Sound as a pound?

Drifter seems to be doing well. I have to admit that I haven’t been seeing that much of him and haven’t ridden much in the last few weeks because my ever capricious health has been especially erratic. But helping me not feel guilty about this is the fact that Summer has officially reached the yard!

This means that Drifter is going out overnight, every night unless the weather gets suddenly unreasonable. He is tired and grass-bloated and totally chilled.

The last week before official summer came, I popped him on the lunge in a headcollar for a few minutes to see what he was moving like in the new shoeing (his hind shoes look like an ordinary shoe but the fit and shape look subtly off somehow). I hadn’t bothered to take a whip out with me partly because I was being lazy and partly because I wanted to see if he wanted to move of his own accord. Lunging for diagnosis, not for a workout.

We started on the left rein. He was … irritating. He had no interest in observing even the loosest geometric rules of circles. He had no interest in trotting. If I really asked he’d trot for a stride or two before quitting. Usually he tries but this day was an exception. I was aware it was about 5 minutes before his dinner time, but it seemed he was just going to mess around and do the bare minimum. Well, I thought, I guess he’s still stiff as well as in a bad mood. Hey ho, let’s flip him over and check the other direction.

I sent him off on the right rein. Pretty much as soon as he was on the circle he picked up gallop. Sorry, what?? The circle was round as could be and the horse that said had just said nope to doing anything but a sluggish walk at angles of his own choosing on the left rein, was now galloping perfect circles when he hadn’t even been asked to trot yet in this direction. Apparently he needed to be going this way, and going this way fast. I ignored him and let him get on with it, to be honest. He threw in transitions between gallop, canter and buck and got his steam out. Eventually I persuaded him to trot a little and cooled him off. The right rein canter, when it wasn’t a gallop or buck, was beautiful. Right canter has always been an issue for him, and I’d had no intention for asking for it, especially on the lunge, but it seems he’s fixed that. Even the bucks were pretty nice – much more hind action that he used to get which suggests it’s more comfortable for him to throw those legs out than it used to be.

It definitely suggests that he’s much more comfortable on the right rein than the left, and I know the left has always been his stiff side, so it’s probably got worse.

So when I returned from my sick bed this week, and hopped aboard, I was quite interested to see what I’d find. I wanted to see if he was now capable of working to a reasonable rein length in walk, and maybe in trot if walk went well. It’s one thing for his back legs to have recovered enough to step under him without my weight, but would he be able to do it with me on board?

Well yes, he could. It took some persuading, but I got a reasonable walk on a reasonable rein. He really, really wanted to rush into trot, because it would be so much easier to trot badly than walk properly, but I insisted. And once we got that good walk, then I could get a proper trot transition and have a proper trot, so we did that. We didn’t trot for long, but we did it. Again, in the trot he really didn’t want to work properly (well why should he after so long?) but I was insistent and he was capable. We got such a nice trot on the right rein that when he started offering canter I took him up on the offer. We only cantered for a few meters, because I didn’t want to do much, I wanted to reward the good transition and also because I didn’t want to canter around a corner just yet. I tried to replicate that on the left rein and we didn’t get a transition. On the second attempt we didn’t really get a canter. It might have been a tranter, or just some random legs trying something for a stride or two before trotting again. I didn’t try again, but thought I probably need to try that left canter on the lunge to see if he has the gear there or not.

But the next day came and it was a beautiful morning and I’d had such a pleasantly successful ride the day before so I wanted to get on. Of course it’s easy to be disappointed the ride after a particularly good one, and it took him longer than his impatient rider wanted to warm up to the good place, but he got there again. This time when he started offering right canter I didn’t hesitate to accept it and I managed to get the left canter on the first try, so we now have all gears under saddle in both directions. I was delighted to say the least. The stiffness to the left is quite bad, but he’s always had that, it’s just especially pronounced at the moment. The right canter, if I’m being critical, is overbent to the inside and a bit banana shaped, but I’m just delighted to have both canters. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we hadn’t. Now we have all the gears, all of them can be improved. It’s great to know that if I’m sick or can’t get there I can put a staff member on him for a hack without worrying if he’s up to it. I still won’t have him on the lunge for more than 10 min at a time, and wouldn’t ask for him to schooled above a trot just yet because I believe in being cautious.

