Lunging in the wind

Confession: This is my second attempt at this post. Yesterday’s had a lot of words. They even made sense, mostly, but they didn’t read nicely. So I started from scratch. This will have fewer words but more point. I hope.

On Monday it was really windy here. As I sat in the car at the traffic lights I could see them waving in the wind, which showed me that it was perfect weather to get on a large animal that doesn’t like the wind. Not.

OTOH we have an indoor school, so it will all be fine. However, when I got to the yard I discovered that there was to be no riding indoors that day. This did not make me happy. Following a near fall at the weekend (involving a car wash and a big spook) my bravery levels are a bit lower than usual and riding outdoors in the wind was not going to happen. Weighing up my options I decided to lunge in the little outdoor school (leaving the big school free for riders.*) Again, this didn’t really make me happy, the surface in there being very waterlogged during the winter, but at least I had a plan.

Since lameness receded I’ve only lunged him off a headcollar, because I’ve either been doing it to show/see how he moves or because I’m not well enough to get on and ride (and therefore want it to be minimum effort). In this wind that was not going to happen, so I put the bridle on him, threaded the lunge line through the bit ring on one side, over his head and clipped on the ring on the other side. If he did try to take off I’d have that little bit more control. Also, for the same reasons, in recent memory he hasn’t been in any side reins or pessoa to lunge. Although he’d be fine to reintroduce those now, high winds are not the time to try stuff that might be a challenge, so we skipped the artificial aids.

We headed out. He was unimpressed with the weather so I sang him a song as we walked to the school. I like to keep sounds coming out of my mouth when he’s bothered about the weather. I like to think it gives him a constant reminder that he’s not facing the elements alone, and I do it in hand or in the saddle. It also means I keep breathing even if I’m stressed by the situation, which keeps both of us calmer.

Arriving at the school we began by walking round in hand to check for any scary things before we started. This tends to calm both of us.

Then we started work. Without words and with the least body-language possible I suggested that he start walking a small circle around me. I gave him a soft line that he could take out further as soon as he got brave enough and let him decide on the speed. It seemed to work quite well and gradually he took the circle out and picked up the walk speed slightly. The wind pulled on the line between us, and as it was attached to the bit I think this put strange feelings through his mouth, because he worked with his head down much more than I would expect. He didn’t seem uncomfortable, just focussed on the bit. After a while I decided I really should ask him to trot, but I wanted to do it with the smallest bit of energy I could to avoid him suddenly becoming a crazy galloping monster. So I turned the whip to point slightly towards him and quietly called “And…. Trotting!” Nothing happened, so I did exactly the same again and this time he got the transition. It was a fairly lazy trot but I wasn’t going to get after him in the wind. I let him trot lazily for a while and brought him back to walk. He seemed to be listening quite well, so we repeated the transition. Eventually I got him doing trotting one half of the circle and walking the other with the transitions fairly prompt and responsive. I was still extremely quiet about what I was asking but for the first time in the history of owning this horse I was able to work transitions on the lunge and see the gaits improving from it. Usually he is so resistant to coming back to walk that I just can’t do that. Perhaps because I was being so quiet he actually focussed on what he was being asked to do and did it.

We turned to working in the other direction and managed to repeat the good work with transitions, again with visible improvement to the gait. It was so good, in fact, that I started to think about asking for a canter. On the one hand I have very windy weather, a horse that hasn’t been asked to canter on the lunge for the best part of a year, and was never that great at cantering on the lunge without bucking/galloping at the best of times. On the other I have an obedient, willing horse, ready to step up his work and perfectly capable of cantering circles with a rider now. So I revved up the trot, watching to see if he got worried and giraffe-y about the thought of canter preparation. He didn’t seem to be worried so I went on and asked him to canter.

I was expecting a slightly dramatic transition and I was not disappointed in that, but there was no bucking and no pulling on the line. He galloped about 1/3 of the circle before settling down to a rather nice canter. After only 1 full canter circle I brought him back to trot. That was all I wanted to do, both to reinforce that cantering on the lunge is not a big deal and because I don’t want him doing much cantering on a circle yet. I enjoyed the beautiful big post-canter trot for a bit and then stopped him and turned him back to the first side to try the canter in that direction too. This did mean he worked a little longer on that side, but as that’s his stiff side anyway, that’s the side he needs to work more.

On the second side I had to put more energy in to get the transition without him falling straight back to trot, but after a few false starts we got that circle of canter. And none of the transitions or near-transitions included galloping or bucking, hurray!

