Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Once the holidays are over, don't you breathe a sigh of relief that things can go back to normal?  I always do.  Not quite there yet since we still have New Year's to get through (my least favorite holiday, to be sure), but at least Tucker is getting back to his regularly scheduled programming and back into a better riding routine after my hiaitus, which I spent doing a lot of sneezing, coughing, sleeping, and cat-warming:



Yes those are the world's two most adorable cats.  I completely agree.  Terrible nurses, though.  Always asleep on the job.

Anyway, now that I am back, so is Tucker.  He came back to work feeling a little stiff and weak behind.  I noticed that at the walk, he was really twisting his hind feet as he placed them on the ground, and looked stiff through his stifle and lower back.  Once on his back, he just felt tight underneath me, like he was walking with his hind legs way out behind him, which I noticed went away by the end of the ride.  So, we have been doing lots of long and low trotting, making him push forward instead of just plunk along, trying to get his back looser and hind end stronger (wish I could do hill work, but unfortunately not this time of year).  He doesn't seem to mind the work at all and has been better with each ride, so I think the stiffness was due to time off, particularly in the cold weather and with less turnout that he'd usually have in the summer, and so far doesn't seem to be anything that concerns me.

Last week I got an early Christmas present, a visit with Nicku, who did me the honor of riding my lovely beast while she was here.  She did a fabulous job with him and it was awesome for me to get to see my horse go, which is a very rare occasion for me since I'm always on board.  Once Tucker got over his disappointment that this would not be just a pony ride, and Nicku figured out that Tucker's "go" button is more like a hair trigger (especially for someone with super strong dressage legs!), they made a really great pair.  She also made a couple of observations that have really helped me in my last few rides.  Another reason I love having someone else sit on my horse -- there is always something to learn from a fresh perspective, and I love when amateurs can help fellow amateurs. 

First, Nicku noticed that Tucker doesn't want to take the outside rein.  I think I have been working so hard on keeping my hands steady and keeping an even contact on both reins that I've gone too far and started letting him rely on the inside rein too much, to the exclusion of the outside rein.  Which of course encourages him to lean in, and gives him the opportunity to bulge through his outside shoulder, two tricks that he finds very useful to avoid working too hard depending on what's being asked of him.  So we have been working on that.  I still want him to be balanced on both reins, but I don't want him to avoid/resist contact on the outside rein, which he's doing now.

Second, Nicku echoed Eric's advice, which is to do transitions within the gaits.  We've been working on this... Tucker generally finds this completely stupid ("You said trot and I am trotting. What do you want now?  Make up your mind lady.  Sheesh.").  The extensions are easier for him, mostly because of the way he is built and because he naturally has an 18-foot canter stride.  But he can be a bit lazy, so the first couple are always sort of... pathetic.  So we are working on getting him to be a bit more... responsive.  I am trying to hear Eric's voice in my head yelling at me to GALLOP.  I actually had some great hand gallops down the long sides of the arena on Saturday, so things are improving.

The collections are another story.  His answer to the collected trot is to walk, and the collected canter to trot.  I'm getting better about catching him with my leg before he actually breaks, but it's a fine line and he tends to get frustrated and confused easily (or at least feigns confusion well enough to disrupt the exercise).  For now, since he is still building up his strength, I am only asking for a few collected strides at a time, but eventually I want him to be able (and willing) to hold a collected trot or canter for as long as I ask, and then go forward again when I ask, etc.  Preferably, without making any executive decisions to change gaits entirely (which is both counter-productive and humiliating, since it makes me feel like a little girl who can't make her pony go). 

I doubt he will ever enjoy this work, but I am hoping that in time he will tolerate it.  I may go back to collecting and extending between poles on the ground, since he at least believes there is a point to this exercise, as it relates somewhat to jumping.  If all else fails, I'm not above bribing him with stud muffins and canada mints, a fact of which he is well aware.   


  1. I love getting feedback from other riders!! So cool. Plus blogger friends are super.

    Keep working those collected gaits. I generally do best when I really get Izzy forward and going, then ask for a few strides of collection, then back to forward. She's a hair slow too, so the forward keeps her motivated.

  2. I second your use of ground poles. I had the pleasure of attempting to soften up a stalwart school pony who had firm concepts of "walk," "trot" and "canter in her head after years of beginner lessons...
    Playing with the spacing of ground poles was something she got instantly (as a good school pony who regularly saved her unhelpful riders). After she figured out how to adjust herself, I could ask for the lengthening or collection of her stride *before* we hit the poles. Didn't take long at all for her to catch on. Those clever horses always assume we're asking for the wrong thing, but if they figure it out themselves sometimes they give us the benefit of the doubt in the end :) Good luck!

  3. You are WAY too kind! Tucker is a lovely ride and I appreciate you entrusting him under saddle with me! Cant wait for you to ride the Pongster!

  4. Those are very adorable cats. I'm sure now that you're back to a routine with Tucker things will fall into place. I like working with small cavelletti to give Blue something to focus on otherwise he gets bored. Sort of thinks he knows it all and can't be bothered to listen to what I think.

  5. Hi Marissa,
    Just stopping by to wish you and Tucker all the best in 2012!

  6. I think the kitties were hard at work trying to hypnotize you into sleeping through being sick. :)
    Having another person's trusted perspective, and getting to watch your horse move with someone good up there, is SO wonderful! Glad you got to see it, and the feed back. So fun.

    I think Hudson and Tucker are texting each other on the stupidity of extending/collecting within the gaits. Every time I ask I hear "Fine. I can do it. See? NOW will you leave me alone? I am SO gonna call Tucker tonight."


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