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.