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.

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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 😉

 

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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.

Trot on!

I’ve been holding off on telling you that we’re trotting again, because I was still holding my breath about it a bit. (Remember that last time we were told we could trot it ended up setting us back to square 1.)

But I’m cautiously optimistic.

On Saturday we went on our first solo hack since all this lameness started almost 6 months ago. It was fabulous – we did not have one moment where we were nervous. He didn’t like the big lorry thing that was pumping something in front of a house, but I was not worried so he got over it without issue. I didn’t like the red Landrover passing us that close and fast, but he wasn’t phased so I got over it. This is exactly what I hoped would happen as a result of our in-hand walks on the roads – we’re both more confident so we’re not each making the other anxious about things that are not actually an issue.

On Saturday night it was his first night of winter routine – which meant the first night without overnight turnout.

On Sunday morning we schooled and re-introduced trotting around a corner/curve. We’ve got another few days before we can try a circle, but the corners seemed to go OK. And between being allowed to trot with a bend and the extra energy he always has when he’s first kept in at night, we were able to get some very nice work done. As he was working into my hands, we could work on his tendency to lean on the left hand side of the bit and not really take much contact on the right. For the first time in months instead of a rehabilitation focus I was able to put a bit of a development aim into the ride. For the first time I had the buzz that comes with a horse with the health, will and energy to work forwards and listen and learn. Most of our work was still done in walk, but it was challenging and interesting and fun and tiring.

It helped that he was shod and saw the physio both last week, but this one ride has made me so much more optimistic that he could be sound through the winter.

The initial proposition for this year’s winter turnout for all horses on the yard was ca. 3 hours, 3 times a week (weather permitting). Following debate and some upheaval, we are now all on ca. 2 hours everyday (weather permitting), which is much better news for me and Drifter. Obviously it’s still far from perfect, but with daily turnout I have a much better chance of keeping his joints moving over the winter and much less pressure on me to do it all with exercise. It is a great relief.

He’ll be having his 2nd clip of the year next week because he’s too hairy for a horse who’s allowed to trot – he can barely walk without sweating on a warm day!

What did we do on Friday?

I was feeling a bit frazzled, mentally rather than physically, and the vet could only see us in the middle of the day on Friday, so I made the necessary arrangements and took the day off work. It felt weird to be using a day’s leave because I was mentally tired rather than physically tired.

After my lie in, and subsequent leisurely reading of blogs and Ravelry fora, I had breakfast and did a little crochet.

Next I pulled my bike out of the garage.  I turned it upside-down, removed the wheel, levered the tyre from the rim, took out the old inner tube and cleared the bright green slime out of the inside of the tire. Or should I say Slime – it’s a brand name after all.* Unfortunately because I’d left my Slime-filled tyre pancake flat for a week, I had green slime everywhere!

After the green slime was gone I put the new inner tube in, got the tyre back on the rim, the wheel back on the bike, and put in the own brand orange slime I had to hand before pumping it up. I sorted through my old puncture repair kits to replace old tubes of glue with new ones and realised that I could make my frame bag from my old bike fit this one if I found an allen key, removed the drink holder and cannibalised an old rubber-band based rear-light fitting. So I did that too.

I’ve gone through every phase of that in detail because I want to highlight that it was a relatively arduous physical process. I would have struggled with all of it a few months ago. Having to clean up the old slime would have been a major blow because it would have been energy expenditure I hadn’t budgeted for. But now it’s not a big deal.

Packing the frame bag with food for lunch, I cycled the 6 miles to the stables. Ta da!

On arrival I cleaned Drifter’s sheath. Box rest is not good for a horse’s intimate hygiene. Understatement. And then I strip-cleaned his bridle and ate lunch.

The vet arrived and we did trot-ups and flexion tests with more trot-ups. The swelling had reduced massively, although there was still a tiny bit left. The lameness had gone and the flexion tests were normal. Hurray! The vet prescribed a return to normal routine in both exercise and turnout! Hurray! However, he could now see the lameness at the back which has been slowly creeping up on us. I wasn’t at all surprised, nor disappointed really. I knew there was stuff going on and it was a relief to have it finally visible as a true lameness. Also, I expected it to get bad at as a result of the box rest. The vet thinks it is coming to the point where we need to intervene at the back but he suggested that we get back to normality for a bit before we start investigating the back leg. I was happy to go with that, so for now we have a glucosamine supplement and exercise, but soon we’ll start playing the vet game again. How soon will probably depend on whether it eases with exercise or not.

Honestly I’m sure most of the staff thought his back leg troubles were all in my mind so it was good to be able to tell them that the vet can see it now. It’s likely that the front end issue might have been caused or at least exacerbated by the problem at the back because it’s the right hind and the left fore that are sore.

As we were suddenly back to normal routine I tacked up and got on and rode in walk and trot! (Canter is now allowed but I never canter unless the trot is reasonably good). The trot was not pretty. That didn’t surprise me, but it was hard work to ride. He was hollow, unbalanced and unrhythmic. I just tried to stay out of his way and let him go in whatever way was comfortable for short trots and then walk again. It did get better… until I changed the rein. Now we were on the right rein and I was rising on the correct diagonal for the rein but it was not the easy diagonal for Drifter, whose two bad legs were now on the ground each time I sat. Everything got very hard for both of us. If I was any good at sitting trot that would be a good solution but I’m not. It seems like a bad idea to rise on the wrong diagonal but right now it seems like a bad idea to be on the right one too! I just hope that next time I ride it will be a bit easier for him as he’ll have moved more which will improve the back leg. We kept the ride quite short, not least because the heavens opened and we got drenched in seconds. There have been times when I’ve tried to work him in weather like that and he went on a bucking and (tiny) rearing tantrum. Aware that he might have lots of energy to spare from the reduced exercise I didn’t want to take any chances so we went for cover! For now my exercise priorities are just to get him moving again. It may be a long time before we get a trot I’m happy to canter from but that’s OK.

Once we’d both dried off it was time for him to go out. Exciting! I was prepared for it to be a little too exciting so wasn’t at all surprised when his walk to the field had something of the trot about it, but he was reasonably mannerly. When I took the head-collar off he did get told off for bucking a little closer to my space than I’d choose, although there was no real danger, and once I was out of the field he galloped… with enough commitment that I got to see his attempt at a sliding stop when he reached the fence on the other side. After that he trotted. Quite a lot. Which I took as an opportunity to observe the very subtle lameness at the back. There was a point where he tried to canter. Two awkward strides on his easy left rein and he decided against it. Trot and gallop were his two gears until he remembered that the green stuff he was running on was made of food, and settled down to eat. I was glad that he didn’t seem any lamer for the outburst and that he’d settled. I’m glad that I was there to see it and seeing those two awkward canter strides was useful – I knew that he might have lost his right rein canter but I hadn’t realised the left rein would be so hard, even at liberty. When the time does come to ask for canter under saddle I’ll be much better informed for having seen this. Hopefully though, turnout will do him good and he’ll loosen up. If he’s a little sorer in the dodgy legs that will be an acceptable balance for the increased wellbeing of the rest of the horse. I’m pretty sure he thinks so!

With my horse in the field there was nothing left to do but get back on my bike and do the 6 miles home. On the way my chain came off, so I popped the bike upside down, twiddled gears, helped it back on, righted it and got on my way.

I got home, showered and didn’t feel that tired. Seriously.

I’d done lots of mechanic tasks, cycled for a total of 12 miles (having done almost no cycling for years), rode a truly awful trot that took loads of core strength just to keep my balance (having not trotted at all for a few weeks), ran up and down for trot-ups, hung upside-down sheath cleaning, groomed, tacked up, removed tack and strip cleaned a bridle, and I didn’t overdo it. I think I’m really fixed!

As for my horse, he may not be quite as fixed as me, but I’m content. He’s out of the stable and a lot better than he was. This morning I was braced for the call that he was really lame again, but it didn’t come. He’s having the day off from structured exercise today, to recover from his night in the field, but tomorrow we’ll do some more trotting and we’ll see where we go from there.

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*I always use either Slime tube sealant or an own-brand equivalent. If you get a small hole in your inner tube, such as a thorn would make, it repairs the hole for you. It can’t cope with everything, but it does really cut down on manual puncture repairs, which is great if you’re out and about and you end up going down hawthorn hedged lanes that the hedge trimmer has been through recently (you might be surprised how often that’s happened to me.) The other thing that’s useful is that if it can’t seal the hole for you, at least you can find it easily because there’s luminous green slime bubbling out of the hole!

