Getting back to horse work

Between health issues, work issues and other things, Mocha’s been on the back burner for the past month.  January’s probably the best month for such things to happen, because the arena gets wet, the weather is either nasty cold or else that upper 40s F that just about guarantees a wet haircoat no matter what I do, etc, etc, etc.  G turns her out regularly and gets worried if she doesn’t roll (he likes to see the horses roll in turnout and swears that it’s incredibly important).  Plus I’m sure she gets a little extra attention from him, as well as the college classes for groundwork.  So she doesn’t get ignored.

She does, however, get pushy.  G said she took off running hard this morning and did several loops of the round pen, then tearing down to do a sliding stop then a rollback in each direction.  He thought he detected a pattern to her playing because she’d do the same thing every time.  Doesn’t surprise me, I caught her brother practicing his sliding stops one time after coming back from the reining trainer.  Mocha definitely likes doing her patterns and thinking about her work.  Doesn’t mean she’s particularly cooperative, though, when it’s time for her to go back to work.  I ground drove her this afternoon and, yep, I had a pushy horse who needed to be reminded of the boundaries.

I like having her stand quietly until I ask her to move off.  That’s a safety issue when ground driving or driving a cart.  Driving 101, in other words.  Mocha was having nothing of that, however, and wanted to sidestep and dance around.  Not on her toes like a hotter horse would do, mind you, just two-tracking and moving around a little bit, fidgeting instead of standing.  So she spent some time backing up.  Got her to whoa again, went back to getting myself set up for the work.  She stood.  Then I asked her to move off and she wanted to go faster than a walk.  Hit the sidepull’s noseband and started two-tracking again, this time at a trot.  More backing.

This time she stepped out reasonably, and we had no further problems in the big circle warmup at all three gaits.  Challenges, however, resurfaced when we started the small walk circles.  When doing a small circle to the left, Mocha decided she needed to trot, so…More Discussions, More Backing.  We had to do several big circuits of small left circles before Mocha decided that yeah, she could walk those small circles to the left.  The consistency of the resistance told me that she was stiff in bending in that direction.  Not surprising, since she’d been moving a wee bit short at the trot on the left rein.  Not bad enough to count as lame, more of a muscle tightness/resistance.  So she needed the bend and flex to release that tightness.

But, of course, all she really thought was that it was difficult, stiff, and maybe a little ouchy.  Plus she was testing boundaries, so she resisted.

Mind you, none of this resistance was big or dramatic.  Just being pushy.  She never lashed out at me, never got dangerous.  Just testing boundaries to see what she could get away with.  Making sure the limits still existed.

The real battles came when two-tracking.  Again, it had to do with exercises involving stretching and bending her neck.  Moving to the right with a slight bend to the left—hoo boy, any excuse to avoid that movement.  Any excuse.  Not panicky, not mad, just the sort of resistance that said “I’d much rather not do this.”

I insisted.  After a bit, she softened up and as she softened up, she started moving better.  Her resistance lessened, and by the end of the ground driving session, she was moving freely, much more submissive, and, on the loose rein, much more relaxed.  One reason I’ve started doing this ground driving bit when I’ve been away from the saddle or unable to get a lot of saddle time in is because I’d sooner do this sort of session from the ground.  While she misses those cues of seat and leg, I think it’s beneficial for her to get this tuneup without saddle, bit or rider.  Tomorrow, I’ll ride her in Western tack, and she’ll be much more relaxed, supple and yielding to seat and leg than she would have been if I’d hopped up on her after a week off without the ground driving.  It’s like I need to remind her that we do this stuff for a reason, and the reminders just go better without rider and saddle.  Tiptoe into it, and then she’s back into the mold of yielding without the other stuff.

I’m sure that the amount of ground driving I do makes me a distinct minority amongst most riders out there.  But the more I do it, the more I realize it really does address some issues with my particular horse, and it’s a nice tool to have to keep her flexible, supple, and legged up.

Plus it can be awfully dang fun to work your horse and be able to admire how pretty she is at the same time…..

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