As he cooled down I realised that this was the best lungeing session I’d ever had with him. It was ridiculously windy, it was dusk, he hadn’t been turned out that day and the footing was soggy, but it was really good work. Why was it so good?

He gave me his attention and his obedience. Was that because he was looking to me for reassurance in the wind? Was it because I was keeping everything low energy and not asking with any more intensity if he ignored the first ask? Was it because I asked for the right thing at the right time?

I certainly think it helped that at the start I gave the absolute minimum instruction. I just asked him to go around me to the left and let him go at his own pace with a length of line pretty much of his choosing. I didn’t insist he be brave from the start. I think it helped that I went out with very low expectations – exercise but don’t let either of us get hurt. I think that keeping all my instructions very small and quiet made him work harder at obeying them.

I really hope I can take some lessons away from this session and improve our future work. I was so blown away (pun intended) that the session I was initially so grumpy about turned out to be such an eye opener.

*The teens are all very accomplished riders and bounce better than me in the rare event that they do fall, so while some were edgy, no one else decided they weren’t riding.

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The state of the onion

Drifter seems to be doing quite well. I say seems because I’m not really well enough to ride him. I’m having post-viral symptoms that, while I’ve had them before and I know they will pass, are going to be something I have to live carefully with over the next few weeks. I did ride on Sunday (before I’d realised what was going on with me) … and paid for it on Monday, so I won’t be trying again just yet.

Although I was a bit floppy and useless when I rode on Sunday, D was really rather good. The swelling had reduced and we had three gaits again. Each gait was not as good as it could be, but the improvement since Tuesday was astronomical.

I’m a bit hazy on what I did on what days, but I have been lungeing him. The first time I lunged him just in a headcollar to see how he’d move. The second time I lunged him over a trotting pole, which I was really pleased with because we hadn’t done that before and I imagined he might just go around it but he was very good. The third time I lunged in the (quite loose) pessoa in walk and trot, then took it off him to have a little canter. While he has cantered in the pessoa in the past he doesn’t have much experience at it yet and having barely cantered at all in the last couple of months he needs it to be easy and to be able to pick his own frame and balance. It’s hard enough that I have to keep him on the circle.

It was really interesting to see how much easier it was for him to be lunged naked compared to the pessoa, even in walk and trot. It is hard for him to work in an outline and it’s good for me to have that reminder. I expect it now when he’s ridden, but he’s still having to work to keep it for me although I might not always be mindful of that. Lungeing him in a headcollar was easy for both of us because the transitions were easy for him, so he obeyed my requests in a timely manner without me having to threaten or insist. Once the pessoa’s added everything’s harder for him, so the lunger needs to work harder to get him to change gaits.

Another unexpected lesson: next time I need to replace my lunge whip or my schooling whip I’ll make sure I get one in a different colour. I felt pretty stupid when I’d got out to the school with horse, lunge line and … oops that’s my purple schooling whip not my purple lungeing whip. Doh! Handily there was one I could borrow rather than traipsing back for mine.

It’s frustrating that when D’s back to a fitness level where he can work in three gaits, I’m not well enough to ride, but at the moment I’m too tired to care massively. Hopefully soon I’ll get back on soon if only in walk and trot at first.

On other matters, the tiny dot on his D’s sheath has not changed at all and I’ve seen similar little marks on other horses’ faces at least one of whom has had that dot on his face for years with no incident, so although I’ll continue to monitor it I’m a lot less concerned.

Sudocreming his sheath does seem to be cutting down the fly bites although some are still getting through. It also leads to an extremely greasy tail and I can see a lot of shampooing in my future!

I don’t have a Lee Pearson lesson this Saturday, which is just as well. I cancelled it some time ago because of D’s issues and I’m really glad I did now my health is like this. Much better to have cancelled with good warning than drop out at the last minute. On the other hand it would have been really nice to see him so soon after his triumphs at the World Equestrian Games (another 3 gold medals to add to his collection). Maybe I could drop in on him between his lessons but I’m not sure – at the moment I’m not feeling like hanging around the yard all day on the off-chance that I’ll get a chance to speak to him when I could be at home resting. He’s one of the few people who make me wish I was on Facebook – if I was I could send him a message instead. Currently top of his feed is that he has one lesson left on Saturday. Yep, that was mine originally!

I’m relieved that D’s doing so much better because I need to leave him for a few days to go on a conference for work and it is such a relief to know that he’s OK to be ridden normally now so I can just book him in for schooling. The staff member who’ll ride him knows all about his recent issues and not to expect him to be on his A game, especially in canter.