Although this is already a long post, I’ll just mention that Amy Woodhead (dressage rider who rides/competes for Carl Hester) was teaching a clinic on our yard and I got to watch one of the lessons. She is amazing, and if you get the chance to learn from her you should definitely do it. She did a really good job of helping someone with their rein-feel, which is a really hard thing to teach or explain. She also gave suggestions on a different bit and bridle to try for the mare, who is always fighting the bit and crossing her jaw. I get the impression she’s hoping to increase the number of clinics she teaches later this year, so there should be plenty of opportunities.

Transferable skills

A few weeks ago, before Drifter got sore, we had a lesson. Actually we had a few 😉 but this one was pretty intense.

My cardio fitness is fairly awful still. It’s not it the oops I need a cardiologist category any more (hurray) but it’s in the fairly normal for a person with a desk job who doesn’t excercise category I would say. Doing anything meaningful about that while maintaining the rest of life hasn’t really happened yet, so when I go for a 45 min dressage lesson, it has overtones of bootcamp beastings as far as my fitness level is concerned.

If I were to declare that I needed to stop, rest, breathe, whatever, the instructor would not have an issue with it, but otherwise he’s going to keep things going until the horse needs a rest. It’s all about D’s workout, not mine.

If you add to this the fact that I decided to wear my good show boots and they were a) improving my posture so I used different muscles and b) squeezing my left calf in a pretty vicious way, I was pretty damn uncomfortable for a lot of the lesson.

Particularly towards the end of the lesson I was so so close to opening my mouth and declaring I couldn’t do it, as the instructor calmly ordered another trot circle, and another, and my boots bit at me, and the power of the horse-working-really-hard-too-and-needing-me-to-rise-to-the-challenge pushed at all the different bits of me, but instead I shut my mouth, raised my chin, and cranked out another brilliant (for us) trot circle.

What made me able to put up and shut up?

A mantra of hard things I’ve achieved in my life. I wasn’t going to let any breeches-wearing-sandpit-circle-dressage-instructor hear me ask for mercy.

As we whisked around our circles and spirals, and my lungs burst, and my muscles screamed, the past proofs of my ability to endure which strengthened me were not the physical achievements of my past. I didn’t even think of the fact that I once did a half-marathon on a rowing machine, or that I used to take a map and some sandwiches and go out on my bike for a whole day, or even that I once did a full weights work-out followed by doing a Body-pump session to help out a trainee instructor.

Nope. The things that ran through my head weren’t as sane as that.

You can’t break me because I used to have 6 hour baroque violin lessons, so 45 min. of dressage is a piece of cake.

I’ve played Turangalia Sinfonie twice in 48 hours, on a viola that weighed far more than anything any teenager should be holding up for hours. The horse is holding me up here, so this is easy as hell.

I’ve performed Nozze di Figaro 4 times in 3 days in a pit orchestra where there was barely room to play, let alone breathe, and the temperatures were ridiculously high.

I’ve counted rests through Strauss Metamorphosen, with a hangover from hell, having not been to bed all night the night before, and stayed awake and kept my place, every bloody time, even though the conductor only let us get 3 bars into the bit where I played for the whole rehearsal.

Yup. The toughest things I can say I’ve achieved in my whole life came from a musician’s training. Riders might think they’re tough, because they go out in the cold, and shovel poop, and get on large animals with minds of their own, and get back on after they fall off, but I tell you that nothing I’ve seen outside of the musical world has been as tough as what I’ve seen it it. Orchestral string playing, and the training for it, is exhausting and painful and hard, and if you can survive a serious youth orchestra, and perhaps University music making as well, you will come out ready to face anything life can throw at you.

Even a mild-mannered dressage instructor.

