Liam spoiled me this weekend. Saturday we had a beautiful ride, culminating in a canter using only the snaffle rein. He went to throw his head up and charge forward, but I only had to give him a strong half-halt reminder that we are doing things differently now and he settled back to work. We worked on a lot of transitions, trying to get him to lighten his front end and work with his back rounder. I also focused on keeping my own position, sitting up straight and keeping my shoulders back and my chest open. It seemed kind of a “the chicken or the egg first” thing, when he is going correctly it is easy for me to sit correctly, but it is easier for him to go correctly if I am sitting correctly, but which one comes first? I am sure it is supposed to be me first, after all, I *am* supposed to be the brains of this operation, but when he is hollow and leaning on the bit it is so hard to sit up relaxed and with my shoulders back! Somehow we figured it out though, and both feel much better now.
Today when I got on him, he showed me that he remembered what we worked on yesterday. We walked for a few minutes, then I stopped and removed the curb rein. I had been carrying it very loosely anyways, and it was distracting me. We went back to work, starting with bending circles and figures 8’s as we walked. Then I pushed his haunches in off the rail, and to my delight they moved over a tiny bit with minimal protest! That exercise is still a work in progress, but we have made some progress with it.
In our trot work, I focused on keeping him soft in my hands, and him giving me an honest bend through every corner. We had trot poles set up through out the arena, and Liam loves to trot through them, so we did that a few times. I worked on making him trot more slowly and collected on the short side of the arena, then pushing him forward into a longer stride down the long side of the arena and over the poles, then bring him back to a shorter stride again. He seemed to enjoy that exercise. Any time he felt like he fell on the forehand, or started hanging on my hands, I did transitions… trot, walk, trot, walk, halt, back, walk… up and down, one after another until I felt him light again and responding to my seat and lightly looking for guidance from my hands.
Then we did our canter work. I was hoping it wouldn’t all fall apart since the last time I thought we had improved and I removed the curb rein it didn’t work out so well. I did a bunch of walk-trot-walk-halt-back-walk transitions, up and down through those gaits until he was light and listening to my seat and ready for whatever came next. Then I surprised him and asked him to canter. And he did. And it was light and steady and there was no head throwing or racing off! And he came back to the trot, and back to the canter, and back to the trot, and then reverse directions, and then back to canter. Up and down, we just kept going, and I couldn’t help smiling! When he canters like that it is wonderful to ride!
Trotting through the poles and picking up a short canter, and then back to the poles:
A canter circle:
So, the pelham did what I needed it to do. I was able to get past some of his resistance and prove to him that when he does what I am asking him to do, he really is more comfortable. When he lets me help him, he is more balanced, and because of that, more confident and happier. It also allowed me to correct some position faults I had, once the weight of Liam’s entire front end wasn’t resting in my hands, I found it easier to sit up and back more, which in turn helped Liam to move his own weight back more so he is not as heavy on his forehand. Now that we both have learned that we can walk, trot, and canter comfortably in our new found balance, we are able to do so without the assistance of the curb rein, much to my relief! I must admit I was worried we would become dependent on it and not be able to ride the same without it. Going forward, I think I will alternate riding with and without it for a few days and make sure we keep our new habits, then try going back to a regular loose ring snaffle and see what we have!
After riding Liam, I hopped on another thoroughbred name Knightly. It was fun riding him because he is where Liam was a month or two ago. I am going to ride Knightly a few more times this week and see if I can apply what I have learned from Liam to Knightly and make some progress with Knightly without so much of the trial and error I experienced with Liam. Knightly has that same heavy in my hands way of going, and the transitions helped him, but he also seemed to benefit from really being pushed from my inside leg to my outside hand. Once he softened into a light bend, he softened a little at the poll. Then a little transition work and he started to lighten in front, and then when we trotted off from there it was infinitely more comfortable than the first trot he gave me was! It was fun to feel the difference on him in just one ride, and to realize how much Liam has taught me. I guess I am lucky that I have a horse that doesn’t give me any freebies and makes me do things right, it has made me a much better, more knowledgable, stronger, more sensitive, and more thoughtful rider. Thank you Liam!
Here’s me riding Knightly: