Back to basics

Last week I wrote that Dixie had lost a shoe..I found it in my riding ring. I didn’t think to look there and didn’t feel him pull it. Yesterday, he pulled off another shoe while I was riding. My farriers hate me 🙂 Dixie is going through the stage where his hind end is moving bigger than his front end resulting in a lot of shoe ripping. Bell boots help but obviously not enough in his case.

We had 3″ of rain over the past week so riding has been hit and miss. I have a sand/stone-dust ring which drains very well but can still have a slippery base and our large grass field to ride in. I try not to ride in our grass field if it wet or else I make lots of divots and regret it later.

Over the past few days I have went backwards with Dixie to work on some basics. I am not able to keep riding him as consistently as I would like to due to the weather so we go one step forward and then a few back depending on the days. Dixie is perfectly happy to go around on a loose rein just doing nothing but when you take a bit of contact and ask him to stretch into the bridle you get a lot of mouth opening, running at the trot, mass confusion and panic. I had resolved all this before all the bad weather hit so I went back to the lunge line to refresh his memory. I love using vienna reins on a horse that really needs to learn to stretch across the back. They do slide so they give the horse the ability to move up and down.

I warmed him up without anything on just letting him trot around. Then I put the vienna reins on very loose. I have also recently moved him to a happy mouth mullen just to see how he feels about it. The minute he felt the contact he ran backwards (vienna reins were so loose there was hardly any contact and he had previously lunged in sidereins). He just shuffled back a bit and then I gently encouraged him forward and his next reaction was to trot 100mph as fast as he could. Run…run away from the pressure. I talked to him and brought him in on a smaller circle until he took a deep breath and by then he had figured it all out. He is so very smart like that. He really struggles with letting go across the back and stretching down and instead prefers to trot like a sewing machine when you are asking for something he doesn’t understand. His hind end is really pushing off but the front is going 100mph. Funny looking stuff! His canter is his best gait so I used the canter to achieve a bit more relaxtion and he can canter around perfectly balanced and happy. Then I mixed in trot with the canter and by the end of 10 minutes we have lovely trot work both directions where he was stretching down and using his shoulder.

When I rode him yesterday I started off at the walk just asking for a bit of bending left and right. Then a bit of leg yield. Oh no…he had forgotten leg meant sideways and was very stressed. Everytime I touched him to move over he trotted and then I asked him to walk which resulted in mouth opening pissy face. This is the part where my friend who was watching probably thought I was torturing the poor horse but I was being as soft as I could be and very patient. Just repeat until he understood which took the first 15 min of the ride. Once he allowed me to push him laterally he softened everywhere and automatically started to stretch over the topline. As soon as he softened I followed with my hand asking for as much stretch as he would give me.

Wouldn’t you know that as soon as I picked up the trot he wanted to cruise around at 100mph and off came his shoe 🙂 His front end just gets stuck and the hind feet just rip them off even with the bell boots on. The ground was soft so I kept working. In the trot I was working on a big circle spiraling in and out which again made him angry at first (his angry is so very cute and non threatening) and he wanted to run away, break into the canter, open his mouth and pull me down a bit but I kept working on staying slow with the trot rhythm and asking him to just move over bits at a time. Each time before I used my leg to push him over I would use a half halt to balance him up and slow him down. I worked back on forth by changing directions on the figure eight and just kept asking for some sideways steps. Once we got a bit of lateral steps to the side his whole body would soften and he became very ride-able. I love feeling the difference in their bodies once they soften and how the stride changes.

I do think that training is not always the most pretty thing in the world and if I had not been through these steps with many horses before I might worry about his reaction to contact and worry that this ugly stuff needs to stop. Deep down I know that I am doing exactly the right things and in a few rides he will understand what I am asking and we will be back to pretty again. He has the same reaction on the lunge line but then he gave in there too. I am quick to reward him anytime he stretches down and follow him with my hands and praise him.

He is such a smart horse but like all horses he gets confused when he doesn’t understand what you asking. He is such a willing horse and I love how hard he tries to figure things out. His whole personality has changed and he now comes right up to you in the field and searches you over for treats. He likes to follow me around and see what I am doing. Right now we have so much grass that all the horses are turning down the hay (nice to be able to save the $$ on hay!). They eat all night and sleep all day.

I can’t wait for today’s ride because I know he is going to go even better today. Maybe if the ground is drier we can add in some jumps. He loves to jump and so do I 🙂

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