Getting on with waiting

Drifter has now seen the physio and the saddle fitter since we last “spoke” here. He is sore in the withers.

It probably was the saddle fit that caused the problem. Although I used a pro-lite and a fat saddle pad to make up for the size difference caused by the diarroeah it seems that the saddle must have been rocking forwards. Everyone thought he’d be OK in that set up, but it was clearly not OK.

It’s unfortunate that it took me several more rides to understand him than it usually would have done – I was having some emotional stuff going on with family, and also to a certain extent at work and I knew I was bringing baggage to our rides. You only get out of a ride what you put in, so I saw his unwillingness to work and put it down to my bad riding and emotional unavailability. Also, whenever we’ve had a saddle problem in the past, it’s been a too-small saddle, not a too-large one. I thought that I knew his saddle-related tells, but I failed to realise that they’d be different, so I was looking for the wrong signs.

When the saddle fitter came I asked her to bring my old Ideal saddle, which she’s had listed for second hand sale without success since I got the Bates. I thought that the narrower Ideal saddle I bought to fit the skinny rail of a horse I bought originally from the dealer, might be a good fit for the same horse now he was skinny again. It was too big. He’s even thinner now than he was then – it just doesn’t show as badly because he has more muscle in his neck.

The Bates came into it’s own again and (£50 of inserts and new gullet + the time of an experienced saddle fitter later), the same saddle looks and handles completely differently. Testing it out, I was suddenly in a balanced position, with stability in all directions. We made a few tweaks and retested, but I’m delighted with it. It’s unfortunate that we’ll have to do it all again in a few months as he puts on weight, but how much better than having to buy a whole new saddle, and then know it won’t fit again soon.

As his spine is pretty prominent (although better covered than it was a few weeks ago) the saddle fitter also suggested a sheepskin half-pad, particularly for longer rides. Before I could buy one, a friend on the yard offered a selection of her unused ones, and sold me a high quality one for a very low quality price, which was lovely of her. I offered her more but she wouldn’t accept it.

Unfortunately all this doesn’t make the soreness go away, so we just need to give that one time. My plan is to give him a few days off riding, with turnout and/or hand-walking, then get on for a test ride. If he still seems sore, then another few days off.

It’s a real shame we’re still not clicker training but I’m only very cautiously introducing treats again. His digestion seems to be handling everything I give him fine now, but I don’t want to give him multiple treats in one session yet, which kind of rules out clicker training.  It was very exciting the other day when I declared he’s officially allowed carrots again  – in moderation of course 😉

 

 

 

Diet changes

While we haven’t actually seen the vet since I last posted, we have of course kept in touch. All of the tests the vet ran on Drifter all came back slightly off, but not enough to point to anything specific, so the only option was to treat the symptom (diarrhoea). It seems likely that some specific event upset his gut balance and it hasn’t been able to fix itself although the cause is probably now no longer around. The probiotic hasn’t had a chance to re-populate the good gut bacteria because of the great speed at which it travels through the horse and into the muck heap!

So the plan was to slow everything down. While this could have been achieved medically, we would rather try doing it as gently as possible, so instead of an anti-diarrhoeal we are changing the diet, as you probably guessed from the title of the post.

We needed to go to a molasses-free chaff, so we switched from the ordinary Dengie Hi-Fi that he gets free as part of his livery package to Dengie Hi-Fi Molasses Free, which involved an exciting adventure to the feedshop, where I also remembered to purchase a bin to put it in.

The probiotic dose he was already on was doubled.

To soothe his stomach we are adding vegetable oil. While the vet would like him to have a cup-full in each feed, he knows most horses will reject this, so we started with a tablespoon-full in each feed and are increasing it every few days.

The final addition to his feed is charcoal. This is to slow the gut down and absorb toxins and he’s getting 3-4 tablespoons per feed.

