Drifter and I are still in walk. The vet didn’t want to see us last week as originally planned because while I’d been sick Drifter hadn’t been “doing his homework” and the vet wouldn’t see us until he’d done 7-10 days consistent work. Well we hit that target at the weekend but now the vet is proving difficult to get hold of. Still I’m hopeful that when we do manage to see him we might get permission to trot again.
We went for a walk in hand out on the lanes at the weekend. Bearing in mind he’s only doing 25 min walking at the moment, we didn’t get very far. He dragged along unwillingly like a half-dead thing, despite taps, clucks and strong forward body language from me. On the lanes immediately around the yard it is single track with passing places and not much visibility because of the twisting roads and high banks, so being a smart road-user is important and dragging him on was more important than anything else. Once we get past that there are more options for getting out of the way of traffic – verges and field/property entrances. There were quite a few cars here so I took him into a field entrance to let everything pass. We were going to be here a minute or so, so once I had him positioned as I wanted, I let him graze a little while the cars sorted themselves out. Happy pony.
Once they were all gone, we carried on and I found we magically had forwardness again. The horse that seeks grass has a reason to walk somewhere, and no reason to be a lazy lump! Just around the corner, one of the houses had bags of apples on the gate with a “Help yourself” sign. While not letting Drifter help himself, I did get him an apple and immediately he woke up even more. We spent the second half of our walk stepping out like nobody’s business!
This was rather an eye-opener to the fact that I’m not the only one bored by the current situation and that a little motivation will make him give me a lot more at the moment. To that end I’ve started carrying my dressage whip when I ride. I’ve had two rides with it and both have been a lot more interesting. Yesterday I even got a few seconds when he lifted his back a little. So the whip will be coming with us on a more regular basis. I go through phases of carrying it (usually when I’m focussed on his way of going) and phases of not carrying it (when I’m focussing on my hands). I get that my hands are an important part of his way of going, but I have much better hands when I don’t carry the whip!
People on the yard who know my clicker-training ways are sometimes suprised that I use a whip. But I think some people think of a whip only as a hitting stick and not as a tool. I won’t deny that I have on occasion smacked with the whip. But it’s pretty rare, and I’ve smacked while riding with my hand on occasions when I didn’t have a whip. Rearing, however tiny, is not acceptable without extreme provocation. If he rears because he’s terrified, that’s not something to punish with smacking (although if a smack will make the sitution safer I reserve that right). He’s never reared with me for that reason. On the other hand he has reared (very tiny rear) because there’s rain in his face and he hates rain and he wants to stop being ridden. Unacceptable.
Usually though, my whip is there partly because of the oft observed fact that just carrying a whip (even if you never ever use it) makes many horses more forwards and more obedient, and partly so I can reach to tap his back end to remind him that it exists. The cob portions of his (unknown) breeding lines mean he’s built and bred to pull from the front instead of pushing from the back. His back-leg issues contribute to this. Sometimes he needs a bit of a reminder to use those big butt muscles, and a touch on them does the trick. Not a smack but a tickle or maybe a tap. I have had rides when I haven’t had a whip, but wanted that touch and reached an arm back to touch however far back I could reach and had the same effect, but it’s better if I can do it without taking a hand off the reins!
So I’ll be riding with my whip again in the near future. Hopefully if he’s more motivated it will help me think up more ways to work in walk which will motivate him even more. And hopefully we’ll see the vet soon!