On Tuesday I got a note from Laura that Mikey seemed a little “off” – nothing drastic but just a little more NQR than normal. So it was with a little bit of worry that I approached our lesson last night. On the plus side, if he had something brewing, I could ride my horse instead, but on the bad side… well, lame is never good.
Fortunately when I grabbed him out of the field he looked to be moving normally, so I made the decision to go ahead… and boy am I glad I did!
I warmed him up, and yes, there was certainly some kind of hitch in his getalong – but he was moving forward and didn’t seem to be too bothered, so Stef decided she’d hop on and feel him out a little bit.
There is something really magical about watching a rider with very good natural feel. Stef is the kind of rider who, within three minutes, can tell you almost everything about a horse, making your rambling account of his whole life history, how he stretched yesterday, and everything else you can think of sort of unnecessary. So after a few minutes of just getting a feel for him, Stef began working on what I can only call “ridden bodywork” – it was like a chiropractic session under saddle.
As I noted the other day, he is much more flexible on the left side of his body than the right. In accordance with that, he is typically a little NQR on the right hind, among other things. Stef’s approach to that was to work him against the wall on a sort of exaggerated and basic haunches in. For about twenty minutes, she simply asked him to cross his hind legs, and unlock his body. Watching was a lesson in itself – the difference in his ability to do this depending on which direction he was going in was striking.
To the left, the movement required the most work from his right hind – continuing along his path required him to cross it in front of his left hind, then push off laterally. At the beginning he was almost completely unable to do this at all – his leg would come underneath himself, but never quite cross, and a couple times he almost seemed sort of
locked up. The more difficult it was, the more heaving and tossing of his head happened, but Stef didn’t worry about that at all, and just kept asking him until he began to do it.
To the right, it was so much easier for him physically, he had it figured out on his first pass.
As Stef continued to work him, back and forth, along with some circles and counterbending (especially to the right), you could see a marked change. His stride became more fluid, he stretched out a little more, and when the work caused a “release” or give through his body, he would snort in a way that almost sounded like, “hey! feels good!”
Stef didn’t really worry much about contact or anything until after she’d been doing this for a while. A summary here would be that he can’t even really go well (forward, relaxed) in a straight line, until he’s worked his kinks out. His body physically can’t do some of the things it needs to do – probably due to an extended time “guarding” his fractured ankle. It would make sense that the right side of his body would be quite tight and locked, if he spent a lot of time slightly bent that way to take weight off of his hurt ankle.
So while I didn’t get my butt-busting lesson (lessons with Stef are calorie burning affairs, for real!), Mikey learned a ton. Well… actually, I’m not sure how much he learned, vs how much of a bodywork session he got. He already seemed to know everything and she commented that he was always trying and seemed to have his basics, but just couldn’t do certain things. Either way, it was excellent for him and I got some video, which I’ll try to get up in the next few days to illustrate the point.
After his lesson, he sat there on crossties wearing the kind of expression I usually have after a full body massage.
And, notably, for carrot stretches he was noticeably more flexible to the right than he had been just a few days before.