Lunging, riding and a smart re-clip

I was delighted to find that the sharp new clipper blades had been employed to good effect. As usual the photography is poor, but it’s hard to get a picture of a large animal in a very confined space after dark on a not-too-great mobile camera and I tried my best. You’ve already seen one of the not-quite-what-I-intended photos as the Halloween post.wpid-20131026_184118.jpg

This time they took more off the tummy and sides, which I’m really pleased about. I wanted to keep his legs and back end fully fuzzy, but he did still get quite hot after the first clip, so this seems like a good compromise. I do love his leg-warmers, which is why I’m posting this otherwise terrible picture! – to show you the thickness of the furry legs!wpid-20131026_184037.jpg

As mentioned previously, because of the physio & chiro rest days I haven’t been riding much. On Saturday night I got him groomed and pessoa-ed up for a lunge. It was dark and windy. We started with plenty of easy walking and stepped it up to trotting with some trot/walk transitions (these are much easier in the pessoa than side reins but he still has a tendency to keep trotting and trotting). He was getting much more confident trotting in the pessoa, so as we went on I tightened it gradually, thinking we would do a few more sessions in trot and then we could think about trying to introduce the canter, on the easy rein first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it was very dark and really rather windy. We were in the big school which has a large tree alongside it. The big tree did what big trees do in wind – it waved itself suddenly and (apparently) very alarmingly just as he was passing it. Drifter tried to put his head in the air and get away from the tree-monster with a canter stride or two. Of course he found that his head was tied down and his back end tied in. As you would expect in this situation, he started bucking.

I have spent some time watching YouTube videos of horses in pessoas and of them bucking in pessoas. In every one of these bucking videos I’ve seen, the horse does handstands while kicking out the back legs to free the back end from the strap around the hocks. There’s even one video in which the horse has got the hand of freeing herself and manages to get the back end off.

Not my little boy.

He went pronking. Yes, that’s a word. In case you’re not sure what it is, here’s a picture:Springbok_pronk

If a picture’s not doing it for you and you need a video, here’s the footage that introduced me to the concept of pronking in the first place.

I’m not sure wetting yourself with laughter is the approved response when your horse is bucking on the end of a lunge line, but honestly, he was hilarious. He pronked neatly for about 1/3 of a circuit, never putting any extra tension on the lunge line, keeping a neater circle than he usually does in his regular gaits before settling back into a fast trot. I put him straight back into the transitions as if nothing had happened and it was indeed as if nothing had happened.

I left the experience rather amused but thinking that perhaps it would be better to try an official canter attempt sooner rather than later, so that we would be better prepared for any more unexpected canters. I wanted him to be doing a little better in trot but I didn’t think we were far off a first little attempt, even though it would be a while before I’d regularly ask him to work in canter in it.

When I rode next I was pleasantly surprised with our mutual responsiveness. We were alone in the newly surfaced sand school but it was very deep and churned up so I thought maybe it would be best not to canter but to work in walk and trot. With our new-found abilities to move our bodies freely, we feel a little like a new horse and rider getting to know each other. Previous givens are no longer as they were. So walk and trot were more than enough to keep us busy. In fact, had it been only my interests I had to please, we could probably have done the whole session in walk, but he needs the chance to move out, so of course we did plenty of trotting too. In walk and trot he was forward, round and better balanced than I’m used to. I was focusing on how he moved, mainly going large with the occasional circle, centre line, serpentine or shallow loop. Then I thought I’d try running the walk-trot dressage test, which we hadn’t touched since August. It was hard. When it came to putting the movements together all our good form fell away. He rushed, I was unbalanced and struggled to steady him. He lost his roundness and bend, I overcompensated and ended up affecting directional control trying to get the bend back. Hmm. Not quite ready for all that yet are we? Back to mainly going large, and trying to do one good circle once he’s moving well on the straight.

The next time we met it was back on the lunge. Again the weather was poor and the school was soaking, but he was doing well enough in trot that I thought I might ask for a canter transition and see what happened. Only on his happy side, of course. So what did happen? Proper handstand bucking pulling me across the school happened initially, but only for a few seconds. Then he got into a very quick canter while I praised, soothed and tried to slow him down. Was it the way I’d want him to work regularly? No, not at all. Was I proud of him for getting it quickly without making more of a fuss? Yes, I certainly was. It’s hard for him to canter on the lunge, even without the pessoa, even on his happy rein, so he did better than I expected. Some of the excess speed was from the startling feeling of striking off in the pessoa, but some of it is just his usual “I don’t feel balanced so I rush and rush”. He stayed in canter for quite a while (I’d been asking for him to slow down almost since he’d got his canter, so this was not a case of me keeping him in canter!) and when he came back down the gears we started the cool down. I considered taking everything off and cantering him on the difficult rein without the pessoa, but decided against it. Now I intend to let that session “sit”. He’s done it now, so he knows he can canter in it. I don’t think he’s ready to work that way yet, but if we have another spook related incident in the pessoa he now knows how to canter in it. We’ll work in walk and trot with it until he’s stronger and then reintroduce the canter in the future.