Riding my bicycle instead of my horse

While Drifter’s lame I’m doing what I can to provide company and entertainment, but that’s not improving my own health and fitness. I really need to be exercising. In the dim and distant days before I had Drifter I used to ride my bike a lot. If I had a spare day I’d go off and get 30 miles or so under my belt, ideally with off road bits and plenty of mud. Now I don’t fancy the mud, hills and bouncing over grass so much, but getting my bike out seemed like a good idea.

Except that as a result now I have a horse that’s lame in front and a bike that’s lame in front! One of these problems will be fixed by buying a new inner tube. The other, not so much.

Before I lamed my bike I got a couple of rides in. Here are some thoughts that occured to me while riding.

It felt really wierd not to be sitting upright and to be on a different part of my seat bones, but it all came back to me just like err… riding a bike. The gel-filled bike saddle isn’t a patch on my beautiful Bates horse saddle, but then the price isn’t exactly comparable either!

The majority of my bike riding days were before I passed my driving test. I was interested to see that now I’m a practiced road user as a driver I’m a lot less worried about riding my bike on the road than I used to be. As an inexperienced road user I didn’t know how to predict a cars movements or how much room they needed to overtake. Cars were a big dangerous unknown. Thinking like this I realise how a horse feels on the road, especially when inexperienced.

I’m also now an experienced user of equestrian arenas. Which is probably why when I rode my bike on a cyclepath this week I tried to pass an oncoming cyclist left shoulder-to-left shoulder. (This being England where we drive on the left and pass right side to right side everywhere except in the riding schools!) FAIL. Luckily this resulted in nothing more than some confused looks. As I was trying to pass at the generous distance I’d give an unknown horse (!), I went off the path onto the grass verge and there was no risk of crashing. It was only afterwards I realised what the problem was. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to pass left-to-left – my subconscious had handled it and made the wrong call! So I need to be a little more awake on cyclepaths to prevent my subconscious doing this again!

Also, on the same cyclepath, I realised I was a little mentally uncomfortable because I’d been following a big loop and doing several laps, but something was off … what was it … oh yes, I haven’t changed the rein!

On the positive side, I warmed up and cooled down in a sensible way that wouldn’t have occurred to me before I got a horse!

“Take your hobbies to work” day

Now let me stop you there before you get too excited. I did not take the horse to the office. Nope.

In an imaginary world in which I had my own trailer/lorry, the correct licensing to tow/drive it, and somewhere sensible to put him when we arrived, I still would not subject my horse to a) rush-hour traffic through the centre of the city or b) being harassed by well-meaning but, for the most part, hopelessly horse-ignorant people all day. He is not a toy, people, and he likes being patted in the face by strangers about as much as you’d like it if random strangers on the train or bus started touching your face. Boundaries!

So for everyone’s wellbeing but especially his, I did not take him to work. Having told you what I did not do, now perhaps I can start at the beginning and then tell you what I did do.

This all happened well over a month ago, and this post has been in draft for a very long time, but I’ve finally got it out to you!

We have an annual “Wellbeing” day at work, at which we are all reminded to have a life outside the office. Those of us already engaging in activities perceived to be interesting or worthwhile are encouraged to display or demonstrate our hobbies. When this was first instigated, our employer put a substantial amount of money and effort into their part of Wellbeing day. Sadly, it has got less and less impressive every year. Despite this I still I think it is a good thing, and so I thought I ought to put the effort in and volunteer to show that I do indeed have an interesting life outside the office. As crochet is suited to displaying I volunteered that, and as owning a horse is something out of the ordinary I thought I should do something about that too.

I took all our nice show photos, including the one in fancy dress, and I typed out some “fun facts” about Drifter, some of which you’ll already have heard, but I’ll share with you later anyway. To pad my stall out, I got some photos printed which don’t show us dressed up to the nines – photos from the yard, one of him in full fly-gear, one of him lying down, etc. I spread them out all over the table. If I’d known ahead of time how much display space I was getting I could have glued everything together into a nicer display, but I didn’t know how big the table was going to be so I just took lots of stuff and spread I out. Messy but (I hope) interesting. I had more photos than I had room for but a fellow exhibitor lent me some masking tape and I was able to stick some up on the pillar behind me as well.