Apologies for the stream-of-consiousness style of this post. I don’t have enough energy for editing or clarity of thought! Also I’m aware that my sense of humour is doing wierd things – it’s not my fault, I’m sick. Normal service will be resumed … probably … at some point.

Another long one, in which fireworks and the muckheap are mentioned, but not in the same sentence. That could get messy.

Sometimes I forget that I’ve not yet done a full year of horse owning. I was reminded of this last Saturday.

It was a very windy day and, owing to my chiro appointment in the morning and D’s lack of turnout on a Saturday, I had to lunge him. As the riding school is still in operation this month that meant waiting until 6.00 for the lessons to stop so that I would have somewhere to lunge. And that, at this time of the year, meant it would be dark. It would have to be outside because of the new surface in the indoor school not being suitable for lunging on.

I hadn’t really been aware of how windy it was until I got to the yard, and heard the wind howling and loose things flapping around. Great, I thought, cue spooking in the pessoa again. Oh well, needs must. I tacked him up but didn’t put the pessoa on him – just carried it round to put on if/when he settled. As we went round to the schools and left the protection of the buildings the wind hit us. I knew then that putting the pessoa on would be a bad plan, but he needed to move, so I’d lunge him without any artificial aids, letting him carry himself as he would, and sacrificing the training aspect of the session. I didn’t bother with the lunge whip. he was not going to have any issues moving his feet tonight! The floodlights warmed up and I started him walking … and the fireworks started. Of course, it was the weekend closest to bonfire night.  It goes without saying that he was not happy about the whole situation – the dark, the wind, the banging and flashing. He was keyed up but not jumping out of his skin, so we carried on, me hoping that a bit of exercise would calm him down and settle him. Between short rides and rest days I really felt he hadn’t had enough exercise and Usually we lunge on a 20 meter-ish circle. Not this night – he didn’t want to get that far from me. I was touched that I have now become his “safe-place.” I thought he would settle, despite the challenges of the environment, and we managed walk and trot with a reasonable number of transitions on both reins and he did his best to focus on me. As we’d got this far I went on and asked for the canter, once on each rein. We started with the difficult rein, which he’s not cantered on in any circumstance for a few weeks, one way or the other. It was achieved, but only via 2 big bucks and some gallop strides (actually I think that’s the first time I’ve seen him gallop). Obviously he got much praise for managing it, once he was there, and to be honest I hadn’t expected a pretty transition! After a quick go in the other direction we’d done about 15 minutes so I cooled him down off the lunge, hand walking him round the school. Well, actually not all the way round the school  because the tree whipping about down the end was best avoided. When I eventually led him back towards the stable he was so keen to get back that he kept trying to break into trot (although the slightest pressure on the lead rope was all that was needed to keep him with me).

With hindsight I should have given up on the idea of lunging when we first got out there, and hand-walked him in the indoor school. This time next year I will be mindful of the likely firework-filled nights and avoid ending up in this position. Nothing bad happened, but if it had it would have been my fault for putting him in a very stressful situation for reasons that really weren’t good enough. I was so focused on “he needs exercise” that I wasn’t thinking “what if he gets so scared he pulls me over, jumps out of the school and runs off, black horse in the black night.” No horse needs exercise that much, and I should have abandoned it. But we got away with it and we’ll chalk it up to experience. On the positive side, he stuck with me and trusted me and listened to me.

I put him to bed, picking up one last manure pile from his bed on my way. The muck trailer is reached by means of a ramp and after dark there are no lights on the area. Usually if I’m using the muck trailer after dark I stand beside the ramp and throw my scoopful up, but for some reason I decided to go up and dump my scoop properly on the top of the heap.

But something tripped me. As it cracked and splintered against my shin in a painless way I realised it was a plastic bladed muck shovel. I also realised I wasn’t going to be able to correct my stumble before … my head met a soft wall of manure and shavings. A very painless stumble for me but the shovel blade was in shards (most of which I couldn’t see in the dark) and the neatly shoveled-back muck heap wasn’t as neat by the time I’d righted myself. I was pleased to find that the experience was not as dirty as I would have imagined, the heap being quite dry. Nevertheless I was very pleased that I have a seat cover protecting the drivers’ seat of my car!

As the lunging session had been less than satisfying and hadn’t made me feel that we’d gone any way to redressing the balance of his exercise needs, instead of our usual rest day on Sunday I decided to ride. Unfortunately it was still ridiculously windy. I managed to get a school (a challenge during the day at the weekend) but unfortunately the turned out horses in the adjoining field were bucking and generally in a spirit of high uncontrolled energy, so I wasn’t receiving D’s full attention! He was resistant, worried about the wind, keyed up from the nearby crazy-horse energy and generally not going to make things easy for me. His resistance meant that I was quickly exhausted so again we were only able to manage a short ride. But it was a short ride that otherwise he wouldn’t have had, and I’m sure he spent lots of energy resisting me, even if he didn’t spend much working nicely.

