In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

Thawing the Fish

It’s a good thing the good trails aren’t closer.  If they were, I’d be tempted to haul Acey out there every day, and that would be a very bad idea.  She has too much to learn at home.

For example, as recently as last week, riding her was like sitting astride a large slab of halibut, straight from the deep-freeze.  She was Stiff.  As.  A.  Board.  When asked to circle, she’d respond immediately, but would attempt to shuffle around the curve without flexing her spine — even her neck. 

This is obviously uncomfortable to ride (and no doubt, to be ridden).  Worse, it isn’t safe.  If I tried taking the Halibut Horse through some of the areas Consolation and I have been exploring, without the ability to twist around like a live fish, we’d be in trouble.  And a single-rein-stop?  Not gonna happen.  Put simply:   If she doesn’t bend, we could both  break.

Besides standard greenness (Is that a word?), I think part of Acey’s trouble is that she’s much smaller relative to her rider than are most horses.  I’m still learning to adjust my balance to her, and she’s justifiably nervous about letting her body move freely under a load.  We’d worked through this last fall, but her long winter off renewed the problem. 

There’s nothing worth doing about a problem except fixing it.  So, while Acey and I are often stuck with short rides in the round corral, we’ve been attempting to thaw the fish.

Step one is to get her in the habit of moving forward with energy.  She does this fine on the trail, but is less inclined to do so in an enclosed (boring?) space.  She responds well to a dressage whip, though, and seems to prefer it to leg cues.  (No, I don’t plan to carry a crop with her forever, but this is a fine place to start.)  Once we’re crusing along, it’s easier to move her through the requisite circles, reverses, figure-eights, and cloverleafs, always releasing pressure the moment I get a hint of bend.

We also make some sharp turns into the fence, a move that requires her to disengage her hindquarters and flip her body around.  This is SRS practice; it also gets her thinking and engages her back.

At a halt, we do some rein gives (neck only, Acey, neck only), backing, and pivots on the hind- and forehand.  She doesn’t really enjoy this stuff, so we accomplish the minimum and move on.   I don’t believe in aggrivating my horses unnecessarily.

Then, there’s the fun part:  pole patterns.  Acey is a smart little fish, and gets bored with ring work easily.  To keep her entertained — while still thawing her spine and building her confidence beneath a rider — I make little mazes out of ground poles.  Some patterns include chutes and tight corners; others, like yesterday’s, are more  geometric:

We weave among the poles from all different directions, sometimes stepping over them but usually snaking a path between.  Sometimes, we stop and perform a haunches-over to make it around a very tight turn.  The idea is to keep her listening, rather than anticipating, and bending, bending, bending.

It’s working.  She’s learning that it’s safe and easy to yield to rein and leg, and has even begun reponding to the turn of my head and shifting of my seat.  Today, though, I think we’ll take a break and do our bending on the trail.

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11 responses

  1. C.R. Sawyer

    Hello, I have been reading your blog for a while and I enjoy it, so thank you. This is my first comment and I do not mean to criticize you at all, but only ask out of curiosity. Why do you not ride in winter? I have noticed several instances where you mention having to spend a lot of time re-training or overcoming problems caused by over winter inactivity. I should mention that I am not an endurance competitor, but only a cowboy from Kansas.

    June 12, 2011 at 9:33 am

    • Hi and welcome! Thanks for commenting. 🙂 I normally would ride in winter, but this past year was a bad one. We had several, big snowfalls around Thanksgiving, which then froze into a thick sheet of ice that stayed on the ground for a month. Then, just when the footing was safe again, I was badly injured by an unscheduled dismount and was unable to ride for nearly 8 weeks. *sigh* Let’s hope this winter is better! There have been some past years when I didn’t ride much in winter because my horses were so green that I wasn’t comfortable taking them out in adverse conditions, and my round corral isn’t covered so ice and mud make it useless for the winter months. Fortunately, Consolation is well past that stage, and Acey will be too, by the end of this summer. I’m all for giving an endurance horse 4-8 weeks of vacation in winter, but *all* winter is a bit much.

      June 12, 2011 at 11:57 am

  2. Acey is beautiful. How tall is she? I predict that she is going to be one sweet ride…what an eye she has.

    June 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    • Thanks, Lori. 🙂 I need to measure her again, but if memory serves, she tops out at 13.1.

      June 12, 2011 at 7:17 pm

  3. Rosanne

    Acey will get it soon enough…she’s a smart girl I’m sure. I had a young mare that was the same. She acted as though bending would break her. I started her with fun ground exercises in the round pen using a carrot as bait. 🙂 She soon figured out that she could bend her neck quite far and it wouldn’t break! Soon we moved on to doing this undersaddle w/o the carrot. I love Acey’s eyes!

    June 12, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    • 🙂 Thanks, Rosanne. She’s doing much better already — a perfect little Gumby on the ground, and really starting to loosen up under saddle. Thank goodness.

      June 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

  4. We have one horse that bends like a floppy pretzel – and yet he doesn’t give. He cannot disconnect his hind from his front end. It’s a very interesting concept. I don’t ride him consistently so don’t get to work with him a lot. Plus he’s a rather slow learner. Very kind, but you have to do things with him over and over. Do something 5 times and he’ll get it the 6th time… and forget it the 8th time so you have to start over. But he can go fast! (I prefer a horse with good brakes though…)

    June 13, 2011 at 10:16 am

  5. Hi…I’m also a frequent reader of your blog, and I learn a lot from your comments. I also really enjoy your beautiful photography (your recent canyon ride shots were particularly awesome).

    June 16, 2011 at 9:58 am

    • Hey, thanks, Fetlock. Thanks for reading and commenting, too!! 😀

      June 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm

  6. Pingback: Welcome to the July Blog Carnival of Horses | EQUINE Ink

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