Well, I decided that today was the day to hack my horse over to a friend’s arena and really commence some serious schooling. I’ve been riding my 8-year-old Thoroughbred consistently outside for the past month, and he’s coming along pretty nicely, if I do say so myself– but I’m still having this issue that I can’t seem to crack– and that issue is that he still disagrees wildly with any bit of contact.
And I feel like instead of getting better, I’m causing more problems by trying to be TOO sensitive, TOO cajoling, and TOO soft with him– it’s just angering him further. He had a semi-successful career as a racehorse and then a semi-UNsuccessful career as a polo horse before I got him last summer, so his education about contact has been essentially nil. And my own expertise in that area is lacking as well! So I figured that a hack over to my friend’s arena would be instructive for both of us, especially as this particular friend is an experienced dressage rider.
But before we could get to the arena, we had to brave the two miles of gravel road that led there. And while I have traversed this particular route dozens of times in my life, there’s nothing quite like attempting it on a blustery spring day with a horse who would much, MUCH rather remain at home in the pasture with his buddies. The whole trip was rather “fraught”, as some might put it. However, we did manage to arrive at the arena unscathed, though both of us were somewhat sweaty and frazzled.
The school in the arena, however, was well worth it. Initially he was extremely tense, and I felt that familiar sense of frustration bubbling up, because it seemed that no matter what I did with my hands, his reaction was to nervously fling his head in the air and shorten his stride. Putting my leg on and finding a more forward rhythm definitely helped a bit, and my friend gave me some excellent tips which seemed to be the key to lowering his stress level and developing a more relaxed trot. The first tip? Counterbend… something I often forget to do. Asking his to flex to the outside and then to the inside helped a lot in getting him to accept the contact a bit better.
By the end of the school, he was much more focused and his gaits felt longer, more relaxed and rounder. Plus, I now have some additional tools in my arsenal of tricks for working through our issues. Fingers crossed that this unseasonably good weather endures so that I can continue to work on them!
(Oh, and the two mile ride home? Eighty percent uneventful, but at about the eighty-five percent mark he caught sight of our horses in the pasture through the neighbouring fields and launched a hissy fit, propelling himself into the ditch and attempting to yahoo towards them… an unsuccessful attempt, fortunately for me!)