Sunday, March 18, 2012


I have just finished up my first ride on Joey in about three weeks {thanks to rain, a head cold, a bout of mastitis and some ‘flue….  Yay. Sick.}.  I am really pleased to say that he did really, really well today!  He was soft and listening for most of my riding lesson; there were a few times I could have used my spurs, but I forgot to put them on today. 

Still, I am super pleased with today’s ride.  I had some serious “Aha!” moments with my riding position and some really good feedback from Joey.  There is nothing like getting it right and getting an instant response!

The first big one that made the most impact on how he rode was a tip I picked up from Val of Memoirs of a Horse Girl:

-  Close your outside upper arm against your side when riding in a circle.  OHMIGOODNESS I can’t believe how well this worked!!  Basically, Val wrote that she was told to pretend that she was carrying a ‘precious piece of paper’ – like a cheque for $100.00! – between her outside upper arm and ribcage when she was riding in a circle.  I tried that today with Joey and you would not believe the difference it made to his circle work!  I was really catching his energy that was escaping out through his outside shoulder and channelling it forwards.

I found this tip particularly was also extremely effective for controlling his spooking away from particular points in the arena.  Joey will flex in a circle, but he’ll often bulge in and out depending on whether he finds parts of the arena scary.  So, for instance, we’ll be doing a 20m on the left rein at C.  He’ll cut in on the circle when we are heading towards S because he didn’t like the tall weeds waving in the wind.  I had to really support and use my inside leg to push/leg yield him out while opening up my outside rein to create space for him to move into. 

Once past S on the centre line, he would promptly spurt forwards and out, trying to get away from the scary weeds.  So before the centre line, I would half-halt, clamp down my upper outside arm and close the gate by really applying my outside leg.  I was amazed at how much of a difference that made to his bulging out/evading issue.  The outside rein reinforced my leg far more efficiently and I was able to actually execute a circle rather than a corner from the centre line to R.  

- Direct with your thumbs.  This means to hold your thumbs up and point in the direction you are going; creating “rails” from your shoulders to the horse’s mouth that guide the shoulders.  You can open your inside “rail” to turn, or close it to keep that shoulder in.   I found this super helpful because it helped me to a). keep my wrists straight and even, without breaking/bending to try and turn him, b). it helped me to keep my fingers closed on the reins which is great because my coach has been nagging me about my bad habit of open fingers for ages, and finally, c). it made Joey’s turning much smoother.

-  Use your belly button to turn.  This also helps to create a smooth turn if you twist your belly button in the direction you want to go.  Useful!

I can’t believe how much of a difference these little things are making to my riding and to Joey, and I am so glad I can see the results of using these tips! 

My homework:

-  Working my half-halt and halt.   I tend to brace against the stirrups and lift out of the saddle when I am halting which is bad, bad, bad and totally ineffective.  I know what I am trying to do, but I am not doing it right.

My lower leg needs to go ON, and THEN my spine needs to draw up.  I want to think of actually creating energy in the halt and half-halt, not just stop.  This also applies to downwards transitions.

-  Lower leg position.  I have been working on this, and I am not doing to badly, but I need to be more consistent and really aware that during downwards transitions and halts/half-halts, my lower leg tends to swing forwards which also ruins the effectiveness of my halt aid.

-  Turning the trot poles into a comfort zone for Joey.  We didn’t do trot poles today in the lesson, rather we snuck them in when we had rest breaks and just got him to walk over them calmly.  I was so excited to see how well he did with them today.  He was a star! 

I have to make sure I don’t tense up when approaching them in a trot though; the first stop he pretty much stopped and then walked over them.  He was a lot better at trotting over them when I was relaxed too.

I think that’s it; I love writing all this stuff out so I can remember it properly.  It’s super helpful.  Oooh!  And I also got an accidental walk-canter transition from him today!  It was all very exciting, because even though I didn’t ask for it at all, he did it beautifully.  He just stepped under himself really deeply, lifted up his shoulders and flowed up into a canter!  I was so shocked, but it was so beautiful and neat!   I didn’t let him canter on after the first few strides of course, but I didn’t scold him either, because that was a lovely forwards transition and he did it so nicely.  He wasn’t trying to bolt or pull, he just went up a gear, skipping trot on the way.
 : D   

I love that he has that athleticism – I can’t wait to see where we go in dressage.  I had a fun ride on my horse, and that’s really cool.  > w <

See ya!


P.S. -   Ack, more text I know – sorry for the super long post, but I also have to add that we had some really good tying up training after our ride today.  Joey has sucked back a few times and learned that he can escape being tied up by breaking the baling twine/and or his halter{!!} which is really not good news. 

So today my riding instructor double haltered him {his rope one underneath and a nylon halter over the top}, twisted both lead ropes three times around the solid metal pen rail, leaving only a small amount of rope, so that Joey was ‘tied’ short, while she had the other ends of the lead ropes.  We both stood on one side of the fence and he was on the other, and then I went to town picking off the rain scald scabs on his forehead.  I wasn’t hurting him, but he so didn’t like it so the first thing he tried to do was suck back, and when he found he couldn’t do that either he wasn’t happy!

My instructor would release a little bit of rope for him as he went backwards, so that he knew that he could go backwards, but she didn’t let him pull right back or go very far, and she didn’t make it easy for him either!  After a few minutes of dancing around and fussing, he was standing still and letting me touch his forehead and his ears and gently rub the scabs off.  It’s a really great training technique for horses that suck back, but a bit difficult to ‘set up’ when you are a). by yourself and b). don’t have anything specific that’s going to make him suck back so that you can implement the training!  As a result, I was really glad the timing worked out on this lesson for Joey. 

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