The next day I tried again, and thankfully the wind had dropped back to a level that meant all the horses were a bit calmer, but unfortunately he was still resistant and argumentative. I suspect that he too feels that post physio/chiro it is like a new horse & rider. And horses challenge their new riders once they feel confident to. I’m pretty sure this is where we are now. Of course I should consider the usual back/saddle/teeth/hooves causes of “bad” behaviour, but I’m pretty sure this just attitude because all but the saddle have been checked very recently.

The day after that was bonfire night itself. Again, he had no turnout so needed exercising, but it was a chiropractor night so I wouldn’t be able to ride. Waiting until a school was free and then lunging in the dark when there would definitely be fireworks seemed stupid after our experiences a few days previously, so I decided to make do with hand walking and trotting him before my appointment. If I wasn’t going to tack him up I’d be able to skip grooming and with the time saved not grooming/tacking up/untacking afterwards I’d have time for 20 min hand walking and trotting and still have time to get to my appointment. So this was the plan. Unfortunately his bad mood extended to this also! But it proved that the issue was not the saddle, as the saddle was still in the tack room! He had a fleece rug on as it was cold and I didn’t know how much trotting we’d get to do – it would depend on who turned up to ride. As it happened we had a school to ourself so we could do whatever I chose. We started out walking around the school and he set a very fast pace and we strode out together. But his ears were back and he wasn’t happy. We carried on. He pretended to bite me. (This is what he does to see how much trouble he’d be in if he did bite me. Basically he bites the air about a foot away from my arm and then pretends he didn’t. Sometimes he’s quick enough and out of my field of vision that I’m not sure if he’s done that or not so he just gets a hard look, but sometimes I catch him and he gets told off. If he gets away with that first one then he might escalate it to biting a couple of centimetres away from my hand/arm so that his whiskers and/or lips make contact but his teeth don’t. Then he gets told off and smacked. There’s only been one occasion about 6 months ago where he actually bit me with teeth (while being girthed). But enough aside, back to the main narrative…)

So he was obviously unhappy over something. We did some trotting and walk/trot transitions to try to keep me from losing my breath too much as well as some walk/halt which went better than I expected. But his ears were back the whole time. I wondered if he hated moving in the fleece rug and as we’d been trotting decided he was warm enough to remove it. The ears stayed back. Not the rug then, just a horse in a bad mood, it seemed. We carried on and after a bit he tried bucking. Bucking on the lunge I accept as a necessary evil if I’m asking him to do something he finds very hard. Bucking on a lead-rope is unacceptable. I feel that I conveyed this message to him quickly and successfully and once I’d finished shouting we continued, with a somewhat subdued D behaving himself better.

Not the pleasant jog around the school with him that I’d been expecting. But he’d got exercised, whether he liked it or not, and I got to my chiropractor appointment.

At the appointment I was reassessed against my records and the chiropractor and I agreed I’d made excellent progress. Hurray! I no longer need to go twice a week – once a week will do. Although part of me really enjoys going and will be sad when Mr S goes to his 2nd appointment of the week without me, this will make it so much easier to manage Drifter and meant I could book a lesson. Hurray!

D and I had Wednesday off from each other and I rode again on Thursday. We shared a school with the lady with the slow pony again. Like me she doesn’t do much cantering and so it’s much easier to keep out of her way and plan my ride to avoid crashes than when sharing a school with the teens. The drainage at one end of the school was awful but with only two of us and not much cantering it was easy enough to avoid the worst of it. Professional advice is being sought on the state of the schools. It was most unfortunate that just after extra (too much?) surface was added to the outdoor schools we had weeks of heavy rain and they just don’t seem to be draining.

I’d arrived to ride prepared for a fight. Following the resistance I’d met any time I did anything with him, I’d come to the conclusion that I should expect a bit of argument during the ride. Some argument was presented, but less than I expected. I concentrated on my ride and we worked hard. After 20 min we were both sweating hard, despite the cold, his clip and the fact that we’d spent a lot of the time in walk. It was good walk, with good trot transitions (mostly). The lady with the pony left and we had the school to ourselves. I realised that D had settled to working and wasn’t fighting me any more. My shoulder didn’t seem to be dropping off so we were good to work some more. What could I do for something different now? I crossed my stirrups across his neck to try some sitting trot without stirrups. It seemed to go quite well. He kept a nice shape, which suggested I wasn’t causing him too much discomfort and I felt quite good. One rein was easier than the other – whether because of the way he moves or the way I do I’m not sure, but on the more difficult rein I still did OK. As we were passing the scary tree in sitting trot without my stirrups he had a tiny spook sideways. Probably to someone on the ground it would have been barely noticeable, but it was enough that in the past if it had happened without stirrups I might have expected to be grabbing the saddle to stay on (and maybe losing the battle). But I absorbed the motion and stayed with him. I was astounded. I really must be getting better at that! I took the stirrups back and had a little canter on his good rein, including a really nice canter circle, the best we’ve done. Feeling relatively confident I tried for the canter on the awkward rein and thought it might have been right, but couldn’t be sure.

I wasn’t able to ride on Friday but had a lesson on Saturday. I was really looking forward to it because I felt like I’d been riding him much better since I’d last had a lesson, but I really needed someone to tell me if I was right about that! Before the lesson he was being really difficult. Waiting outside the school for the previous lesson to end he refused to stand still, barging me, trying to yank his head away from me, pretending to bite. Telling him off and smacking wasn’t getting me anywhere. I took him back from the door and walked him to see if he’d settle. It didn’t really work but it was easier for me than trying to stand. Once we got into the school he continued, making it hard for me to tighten the girth etc. I was thankful for the instructor holding him while I got on, and then we were off. He walked at top speed and I let him walk off his grumps with the reins on the buckle, only taking up some contact once he’d let off some energy. The instructor was caught up in conversation, so we had plenty of time to warm up before her attention was on us, but once it was, she was impressed. He was on the bit, working nicely. As the lesson went on, so did her praise. Some of it was quite incredulous, along the “OMG, you’re STRAIGHT! HE’s straight. You’re both STRAIGHT!” sort of lines. Yes, it seems we are officially on the right track. Unfortunately this didn’t extend to the right rein canter. I tried and tried. We put a pole across the corner and he still went on the wrong leg. The instructor got on. He got it right. But she’d kind of thrown her weight sideways at the right time to help him. I got back on. I tried shifting my weight like her and D and I both found it very unsettling. We tried again and managed it. It felt quite strange, which makes me think he was on the wrong leg the other day when we’d tried. Again I resolved not to try without the instructor. Then it was time to cool down and for her to go. During the cool down she told me how much better he’d felt when she was on him. He was much lighter in her hands. She felt an improvement as well as seeing one. OMG that must mean … I’m finally riding well enough to improve my horse!

I didn’t realise until afterwards, but he hadn’t bothered to fight me during the lesson. He hadn’t tried hanging off my arms. He hadn’t cantered on the spot when he was frustrated. He hadn’t tried to ignore me. Perhaps we’re coming through the argument stage and into something nicer. Perhaps I’ve won enough arguments recently that he’s giving it a rest. Perhaps he’s getting stronger, and it’s not so uncomfortable to him to do what I ask and carry himself properly. Perhaps …

I may be pretty inexperienced, but I’ve learnt enough to know that the next time I ride it might be dreadful. This might have been a pleasant one-off that might not be repeated in a month of riding. But I can take that possibility, because it seems that I’m finally improving my horse.

In which we do lots of lungeing

So, where were we, before we were rudely interrupted by my succumbing to yet another virus? Ah yes, Drifter was about to move across the yard.

He has now moved. This occasioned some stress for me, but apparently very little for him. He seemed entirely un-bothered about the experience. I realise all that happened is that he was walked from his old stable to a new one, in an area he’d seen before, with lots of horses he knew vaguely and one he knew well, but I thought he might be stressed. I forgot that this horse has 2 mottos:

I fear nothing but puddles*

As long as there is hay, all else is irrelevant

So he was fine.

Unfortunately I was not well enough to go and check he was fine, so worried about him a lot, but Mr S drove me out there one evening, literally to look at him and go home to bed again.

There was some hassle with keys to the tack room though, as I had known there would be. The process of getting a key went like this:

  1. Notice that all my tack & rugs had been moved out of the old tack room (where I’d been told it would remain for a week or two).
  2. Ask where my tack was.
  3. Having located it, ask if I could have a key to the locked building it was in…
  4. Be told there were no keys but some would be cut in the next few days
  5. Wait few days (as ill, not an issue)
  6. Harass owner about keys
  7. Be told there were still no keys as they had suffered a break-in and dealing with that had taken priority.**
  8. Wait few days more
  9. Receive a key, only to find that although it locks the door 100% of the time, it only unlocks about 10% of the time
  10. Return key, receive another one
  11. Find that new key locks 100% and unlocks 80% of the time, but there’s a knack to the other 20% that I think I can work with.
  12. Hope that knack always works!

