One super bummer thing about my new barn sitch is that even though there are a fair few people around, and it’s a pretty vibrant and friendly place, there aren’t a lot of people loitering around in the arena who could be hijacked into taking video or pictures for me. Seriously, I think there have been two days (of probably 30 rides since I started leasing the pony?) that there has been a free human in the arena. And the other part is that I’m just not quiiite comfortable enough to yell out and ask for video.
Proof or not, we’ve been making some major progress unlocking the pony. Even just five-ish weeks ago Sammy and I were really struggling to get on the same page about dressage. During one of our rides, he tried zipping off in a little fastfast trot as an evasion when I put my leg on. I was thrown off balance the first time, and even though I shut the second zip down pretty quickly, I felt him try it at least three more times during the ride for seemingly no reason (I mean, there’s always a reason). It was one of the most annoyed response I’ve gotten from him. Ignoring me? Sure. Wrong response because he’s unbalance or not sure what I’m asking? Totally reasonably. Annoyed? Not really a thing he did.
But we’ve gotten more and more in sync since then, and it feels like our progress has been taking big strides lately! Now that we have the pony mostly ahead of the leg and working with multiple different gears within each gait, TrJ has me trying to get him to unlock his left side and stop leaning on it quite so much. At first I was confused by this, because I feel like whenever I take a hold of the left rein, Sammy falls hard to the right and so of course I grab the right rein in response (it’s the best response, obviously). I thought I was feeling a right-side problem, particularly with getting his right hind under his body. And maybe I was, but cranking his neck around to the right was not the solution there.
In my most recent lesson, TrJ had me focus on making sure my left and right reins were the same length and not letting Sammy hang on that left rein. Part of the problem is that the pony gets “locked up” on the left side of his body — as if instead of being toned but pliable muscle that moves in both directions, it is a bowed 2-by-4 that is held in place by a short rein, but isn’t fixed by a longer or following rein. Hmm. It’s a bit hard to explain in words. Like the left rein pulls the pony into a slight C-shape to the left that he then leans on and relies on in order to maintain that C. At the same time, he leans on the left corner of his mouth on the bit, and seems to ignore the pressure there. So if you drop the rein, he falls over his right shoulder but doesn’t soften, and if you keep holding the rein he’s happy to lean on you for quite a while. Like, maybe forever.
TrJ had me tackle the problem in a more fiddly-way than I would really like, but explained that she wanted us to try this just as a short term solution. Sammy is pretty set in his ways, and we don’t want to fiddlefuck around in the future. But for right now, it’s one of the only ways we can communicate to him that we want something different than what he’s used to delivering. So there’s a bit more grabbing of the left rein and massaging with my fingers than I’d like to do (not least of all because I literally can’t manage to keep track of all those things I’m “supposed” to be doing when instructed to ride that way), but every ride we work toward a quieter, softer way to ask Sammy keep moving through both sides of his body and not brace through his left side.
so very not-tall
As much as I don’t want or really like using that tool, it is another tool in my kit. And I can totally see why some people become reliant on fiddling — it does get some immediate results. Plus, just because it’s not my preferred tool, doesn’t mean I can’t learn to use it well, or apply some Academic Horse Training-type principles to it. It fits into a learning paradigm along with many other training tools, and I should remember that.