I also dressed up in my show clothes, minus the helmet and hairnet. This was a hit, with one person saying they’d never seen anyone dressed like that except on the television. I suppose until a few years ago I hadn’t either, but their tone of voice implied that they couldn’t believe “real” people dressed like that. I have to say I do always feel like I’m ready to act in a period drama when I’m wearing breeches, long boots and a stock. Of course in any historic period where the clothes would fit in, as a woman in man’s attire I’d be cross-dressing, which might stand out rather.

On the crochet front I stuffed a lot of things I’d made into a box and included the yarns and hook I need for my blanket squares, thinking that if no one turned up at my stall I could at least be busy! When I got there I tried to arrange them on the table in a pleasing manner but I’m not sure how far I managed that.

So there I was, sat between my two adjacent tables in (almost) full dressage diva attire. It became apparent that people didn’t realise they were both my hobbies so I had to start crocheting to make the visual link for people! I realised I’d crocheted wearing my long boots before, while breaking them in around the house, but the experience of crocheting in white breeches and a jacket was a new one for me.

The two hours flew by. I was intrigued to find that most people wanted to talk to me about one hobby or the other – very few people wanted to ask questions about both. I wonder whether if I’d just taken one hobby I’d have had many fewer people coming to talk to me. The vast majority of the people who were interested in the horse stall were already horsey – I talked to many people who’d ridden as a child. There were very few people who knew absolutely nothing about it yet were still interested – in a way they were the most interesting for me because they asked quite different questions. On the crochet front the opposite was true – the most interesting questions came from other yarn-crafters, because they asked detailed questions about stitches, hooks, patterns and techniques.

Several people asked if I could teach them to crochet. I politely declined and pointed them to you YouTube and/or their local yarn stores. Teaching is not my bag at the best of times. Teaching something that my brain has automated and my hands do of their own accord is really, really hard. I’m not interested in learning to teach crochet – I have more than enough on my plate, thanks! I did give in and teach a particular stitch to a colleague who already crochets but even that was really hard! Even though she already has lots of crochet experience, trying to communicate how to make this stitch was so hard. As soon as the hook and yarn were in her hands, what I could see was all different from the view when it’s in my hands and I got confused. Eventually we did get there and she got the hang of it.

I really felt like I contributed a lot to the day, and I was glad my stalls were popular. I would have hated to sit there and be ignored by everyone. The downside of being so popular was that I didn’t really get a chance to look at the other exhibits. I spent a few minutes looking at some others at the end, but the organisers needed us to clear up and get out of the room, so there wasn’t much time. That’s also my excuse for not having better photos…

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Fun with cones

Last week I concentrated on making sure Drifter and I exercised 5 days out of 7 to a high standard. Great. Target achieved.

This week I realised that I wasn’t really looking forwards to riding. My first thought was that I’d overdone it and I was tired. I ran an internal query and the results returned suggested that was an invalid hypothesis – I was not tired. Now I came to think about it, it didn’t seem like Drifter was that excited about things either. I worked out that the level of exercise was just fine, but the level of fun was sorely lacking. Why would either of us want a humourless battering around the arena every day?

So we needed to have some fun.

Yes we will have fun. I will plan fun and timetable it and then at the allotted time we will have fun.

Oh wait, how?

I couldn’t remember what would be fun for us yet still ensure I had him working properly to build the weak muscles, while not overdoing it for him or for me. Also it needed to work around other arena users, etc.

Pole-work. We will do pole-work. There will be four poles set at compass points so we can do circles over them and/or a line of trotting poles. We have not done ridden trotting poles for ages. It will be good.

But when I got there someone was selling showjumpers in the big school and the little school had 2 other riders in already who I didn’t fancy disturbing with my random pole distribution. (And I wasn’t going to carry poles down to the indoor school – I’m stronger now but I still have reduced limits). So fun was cancelled.