Also his fly rug didn’t seem to have made the move. After asking the staff to look and hunting through all the other livery rugs I eventually found it with the school rugs… and someone had washed it!

Being unwell, I had to get Drifter some schooling, but I didn’t want to spend more on him than I had to and lunged him towards the end of the week when I felt I could manage driving a car again.*** I wasn’t really well enough though, and had to stop and sit down to rest several times during the grooming and tacking-up process. Lunging went OK, but he couldn’t get the canter on the right leg on the right rein. I didn’t really have the energy to care, but did note it as a backwards step.

I struggled home again, but I was pleased I’d managed to lunge him myself rather than paying out more.

On the Saturday Mr S offered to help. For the first time, he wanted to learn how to handle Drifter and get involved. He asked me to teach him to groom, tack him up and have a go at lungeing (or pony-on-a-string as I often call it).

So we did. I’d warned him that his first attempt at putting on a bridle probably wouldn’t be that easy, so he was prepared to find it difficult and so did rather well. Once Drifter was “dressed” we went out to the school. It became apparent that Drifter was going to take the mickey out of Mr S. When I lunge that horse, he always wants to trot, from the get go. He may do a circle or two in walk if he’s feeling particularly dozy, but really he just gets on with trotting if I don’t suggest anything to the contrary. For Mr S, instead of trotting round, he just stood there. Or took a few steps like he didn’t understand what he was supposed to be doing. I took over and “woke him up” a bit and then passed him back to Mr S, who got on a considerably better now Drifter wasn’t pretending to be stupid. We agreed it was best if Mr S didn’t ask for canter, so I had a quick spin of him in canter, and managed to about 3 good strikes-off into canter on the dodgy rein (I brought him back to trot quickly each time to work the transition not the canter itself) which I was really pleased with and then we cooled him down.

Mr S did well and particularly enjoyed grooming. He didn’t so much like how much time everything takes. I see his point.

I enjoyed having Mr S see what it is that takes my time (I think he thought I must spend all my time gossiping to spend so long at the stables) and have him get involved. It would be really nice if in the future when I’m ill we have the option for Mr S to go and lunge him, rather than having to pay.

I was surprised at Drifter taking the mickey out of Mr S – I know horses do that, but I didn’t know my horse did that 😉 For me he was always quite idiot-proof on the lunge, even though he was the first horse I ever lunged, back in December.

I had ordered a lunging aid very similar to a Pessoa (but considerably cheaper) from the tack shop.

Shires lunging aid advertising photo

Shires lunging aid advertising photo

This had just arrived, but obviously I hadn’t wanted to combine Mr S’s first attempt at lungeing with Drifter’s first attempt at going in a Pessoa-alike, so I saved that for the Sunday. On Sunday I was feeling better enough and keen enough to get out of the house that I spent most of the afternoon hanging around the yard, and, in between resting, gossiping and looking for the missing fly sheet, I fitted the lungeing aid to him in the stable. Having done my research, I felt confident that I knew what I was doing fitting the aid (the official Pessoa you-tube video below was very useful) and knew that he might freak out when I lowered the back portion down and around his back-end.

I need not have feared. As I may have mentioned, my horse has 2 mottos:

I fear nothing but puddles*

As long as there is hay, all else is irrelevant

There was hay and nothing to fear. So we were fine. He lifted his head a few times once I’d attached the lines along his sides, to & through the bit rings and down to the roller, but he was just finding out about it, and settled back to the hay.

At this point I wasn’t even sure I was going to lunge that day (he’d been out and so didn’t really need to be exercised, and I didn’t know when there’d be a free school, it being a busy teaching day) so I took it all off him again.

Later on I did decide to have a little go at lungeing him in it. I would follow the recommendation that for the first use he should just walk in it for 10 min. This sounded very sensible to me. I took him out un-trussed so that he could stretch out before I put it on.

Unfortunately I had an audience of 3 or 4 staff members who were waiting for the lesson in the next school to finish so they  could all pile on putting the jumps away quickly. Several of them expressed negative feelings towards myself using this type of lunging aid alone and inexperienced. I expressed my confidence and belief in my horse’s ability not to freak out. At least one implied that she was looking forwards to my being humbled on this count and that she’d stay well back, but another offered to hold him while I put the aid on and gave some advice. She agreed with me that the fit I’d set up for him in the stable was loose enough for getting used to it and then should be tightened once he was used to working in it regularly and I was pleased.

