Straight Lines

Wow, what a weekend!  The wind was whipping like crazy all weekend, and as a result it felt pretty chilly.  But that’s about the only bad news.  First (and FINALLY) two of our harder to place mares are now in a new home.  Wek and Sister are both terrific, lovely mares with a lot of promise – but Wek’s giant knee seemed to scare a lot of people away, and Sister – well, she could be a handful.  So finding people interested in both was sort of like hitting the lottery.  Plus they’re only about twenty minutes from my door and we have a standing invitation to come visit any time (with notice, of course!). 

The rest of the weekend was spent working on Archie.  My guy has been a little funny lately, plus lost a shoe.  So probably won’t be able to do much with him until Wednesday.  Knowing Archie is super quiet, I had no second thoughts about hopping on during the 50 mph wind gusts and tornado like conditions and riding outside.  He didn’t give anything a second look.

I established pretty quickly that we have a much more forward horse than we used to have.  It’s still work, don’t get me wrong, but he tends to move up when you ask, and it’s much more consistent now.  At least at the trot, he will stay forward and in the trot with much less work than it used to be.  The canter is still not quite there, but I was able to acheive a canter from the walk in both directions, on both leads, and keep it going not only around the ring but on a couple of circles.  The canter was definitely work, I’m not going to lie.  On straightaways, I could soften up and get into a half seat, and allow the forward motion, but his balance/strength on turns is not so great, and to keep him going I had to sit and be much more aggressive.  But it started to come together.

After that warmup, and trotting some poles to get him lifting his hind feet more, I took a slightly different route than normal.  When I ride Archie, I often notice how crooked we both tend to get and how he wants to cut and lean in on his turns.  I’ve been trying my hardest to keep my hands wide and teach him to move away from my leg to keep  him out on those turns, but that wasn’t quite what I wanted to work on.

While doing the trot poles, I noticed severe difficulty not just in turning, but in going straight.  His approach was all over the place – if his head and neck were straight, his shoulders and hindquarters werent.  Even when he kept a straight overall path, few of his body parts were aligned.  So I backtracked a little bit, put thoughts about bending or leg yielding or ANY of that stuff completely out of my head, and decided to focus on going straight.

Straight seems like such an easy concept, right?  I kept Archie off the rail, not wanting him to depend on it to stay forward and straight, and within seconds had found out exactly how difficult Straight really is.  I kept him on contact (haaate!!!) and tried to keep my body centered and leg pressure even, and all this really accomplished was to make me that much MORE aware of how every single body part was moving in a different direction. 

At the ends of the ring I concentrated on keeping lots of outside rein, and keeping the turns relatively square, but it still took a couple laps at the walk before I felt like the back end was following the front end, and the neck/head was in a straight line.  My legs were screamy with pain at that point – while I wasn’t trying to work on leg yielding or the like, I felt like I was pretty constantly correcting him, and he’s still not THAT responsive to “move over” – so what looked like a lot of slowpoking was seriously taking its toll on my hip flexors.

Eventually I got him together enough to do more turning, and began doing three loop serpentines on contact, and while concentrating on staying as straight as possible through each turn.  By the second turn of the first serpentine, Archie started doing something new – bringing his head down and looking for all the world like a well trained dressage horse.  At the same exact moment, I felt him become, very suddenly, easy to ride.  He was light in my hands, and all of a sudden not cutting or drifting on his turns, and very controllable through my seat. 

He was unable to hold that for very long, and when I turned back to loop across the ring in the other direction, he began jigging a little bit, like he needed more forward energy to keep it up.  Normally I’m sort of a disciplinarian on jigging, but physically Archie is just not very strong yet, and so I allowed it, and let him move up into a not-too-fast trot.  I had to drop my stirrups to keep the feeling of depth in my leg and seat, but kept my hands wide, reins relatively short, and just concentrating on finding that place of balance we had just found.

And wouldn’t you know it, no cutting/bulging/leaning through the turns, beautiful even circles, and this wonderful feeling of being connected to the horse.  I didn’t let him get too fast – in the work we’ve done to get him moving forward, he sometimes has a tendency to keep accelerating.  So I kept it slow, but with a lot of leg, and a couple of times even felt the sensation of him putting his limited back muscles to good use. 

He wants to curl behind the bit a little at times, but I put this down to him figuring it out and not having a lot of topline strength.  I did my best to not “reward” that so kept contact (we all know this is not a strong point of mine!) and pushed forward with my core when he did it.  Ideally I’d like him stretching out more rather than curling his neck but I think that will come with a little more time.

We repeated essentially the same ride on Sunday, and followed up with a short solo trail ride.  He still needs to get a little braver when out on his own, but that will also come.

Physically, he is starting to look REALLY good.  Topline and hips filling out, some shiny hair peeking through, and gaining weight steadily.  I’m going to wait another week to take new photos – his middle still needs more weight, and he still has odd patches of winter hair here and there.  But he got a lot of compliments yesterday which makes me grin.  I think there’s a fancy horse in there!

Also, I found a new blog today that focuses on success stories for ex-racehorses.  Looks like there are several updates a week and I look forward to reading more!  Happy endings are what keep us going, I think.  Please stop by at Off Track Thoroughbreds. 🙂 We’ve added them to our links sections and look forward to reading more!

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