Thursday, July 28, 2011

Temper or Pain?

Sometimes we have to keep learning the same lesson over and over. Two horses in the past month have knocked me on the head and said listen up. No, make that three.

The first was Gambler, the mustang. He had reached a plateau in his training. No matter what tactics were used, under saddle he bolted, bucked and was unpredictable. I gave up any idea of ever being able to ride him, and Trent cut his work back to two times a week- sorta we're gonna ride you but we aren't expecting change. I began long lining him and he made rapid progress, was calm, receptive and seemed to enjoy the attention. Then on one of my twice a week visits to the barn I went into the stall to give him a little attention, and looked at his back. Maybe the light was different. Maybe he had lost a few more pounds. Whatever, his roach back dropping into deep shoulder pockets jumped out at me. I wondered how any saddle could fit such a conformation.  Maybe no saddle would. I went home and ordered an expensive bridge pad, and the next time I came out I asked if Trent had one. Sure enough, Scott came up with one. I got Trent to check out the saddle they were using and how it would work with the pad. Some experimentation later and Gambler declared his approval. The next ride there was no bucking and bolting. It may not all be over, but now we're listening. So we tried the pad on another horse that had been grumpy lately. Again a change in attitude.

Then there is Remi, the Appaloosa mare I'm working. I'd already changed saddles with her because of her broad round back, but she was still a little tight and sometimes took a long warmup. I used that saddle at Trent's and it didn't get back to my barn, so I dug out an ancient  saddle we bought for a walking couch of a horse. Remi declared her preference for this immediately. Either it really fits her better, or she knows that its old super flat close contact design is bruising for the rider and it's payback time. Actually I didn't notice the stirrup bars digging into my leg on her, so maybe we'll both be happy!

Saddle fit is not a new thing for me. I've had my english saddles reflocked to fit specific horses, checked every students tack, helped clients find new saddles when problems were found. The  lesson here is ALWAYS look for physical problems with a horse that behaves normally on the ground and with its herd mates. The problem may be with the rider or with the training techniques, but start with tack that fits and is comfortable for the horse!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hard to believe it's been over a month since my last blog post. It's time to check in with the group that started this whole venture. There have been some changes. Trent is no longer riding Penny in the lessons. He bought a foundation bred filly, Hannah, and she is now his project. So here are some pictures and a bit of commentary.

The first picture is from a very early lesson with Penny. The tension in this mare is evident not only from her facial expression, but also in the muscles of the neck. Notice how the bottom muscles appear heavy and the top muscles undefined. There is no clear definition of the throat. Though not visable, this tension is held all the way through this mare's back, preventing her from engaging her hind legs. The result is that this mare is "cold backed" and if this tension is not addressed early in the ride she requires an hour or more of work before she let's go and begins to swing through her back.  Trying to force a soft poll does nothing to help that tension. We'll have some more pictures of her in another blog about warming up the horse.

The second picture is of Hannah, Trent's new 3 yr old filly. Here Trent is starting with a fresh slate. This horse has no history to overcome. She is comfortable with the bit, accepting light contact without  tension. Note the muscling of the neck, the clear definition of the throat latch. If you track the footfall you can tell that unlike Penny, the hind foot is going to step into the hoof print of the forefoot when it hits the ground. BTW, note Trent's leg position. He's riding without stirrups here. Like the horse, he is relaxed. Check the position of the upper arm, relaxed and hanging by his side, then compare the upper arm on Penny, where he is trying to be soft and instead is creating tension in his shoulders by hold the arms in front of his body.  With less than 30 rides, this mare is already well on her way to a good basic education.