But have I mentioned my horse’s first motto?

I fear nothing but puddles*

He was utterly un-bothered, un-interested, un-stressed. He walked calmly round, boring the spectators to tears.

Ha. See?

It did occur to me that maybe he’d been lunged in this kind of aid before I got him, but regardless, I was proud of him.

On Monday we used it again. After a good few minutes of walking in each direction I asked him for 3 minutes of trotting in each direction, with trot/walk transitions to keep him awake as needed. I could see him concentrating during this, thinking about how to move in it, which made me feel that he hasn’t used this kind of aid before (so more proud of him). Again, he was calm, just with that “thinking” vibe he also gives off when we do trotting poles. We did his easy left rein first, and then switched to the right rein. I could see this was a lot harder for him because it was more demanding on his weak right hindquarter. On this side he was eager to drop back to walk after only a few meters in trot. Each time I kept him going a just a little further and then let him rest in walk. In the pessoa-alike it seemed more obvious that when he brings that weak leg under he leans on the opposite shoulder and the opposite side of the bit, which suddenly made sense of the way he leans on a rider’s left arm, which has been perplexing my instructor whenever she rides him (I notice less than she does because in some ways my left is stronger than my right). I’d known he would find it hard – it was for exactly this reason that I’d bought the aid to encourage him to bring his hind end underneath him. It did look even harder than I’d expected so I didn’t ask for much.

I think that maybe we pushed him too hard on the day we rode with the shiny dressage riders, because since then he has at times felt wiggly and a bit lop-sided under saddle, like he used to pre-physio and we’d struggled to get that canter, when he had been improving. I think maybe he hurt that weak quarter again. Also there was a day when in the cool-down I noticed he was tossing his head a tiny bit when that leg came under.

So I’m booking him in to see the physio again. Sigh.

So that was Monday.

On Tuesday (yesterday) I felt well enough to try getting back on board, at nearly a fortnight after I last rode him. I had very low expectations of both of us, which often leads to a good ride, and this was no exception. I wanted to keep it to just 20 min. so I didn’t get too tired. Perhaps as a result of the lunging aid he went on the bit without needing much persuading. He was generally responsive and I was too. The improvement in my riding that I had been seeing before I was ill had all settled and consolidated in the days I didn’t ride, and it felt good. I had thought we’d just walk and trot, but things were going so well. I didn’t want to ask for the challenging right canter, but I saw no reason not to have a little go on the easy left rein. On the Sunday, when I was loitering and watching some lessons I heard an instructor tell someone “you can’t steer in canter until you can produce your canter”. I felt that everything was going so well I’d be sure to manage to produce my canter, so I had a little go. We managed a pretty nice circle (by our standards) and came back to trot. It felt so good. I felt like having that idea of producing a canter made all the difference. I had complete control of the canter from before it started to after it ended. That had never happened for me before. It occurred to me that I’d probably have a bit of control over speed within the canter as well, so I had another go, this time going large and pushed him on down the long side of the school. It worked. I realised it was the first time I’d ever asked him to go faster in canter, because he wasn’t rushing, he was balanced. When I tried to slow him down again he broke back to trot – I think I needed more leg there, but it was an amazing feeling up until that point.

Another positive in the session was that I tried a little sitting trot. As I’ve mentioned before my sitting trot is atrocious, but I read somewhere that it’s almost impossible to sit well on a horse that isn’t offering his back to be sat on. I felt like he was offering his back, so I had a couple of very short attempts at sitting on it. While the result was still poor, I felt like there were moments when I managed to move with him, and that there might be hope for the future. I kept the attempts extremely short so that he wouldn’t get put off offering his back and he seemed to handle things OK.

All in all, it was the most enjoyable and “together” ride we’ve ever had.

Tonight we’re having a night off and basking in the glow of our last ride having been amazing.

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*And maybe small children. And the jump filler with painted pigs on it is slightly concerning.

**The thieves spent 2.5 hrs on the premises, according to the CCTV but were not interested in horses or horse-related stuff. They were interested in the owners’ house & cars and the vending machines, one of which had all of the jaffa cakes removed. I don’t know much more detail than this. But once they knew their horses & tack were safe, many of the liveries were very upset about the lack of jaffa cakes.

***And as I got a new, larger car only 4 or 5 days before I got ill, I was more worried about driving than usual, especially in the narrow lanes. But I was fine.