Apart from the oil, everything else changed on the same day and Drifter was not at all sure about it. On the first day I wasn’t there at feed time but the staff said he spit the charcoal on the floor and overturned the bowl, but I was there for the next feed and he ate it fine. Perhaps he needed to learn that he wasn’t going to get his usual feed just because he rejected that one or perhaps it wasn’t well mixed, but since then he’s been OK with it. As a precaution I’ve asked that he doesn’t get his haynet until he’s finished his feed.

A few days on and I’m cautiously optimistic. [This is your Too Much Information warning here….] His bowel movements still begin with a flush of liquid, but the stools that follow are a much better consistency. They hold their shape, are a more uniform colour and the fibre within them looks much more broken down than it did before the diet change. While they’re still not as well digested as those produced by other horses on the yard (yes, I’ve spend a lot of time analysing the contents of the muckheap) they’re definitely a vast improvement.

He also seems to have more energy, and I’m hopeful he may put a little weight back on soon. He has lost quite a lot, which is not surprising. His saddle fit is pretty poor because of it, so we’ve borrowed a prolite pad from a friend until we can get our own. I don’t want to have a saddle fit until his weight settles down a bit though, as it’s too expensive to need another one only weeks later. Hopefully though, if this feed change continues to show benefits, we’ll be booking that saddle fit soon.

Despite the not-so-great saddle, he’s been doing very nicely in the school. We can walk and trot in a great shape, working well without worrying that we will overdo it. I don’t worry about anything in walk or trot now, and although we are still doing very little in canter, when we do canter, it is no uglier than it ever was! Today we had 20 m canter circles on the bit on both reins – the first time we’ve had that since pre-lameness, back in the early summer. The right rein was a bit motor-bike-ish, but still better than I had thought it might be.

Last Sunday I had a lesson booked but didn’t feel well, so once I’d warmed him up in walk my instructor got on. That was really interesting. Drifter looked very nice, of course, being ridden by an excellent dressage rider, and the comments were useful as well as seeing what he did. Of course Drifter gave him plenty of forwards, and made him work hard to contain it into something useful. The main thing the instructor articulated, which I sort of knew but it’s always good to have someone else verbalise it, is that he prefers to just go forwards rather than listen to what you’re asking, particularly if it’s something he didn’t expect. You have to really make him wait, almost stop him, before you ask for something hard or different from what he expected. He also agreed that we need to work on straightness and getting him equally responsive to aids from both sides. When I first got Drifter, Drifter kind of trained me to do everything with my weight or the left rein, because he’d ignore the right rein, leaning on the left, and just rush off like a giraffe if I touched him with either leg. As time’s gone on he accepts the leg better but has never responded equally to either leg because of stiffness issues and his preference for going only off the left rein. These days I can get him into both reins, but he’s still not even in his acceptance of the leg, and easily forgets to be even in the reins if I’m not on his case the whole time about it.

It was really nice to see that my instructor couldn’t get him to leg yield in both direction. One way he did achieve, but every time he tried on the other rein Drifter gave his “sorry I’m too busy rushing forwards” response and didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. I don’t think he understands that a rider can ask him to move in that way or that he could actually do it. It made me feel so much better to see that he doesn’t have a pre-programmed button for leg-yield in that direction – it’s not just that I can’t do it! I know I ought to try programming it from the ground, but our ground-work has ground to a halt since I can’t use any treats because of the dietary restrictions. I know I could do things without treats, but since we’ve begun the whole clicker training and positive reinforcement process, I’m reluctant to go down the negative reinforcement route, and to be honest apart from food I can’t positively reinforce in a way that interests him! He doesn’t really like scratches or pats, and while voice praise is nice, it’s not enough for him without something to back it up.

So for the moment I’m just going to keep trying from the saddle, and accept that this is not an easy thing for him to learn, so it’s not going to just happen. At some point in the future I’m sure we’ll be allowed treats again and we’ll resume clicker training. Until then, work in the saddle is pretty exciting and we have plenty of challenges!

Riding

I’ve updated you on the vet visit, the inside of my head and on my holiday, but not what I am doing in the saddle.

