Now, if only he would gain more weight! I don’t think Archie is really a hard keeper – I suspect that once the weight is ON, he’ll keep it well, especially if he gets regular work (despite his essentially lazy nature, he seems to be doing better, and happier, when he is ridden more). That said, he finally has a nice shiny coat! The weight gain is FINALLY starting to catch up to his ribs. But his topline is filling out, his hip/loin area is MUCH improved, and he’s starting to get really handsome. And I think he knows it. He had three different people comment yesterday about how good he looks, and I think, of the few things he understands well, he REALLY “gets” admiration.
With him filling out nicely, I’m starting to think he has a really nice, heavyset, almost warmblood type build. He looks like the kind of horse that all my friends rode in Equitation classes when we were kids. He was very good for grooming yesterday, which included clipping some errant hair off his legs, jawline, bridle path, and ears. I don’t shave them down like I’m show grooming, but like to keep everything neat, and he had developed some large (and sort of cute) ear tufts that had to go if he was going to start looking like the fancy, handsome horse he is.
For comparison’s sake, this is what we were working with to start:
Of course, with all that hair he had, it’s hard to really show how skinny he was. You can see more rib in the new pic, but trust me, he’s picked up a lot of weight and condition. There’s a glute muscle there now, that wasn’t before. The space in front of hips has no hollow left at all. The muscles in his shoulder are developing quite nicely. And he has gaskins now. Very exciting! His back is also filling out SO much. I’m very pleased with his physical progress – though he was never in horrid shape, the spring colic/diarrhea thing really took a lot out of him I think. And oh boy… I just found his original pic from when he first came in from Jolly Acres:
Oh the hair. Again, it covered a whole lot of skinny, heh.
In any case, after snapping a few new conformation pictures (which I will probably replace, again, in a few more weeks when we have more rib cover), I tacked up and went to the large upper ring. There was a lesson going on so I did wait a little while before getting on, but it was actually sort of interesting and definitely applicable to what we need to do with Archie. It was a jumping lesson, but the main thing one of the riders was working on was straightening everything out – getting all the horse’s feet on the same track, and the body in line from head to tail. Pretty much precisely what we’re trying to develop with Archie right now. While I know this is a major thing at any speed, it’s interesting to watch how it applies to jumping, and reinforced the idea that it is the SINGLE most important thing for this horse to work on now that we have a forward button.
Once we had room in the ring we went to work, and boy, is straight hard. I kept him well off the rail and turned frequently, making sure to keep my eyes up and use focal points rather than looking down, so I had a better sense of when we were drifting. He likes to drift out towards the edges of the ring, and would probably go straighter by hugging the rail, but I’m not sure that’s actually helping him develop straightness, so I wanted to take away that crutch.
In the trot he’s a little easier, but I also have a tendency to drop my hands too low and stiffen my elbows – which, while it occasionally produces “pretty, neck arching Archie” is not quite right either. Focused on keeping my reins short, and elbows fluid and at my sides.
Then it was time for my favorite, the canter! As always the left lead was difficult, but I found some tricks to get him onto it. It’s not how I would prefer to ask, but I think right now he has to build up the strength to do it, before it will become easier to ask properly. Again, as usual, it’s all about aligning his body. But since it’s rather hard to do, as a rider, I began using things in the ring to help put him on a more aligned path naturally. I found when I asked near objects on the left, that it became much easier to get the left lead. It also helped when directing him through a somewhat narrow opening between two jumps. At those moments, apparently the arc of his whole body is uniform, and voila! a left lead canter. I only did a few transitions up to the canter, and mostly focused on keeping it going for a while.
One thing I noticed happening repeatedly was when he goes into a turn, he loses his alignment completely. I’m not sure where in his body it starts, but his neck starts coming left, while his nose starts pointing right. At the same time, he loses steam in a big way. As soon as I straightened out his head and neck, he’s able to proceed through the turn quite well. He used to do something similar at the trot, so I do think it’s something strength and fitness will help a lot with.
After working on the canter and getting several successful left lead transitions, I gave him big pats and we went on a little mosey in the woods to cool out. He’s definitely getting more comfortable on a loose rein on his own, which was nice. Even when a horse in a neighboring field came running up to see him, he kept his cool and puttered on up the hill. He did have some indecision about going down a rather steep hill, but as with everything else, he just needs to keep doing it to build up strength.