On the lunge line

I hadn’t been looking forward to lunging again. I did find it quite stressful before in itself and the added inconvenience of needing a free school to ourselves to lunge in (health and safety rules) adds to the stress a bit. It’s quite undesirable to check which schools are free, get all his lunging gear sorted and then get out to find a rider got to the school first so we have to wait for them to finish.

But I had no saddle and a horse that needed exercise, so lunging it had to be.

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It was a cold Friday night and after a tiring week at work I got him groomed and into his boots, roller and bridle, picked his feet and took him out into the dark. Before getting his tack on I’d checked and both outdoor schools were free. Unfortunately by the time I got out there was a livery rider in one school and a lesson in the other. (This was particularly annoying as when I wanted to have lessons on Fridays I was told they didn’t teach on Fridays.) I sighed and prepared to turn round and go back to the stable when the livery rider called out that she was just finishing and I could have the school. Hurray!

I grabbed the lunging whip and started him walking round to warm up. It didn’t take him long to get into it and I remembered how lucky I am to have a horse who knows what he’s doing and is obedient and safe on the lunge. Others on my livery block wouldn’t  feel comfortable lunging their own horses, even though they’ve had horses for years and years.

As I watched him move I was struck again by how beautiful he is. When you ride you don’t see much horse because you’re on top, but lunging lets you see all of that power and movement and beauty. The grace of a horse is never so apparent as when they move, and as a rider you miss out on the view.

The lesson in the school next door finished and we were left alone with the floodlights glinting off my dark horse. I’d been keeping it quite low-key, just a steady trot, but now there was no pony to upset in the next school (and no one watching and making me feel less confident) so I thought it was time to see if we could get a canter. I’d barely lunged him in canter before but I felt happy that he was listening and working well so it seemed like a good time to try.

I asked. He considered and trotted faster. I asked. He rearranged his legs and cantered. It was breathtakingly beautiful. He danced in the dark, black shining in the floodlights, all horse. I was laughing with joy. This! This is Horse! The platonic ideal of Horse was cantering around me; magic in the icy night. I had been visited by the horse gods.

Obviously he received much praise and many treats that night.

On a more practical level it was useful to see him go through the “rearrange legs and canter” stage. Riding him I have had the idea that I don’t always get a canter when I ask because he’s not worked out how to balance and get into canter immediately I ask and it was clearer to see that from the ground. It’s obviously something he could use more practice at.

I also witnessed a little buck or two, but I interpreted them as happy energy/release/feel good buck rather than anything less pleasant. This is a horse who’s had limited turn-out and, because of the saddle issue, hadn’t enjoyed ridden exercise for at least a week, if not longer. It must have felt good to work out and not have that saddle on.

On Sunday the saddle fitter came out to see us. It was a different lady from last time (although she works for the same company). She turned up 20 minutes early and immediately endeared herself to me by admiring Drifter; his gentle curiosity, his long eyelashes and his attitude to a stranger in his stable. She can come again! I felt more at ease with her than I had with her colleague, which was good because I was quite nervous, not knowing what to expect. I’d basically phoned them, told them the saddle didn’t fit, but then not had the experience to be able to communicate what I wanted them to do about it. I didn’t know (and to be honest still don’t) what they have in their repertoire to make a saddle fit a horse. I didn’t know whether it would be a simple on the spot job or a really challenging problem that would take considerable time and money.

We started with her re-measuring him on the withers and where the back of the saddle would sit. Then she put the saddle on him in the stable. She looked very doubtful, walked around, felt and looked from different angles and said, “To be honest it looks like a pretty good fit to me.” She then gently suggested that it might not be the saddle that was the problem, tactfully mentioning rider skill and horse attitude as other areas to consider. However, she needed to see the saddle with me on top before she could conclude, so out we went and up I got. We had only walked away from her for 2-3 meters before she said, “I’ve seen all I need. I see the problem.” It was a relief to find out I wasn’t going mad!

Apparently the flocking in the saddle had compacted. This can be common with new saddles from some manufacturers and should be easy to put right. She took the saddle away to work on and I’m hoping to hear back soon that it is finished and then we can make another appointment to check it fits properly after the work is done. She also took the nose-band from the bridle to shorten the long end and add an extra hole or two. I questioned whether it was OK to lunge without a nose-band and she assured me it would be fine.

So back to the lunge line we go.

A picture from our pre-saddle owning lunging sessions.

A picture from our pre-saddle-owning lunging sessions. Blurry, yes, but that’s all the better to evoke the essence of Horse-in-motion. You won’t be surprised to hear I don’t have any pictures of magic lungeing in the night.