In part this has been because I haven’t wanted to jinx it and in part because although I am working purposefully with him I haven’t really articulated even to myself why it is that I’m working this way.

In early December I told you that “I want to have a horse who is able and willing to let me control any leg/shoulder/quarter in lower gaits before I ask for the canter.” That’s the heart of the matter. Examining it I find I want the whole dressage shebang before I even ask for that canter: obedience, suppleness, straightness, connection and strength (yes I know that last isn’t a dressage buzzword but without strength in the right muscles you can’t do anything properly). The classical dressage goals of longevity of ridden life and training of the athletic horse are exactly what I want for Drifter. While we may do another competitive dressage test one day that’s not a target, so whether we ever master movements required at different levels is irrelevant. I want to train my horse to be strong, well and sound, if the fates will allow. Other things are of limited relevance.

So that’s the goal, but how am I actually going about it? In walk, mostly. Walk is where we’ve spent so much of our ridden time in the past years, between my health and his, but there’s a wealth of things to do in walk. The great gift in walk is time. Time to correct, time to react, time to breathe. We are working on doing everything correctly in walk. I have never worked walk like this, and I wonder if D ever has either. We do a lot of shapes in the school in walk but the most useful one is a walk spiralling from 20 m inwards and then out again. How small we end up varies from day to day – some times neither of us is on our A game – but we’re working it hard. It is hard to explain how difficult we find it to do this properly. For starters it is years since anyone asked him properly to work this way and he’s coming back from being lame in 3 legs (although not all at once) so doing this hard thing the way I suggest is a bit hard to understand as well as to execute. For my part I have never trained a horse before this one, and have only previously ridden this exercise not-particularly-well on this horse or on wonky school horses. While I can sometimes feel what’s wrong, I don’t have experience of what it’s supposed to be like.

We’re also having lessons again! We had one on the dressage instructor’s first teaching day of the year (Sunday) and it was fab. Being a bit nervous of doing anything too far off D’s working routine I only booked a 30 min lesson but from next time we’ll go for the 45 min. (which is officially the only time slot this instructor offers). As I started out by telling the instructor my mission statement we mostly worked in walk, with a little bit of (very nice) trotting at the end. We worked on halting (which was still awful because it’s one thing I never work on) and then on leg yield. Drifter tends to rush off forwards, barging through my hands, to avoid leg yielding, so one of the things I learnt was to try putting him at 45 degrees to the wall of the school and moving along the track like that. He was unimpressed but at least with a wall in front of his face he couldn’t hurry forwards. It was hard but I liked it. Most things I’ve tried with him that I’ve never done before, like riding shoulder fore, he doesn’t immediately get what I want, and then it clicks. More of a rider aid issue than a horse training/ability issue. But with leg yield I feel like it might be a new concept for him as well as for me. But that’s why we need lessons! It might be worth playing with leg-yield in hand to help him understand what it’s about.

I have to tell you, we have now cantered on several occasions. Never more than about 20 m on each rein in any single session, but it was quietly good. My rule for him is that he’s not allowed to work in trot until the walk is excellent, with hind legs stepping under, with straightness and obedience and feeling totally warmed up and focussed. Then we trot, and it’s usually great because all the right muscles are already working and he’s in a lovely shape and we’ve established that falling in/out is not acceptable and that he has to have contact in both reins, not just his preferred left. By the time we trot, I feel like we’ve already done the hard work and everything is just beautiful. This was confirmed in the lesson, where the trot immediately got compliments from the instructor who isn’t the time to give a compliment for nothing. The trot is so easy to ride when the walk work was great. We aren’t doing a great deal of work in trot, almost just enjoying a little as a break from walk work and then going back to walk. Except when we canter. And because the trot is great, the canter depart can’t help but come from the right place, so we have a very brief controlled canter and stop. Perfect for building up confidence. For now, that’s all we need.

So the plan for the immediate future is to work at walking all the things and learn to leg-yield in walk; to trot for fun, beauty and lightness, gradually increasing the duration there so we get a little cardio; to pop into canter briefly to remember that it exists.

