined to ride him out of it for once, instead of W having to get on and school him for me. As I’m going around, W yells out “Relax!”.
He’s fighting me! Why would I relax?
W came over, pulled each of my legs away from the saddle in turn, and moved them all over the place until all the tension came out. “You’re bracing against him every time he braces against you. Ask, soften and release. Then ask again. I don’t care if there’s only seconds between each ask and each release. But DO NOT BRACE against him. When he gets resistive and leans against you, by leaning back (or in my case, fixing my hands/arms, holding my legs tight to him, stopping to follow with my seat), you GIVE HIM something to brace against. And face facts. He’s at least 1000 lbs. heavier then you are. Guess who’ll win? So relax. Become a fluid object. Can he brace against water? No. Move, flow, ebb. Give him nothing to get brace-y against, and he’ll have no choice but to soften too. “
We trotted off again. I told Moon that W told me to relax too. I did as W said, and let my legs become fluid. It was weird. Like disassociating them from my mind. Not that I couldn’t use them as aids, but they stopped being rigid objects and moved with Moon. When I needed them, they’d activate, apply an aid, and then go back to being fluid.
The result? Moon tried a different movement to brace/resist/run-out on every lap until he had no more options left. And then he softened. Then we rode our best trotting serpentines to date, and did some pretty awesome leg yielding. Our best yet as well. W called out “You’re officially training 1st level!”
When we came to a stop, I threw my arms in the air and let out a little cheer. I did it. I personally got him back and BETTER, all by myself (okay, W was there to help, but I didn’t have to dismount). We did it with another horse in the ring. We did it with some 1st level moves. Success.
We worked a bit longer at a trot and then called it a day. Moon had done leg yielding, serpentines, straight aways and even shoulder fore. He did it softly, listening and responding. And I FINALLY have started to learn that I too need to relax when riding. : )
Back in the barn, we were loving him up. W stood back and then looked over at me smiling. “He’s got topline!” Yup. Not a lot, but he FINALLY has some semblance of a topline muscle. And it looks good on him. Maybe after winter, he’ll have a whole lot more!
Time to go hunt down some “Moon Boots” for ourselves and a new saddle…Training is OFFICIALLY ON!
Moon's "chesty" fly sheet