Next time I rode. Again, I found walk fascinating. As I mentioned in the previous post he has a habit of leaning on the rider’s arm through the left rein which I had been not feeling because of the stiff part of my upper left back. I think I’d just been setting that unfeeling stiffness against his leaning. This ride, for the first time, I managed not to do that at all. All the time I was riding I was mindful of that part of my back and keeping him from doing that. For the first time I had the feeling my instructor described where you feel like you’re holding directly onto the bit rings rather than to the reins. I really had the feel of his mouth as if I was that directly joined to him rather than through the reins. It was hard. For both of us. He struggled to carry himself because he wanted to lean on me and I wouldn’t let him. I had to have a constant focus on it. I found that when we were on the track and I was asking for a slight inside bend, regardless of direction, he was OK with that (perhaps suggesting I’m letting him lean on the outside rein while asking for inside bend?) but when I tried a centre-line, 3/4 line or diagonal he really struggled to hold himself and be straight. I found this really interesting and would have loved to work longer, but after 20 min. I  felt that I couldn’t really carry on because it was exhausting me. At the time I felt like a wuss, as I cooled him down on the buckle, and wished I could have worked for longer.

But a couple of hours afterwards I was really glad I stopped when I did. My left shoulder was really painful! I’m pretty sure that throughout the 2 yrs and 6 months that I’ve been riding, every time I rode I’ve taken the weight of the contact through that stiff bit of my back. The muscles that should have been working in that shoulder and strengthening every time I rode had never worked before. No wonder after 20 min. I felt like I couldn’t do any more. The wonder is how I managed a full 20 min of hard use on those muscles before I stopped. I iced the shoulder and went to bed.

In the morning it was sore enough that I was mildly worried I’d done more than just overwork it. It really hurt and there were certain positions in which I just couldn’t hold the arm up with it. But I thought it was probably just extreme muscle soreness and spend large portions of the day consuming protein to rebuild it, and planning to ride again that night. Driving from work to the stable  I was begging lights to change so that I wouldn’t have to move my left arm to change gear, and planning my route to minimise gear changes. At some point on the journey I decided that riding like this wasn’t going to do anything constructive for either of us. Much as it galled me not to improve on the work we’d been doing, and much as I wanted him to have a work out after the short session the day before, I had to accept I just wasn’t capable. It was particularly galling because if I’d realised earlier that I couldn’t ride, I could have gone out straight from work for drinks with a friend. I have to say I really feel that he hasn’t had as much exercise as he should this week, but I suppose it won’t hurt for just one week. It will get easier to increase his exercise as a) the physio’s happy with his progress and doesn’t want to see him again for 3-4 months, so he won’t be on light duties again (touch wood) and b) I suspect that dropping my chiro sessions from twice a week to once a week will be happening very soon, so I’ll have half as many days in the week when I can’t ride from that point of view.

The next day, today, my shoulder is feeling much better. It’s still very painful in certain positions, but it’s just muscle soreness that will heal itself quickly enough. I won’t be riding today but lunging again because I saw the chiropractor again this morning. He’s pleased with my progress and my next session with him will be an assessment of how far I’ve come since I started with him a few weeks ago. Honestly I don’t care whether he’s pleased or not – I’m delighted. Yes I think there’s still room for improvement, but the benefits have been so much greater than I would ever have dared hope. I feel like every day now I get up out of the right side of the bed. I feel like the best bits of a relaxing holiday without having to travel anywhere. I’ve turned into a chiropractic evangelist! Now if I can just get that shoulder stronger so it doesn’t try to drop off every time I ride for 20 minutes, I’ll be pretty impressed with my body.

We went shopping in TKMaxx after we’d been to the chiropractor, as I was in need of an evening dress or 2. I got 3 as it happens, all reduced and all more in the cocktail dress line of things rather than full length. Mr S goes to a surprising number of evening events and so I have to be kept in dresses so as not to let the side down. Anyway, to get to the point of this apparently off topic digression; as well as feeling much better, I think my body looks much better. Trying on various dresses I felt that every one looked much better on me than they would have in the past. It’s no great surprise that one looks more like the classical ideal of beauty with level hips and shoulders, with a straight upright neck and generally with everything lining up, but it’s another very pleasant side effect. Before my first session I read the brochure, “What to expect from your treatment” but nowhere was I warned that side effects might include feeling unusually happy and beautiful!

Image credit:

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.



*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.