Isn’t That Always The Way?

It seems that I have this habit of getting horses figured out, or making huge amounts of progress, at the exact time when they are scheduled to leave.  While nothing in this world is a guarantee, chances of Archie leaving for a new home in PA are about 99% at this moment.  So it figures that over the weekend I would have a couple of ground-shaking, earth-shatteringly decent rides on him.

So as reported here Archie’s left lead has been an ongoing problem.  I didn’t worry too much about it at first, preferring to get him going forward and straight, figuring that as his strength and fitness improved, we’d eventually get there.  But I know that even with some more recent work on that issue, it hadn’t fully improved, and Laura reported that in her last ride she was completely unsuccessful with it.

As fortune would have it, I was home most of the weekend (holy crow it was hot…) so I took the opportunity to hop on him a few times.  I hadn’t seen him go in a while or ridden him, and partially wanted to make sure he was still feeling the same as he was before, in addition to working on that left lead.  I quickly determined that yes, he’s the same as always – a little on the lazy side and preferring “whoa” to other options (which to be fair, I was too given the heat and humidity!).  In addition, the left lead was still not happening very well.

Now keep in mind we’ve gotten LOADS of advice on this from different people – some solicited, some not.  We’ve been told to try weighting the outside stirrup more, to bend him more, to ask only at specific points of the ring, to push his shoulder out, to push his hips out (and frankly, his lateral response to leg is still quite poor, so any tactics that involve bending or lateral movement of any body parts is not so easy to use).  Fortunately, Saturday I was riding just as a dressage lesson was finishing up – being taught by one of my favorite trainers. 

I stopped and chatted with her for a minute, saying that it was quite frustrating and that I’d like to confirm his left lead before sending him off with new people.  Her response was to grab her helmet and hop on him for a few minutes.  It turned out to be the most productive 5-8 minutes of Archie’s life.

The thing about Stef as a trainer is that she’s extraordinarily perceptive to body positioning and weighting – both of the horse and rider.  She’s fantastic at getting everybody straightened out in ways that don’t involve a lot of yelling/instruction, but rather through simple exercises or asking for counterbending and the like.  She experimented a little with Archie, noting that he still falls in quite heavily on his left shoulder and gets “blocked” with the forward energy.  At the trot she managed to get him to lift his back a little and release some of his tension, which made an immediate difference in his overall demeanor.  Then she began asking for the canter.

Her first attempt didn’t work, so she corrected him immediately and experimented a little bit.  All of a sudden, out of what seemed like nowhere, Archie picked up his left lead and went around the ring a few times.  After repeating that a few times, it was my turn.

“Now you try!”

“Great, except I have NO idea what you just did.”

I was instructed to keep my seat/body as aligned and straight as possible – no shifting my weight to the inside or outside, which fortunately had been my gut instinct all along (though easier said than done, as I don’t have any idea what “straight” is, apparently).  The next instruction was also super simple… a half halt.  The third step was just to ask for the canter and see what happened – if he got it wrong, correct immediately and bring him back to the trot.  After that, I was to ask with a little more outside rein and tap him with the whip, but only on the right shoulder.

That part seemed counter-intuitive, as he tends to lean so heavily on his left shoulder.  It seems like it’s promoting it – moving his nose to the outside and encouraging him to push his shoulder in seemed like the wrong thing, which is why we were having so much trouble – it honestly wouldn’t have occurred to me to try it, but in practice, it did not encourage him to lean more, nor did it make him more disorganized going into the corner.  And while using whip behind the leg is my normal thing, with him it encouraged his hips and back end to the inside, which apparently made it easier for him to get the right lead (not what was wanted!).

We tried it several times with great success, and since we’d met our goals I took him for a walk in the woods and creeks to cool off.  All told it was a 15 minute ride but we accomplished more in that fifteen minutes than we have in the last month, probably.

Sunday I brought him in again, just to see if it was a fluke or not.  I am happy to report that he seemed to be “getting it” in a very big way and we not only achieved the left lead each time I asked, but it was a decent good quality canter as well. Once I’d gotten that under my belt I decided to point him at a crossrail that had been left up.  It had some guide rails and stuff, so I thought it would go OK, but did not expect that he’d focus, go straight, actually jump, and land cantering (on the left lead) the very first time.  So it seems someone has figured out his legs!

At one point I gave him huge rubs on his neck for being awesome, and his response was to arch his neck and toss his nose like, “yeah, I know!”

He got a bath, and tonight will be getting his mane touched up and other basic beauty shop stuff.  Hopefully everything goes off well, keep your fingers crossed!

In other news we got another new horse in over the weekend.  We’re calling him Houndog and he is a VERY handsome and good sized dark bay horse.  When I first saw him I was a bit concerned as he seemed to be COVERED in hives. It wasn’t a bunch of distinct bumps – rather, it looked like he was a quilted surface .  About the only part of him that wasn’t all lumpy/bumpy was the top of his rump.  He also seemed quite shell shocked and immediately came over to me and shoved his handsome head under my arm.  “Hooold me! Please hold me!”

Bad cell pic of my camera screen... sorry!

He’s thin, but overall quite well built I think – and with a sweet face, kind eye, and generally nice attitude.  He also had no problem with fly spray or being fussed over.  All in all, I’m smitten! 

Our pretty new chestnut mare managed to injure herself practically right away, and has a nice sized cut/scrape on the inside of her front right leg (the upper leg, in a rather fleshy area).  She was excellent about being caught and letting me clean it and cover it in antibiotic goo.  I’m enjoying with all these guys that they are pretty OK with being caught and handled – not much of the “leave me alone!” with these guys.   “itchy” of the itchy/scratchy team gave us a little bit of trouble yesterday  – apparently he just wanted nothing to do with flyspray.  But as soon as he discovered the treats in Deidra’s pocket that was all over 😉

Everybody else was pretty good. I even managed to get some fly spray on Niner without a halter yesterday.  Not sure how I did it, maybe she was sleepy and her guard was down!

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