The next day, a pre-ride upset + conflict (which I will not go into) meant I was very much of a mood to ride and get off the premises. No time for pole faffing and seriously no chance of me having fun. Were it not for the push on our exercise I wouldn’t have ridden at all, because in an ideal world I wouldn’t get on my horse when I know my mood is poor, but as Drifter knows, this is not an ideal world, so we had to do our exercise regardless of the emotional state of the rider. (Don’t worry, I didn’t take anything out on him.)

The ride after that I had forgotten about having fun, I have to say. There was zero fun planning. I was tired and uninspired. I led him outside but when we got around to the school I realised it was really windy and I just wasn’t in the mood to play “Is there a monster in the tree?” So we turned around and went to the indoor school. I led him in and shut the door and my eye fell on the cones, which are usually outside in the jump store.

Ooh look, fun in a stack!

I started distributing my cones in a gentle curve in the general vicinity of the centre line, so they were like weave cones, but along a slight curve rather than a straight, to make them more interesting. Actually I initially intended them to be in a straight line, but when I looked back along them there was a pretty nice curve, so I just emphasised the accident into something more deliberate. While I was distributing cones I had Drifter follow me at liberty. While no one’s ever told me we’re not allowed to work at liberty, I think it’s probably an unwritten rule, so I only do it in the indoor school when we’re alone, so no one can see or be offended by it. So we’re not one of those horse-owner couples who can do everything at liberty. But he did pretty well at sticking with me when I asked and staying put (mostly) when asked to park and I thought it was a good way to start our non-boring session. I also put a couple of cones out to each side so, together with some of the middle ones, we could do circles or small clover leaf patterns. I set everything without any consideration for regularity or planning. If they were too tight to go one way round, we’d go another way or miss them. That would all be part of the fun.

I got on. After our usual debate about whether he was supposed to walk off immediately or wait, I laid the reins on his neck and we warmed up without them. We did a few laps of the school ignoring the cones. We did circles (still in walk and without me touching the reins) at the top end of the school where I hadn’t put any cones and everytime it looked like we might naturally be heading towards the cones I turned him away again until I thought I might have piqued his curiosity. Then we attempted weaving down the wonky curve of cones without reins. He was suprised but so tuned in to me. Because of the irregular set up it was hard for him to anticipate which side of a particular cone I was going to ask him to go, which was great because he loves to anticipate but this made him focus on me. We reached the other end and made strange and irregular loops around the side cones and went back up the weave line. We probably never made the same path through the cones twice, and I was making it all up as we went along. Then we left the cones and went back on the track while I picked up my reins and suggested a contact before heading back into the cone maze. I shortened my reins gradually and eventually we moved up to the trot.

Suddenly I had a flash of inspiration about the feel needed for a good contact and luckily it happened just as I was looking in the mirror and saw the positive effect on his way of going. Awesome. I tried to keep this while we did some more strange cone patterns. While it wasn’t something I could maintain at all times, it was clear I was doing a better job for him than I usually do. I’ve been thinking a lot about my reins lately but not to any productive end until this moment.

We didn’t do very much more with the cones before I felt his trot was in the sweet spot for asking for a canter. Weak and unbalanced as he is at the moment cones at the canter were not a safe or suitable ask, so we went back onto the track. The canter transition felt effortless because it had been such a great trot. The trot afterwards was even more amazing – the biggest trot I’ve ever had from him. We cantered a few times on each rein and they were all really good in terms of his shape and how he was working. The corners on the right rein were a bit hairy, and motorbike-like as a result of the weak right hind, and in general that rein was less stable and balanced, but for the horse he is at the moment that was amazing work. It was easily the best canter work we’ve had for months, and in some ways probably our best ever.

We cooled down and ended the session on that high. We’d only worked for about 20 minutes, but it had been focussed and active and to a high standard.

The aim of the session was to have fun. But we got better “correct work” that we have on the rides that focussed on correct work and we had fun as well. If I’d been entirely focussed on my hands would I have managed the breakthrough that improved my contact or did it come about because I wasn’t focussing on it? Would he have responded to my improved contact so well if he’d been mentally numb or was it because he was tuned in to whatever crazy change of direction I was going to ask for next?

It looks like spontaneous fun is actually pretty productive. I must schedule it in again ;P