And I’m pretty excited by it. The trot that we’re getting by not working in trot is the best trot I’ve ever ridden. The canter is really not bad, considering our track record there. And the walk holds all the challenges we can think up.

Update on Drifter

Yes, as usual telling you what Drifter got up to while I was away has jumped the queue and beat me to the holiday post.

They tell me he’s been very good … except when he was naughty!

Mostly he’s only been naughty when they go to bring him in from turnout. Suddenly he feels the need to canter away from anyone who wants to catch him. I’m slightly proud of him making known that he doesn’t think it’s enough turnout, but this is probably because I don’t need to catch him myself. I have no idea whether he’d come in for me or not. Currently he goes out in the afternoons, while I’m at work and I ride in the mornings at weekends so I have no opportunity to find out. This leaves me in the happy position of telling myself I’d have no trouble catching him, while never having to find out I’m wrong! Still I’m pretty sure he’d come for bribes, especially if I put my clicker pouch on (because it suggests I have multiple bribes!)

Apparently he was very good out hacking while I was away, including going through the rather full ford without difficulty. That’s something I suspect he wouldn’t do for me. Last time we tried I ended up getting off and walking him through it in-hand. (Luckily I had old boots on!) His staff rider has strong legs, strong will and isn’t slow to put him in his place, so he must have decided it was easier to go through it for her than to have an argument about it and then end up going through anyway.

He wasn’t solely hacked though, there were schooling sessions in there too … during  which I think he took the piss out of his riders and engaged rocket-giraffe mode. I think this because everyone was saying he was very forward and wanted to canter. And since I’ve got back on I’ve had comments from other liveries about how un-giraffe-like he looks with me! At least one of his staff riders is not very experienced and he probably got away with a lot with her but I don’t have a problem with that. Because she’s inexperienced she doesn’t get much opportunity to ride different horses. If I had booked schooling to improve my horse I wouldn’t ask her to ride, but as I was booking it to keep his arthritis at bay it mattered more that he moved than how he moved, so why shouldn’t she get a ride once or twice instead of always being the one left mucking out while others ride? He’s fast when he’s in that mood but he’s still a safe, kind horse. Everyone tells me they think he wanted to canter but from what I’ve felt since getting on again he has no intention to canter – he just wants to trot really fast to get out of doing any actual work. That’s always been his go-to evasion.

In my first few rides since holiday he’s been trying to pull out the giraffe-rocket trot with me and being reminded I don’t accept it. Once I redirect that energy to all work being done in a polite shape, using the whole horse, not just the forehand, he is forward but not rushing. He’s not offering canter and I’m not asking. He’s not ready. When he can keep the nice trot regular and rhythmic whether on a straight line or a bend, that will be the time to think about canter. Before then I want to be able to trot different shapes without falling out of balance. That is what we need to work on. Once 20 m circles and “going large” are easy and rhythmic we can think of tighter circles and turns and more challenging shapes. I want to work towards him having a body we can control, between us. I do not think either of us will be helped by cantering when he is all over the place in trot. I want to have a horse who is able and willing to let me control any leg/shoulder/quarter in lower gaits before I ask for the canter. We have so much past of cantering without him being able to let me do the fancy things like … ooh, steering! and I will not risk that when we are building strength back up and know we could hit new joint problems if we get silly. Before we canter I want to know we have a useful level of strength, flexibility and obedience that we can go straight in with a nice canter, not a mad gallopy scramble that scares both of us.

In walk we now have consistent good work for all sorts of shapes including in counter flexion and some tiny bits of lateral work. In walk I can ask for all sorts of different things and get them. Now we will work for that in trot. This is all that I need, all that I want for now. The trotting world is our oyster.

Besides, I hear he is doing plenty of cantering whenever they try to bring him in from the field 😉

 

=====

P.S. Sarcoid treatment has begun with bloodroot ointment. Early days on that. He’s coping; so are the humans who have to apply it. Not much else to say.

Still in walk

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!