Winter arena training once again

It’s back to the dark and cool evening arena rides, with a steaming horse at the end of the session.  I’m not quite sure why Mocha’s sweating so much this winter, unlike the past two, except that her coat has come in very thick and heavy, almost felted.

So I did a trace clip.  I’d been assured that a trace clip (for the non-horsey–looks like a racing stripe) would help keep Mocha from sweating so badly.  Well–yeah.  She didn’t sweat badly where I clipped.  The remaining coat was as drenched as ever.

I guess that means a full body clip this year, as otherwise I spend a good hour getting her dry after an hour’s ride.

Otherwise, she worked pretty well.  A bit overreved in the rollbacks; another horse was schooling them during our warmup and she got a bit excited (I’m also working on perfecting the cue by taking my outside leg off as we stop, when she’s in a strong mood like tonight that’s all it takes).  Mocha’s also getting excited about other stuff we’re doing, like two-track canter and two-tempi/counter canter work.  But it’s the kind of excitement I really don’t want; basically a strong rushiness.  It has taken me a few years to tell when she’s getting strong and rushy because she’s mentally worried about what we’re doing (Oh! No! Different!) or if she’s getting strong and rushy because it hurts her to do it.  Finally figured out what each one feels like.  Right now it’s about Learning A New Thing, and it’s different from what she usually does, and it’s difficult, and I have to have my back in gear and supporting her hind end.  And, for some reason, that seems to be easiest for me to do in a half-seat.  In a Western saddle.  So it’s more leg, hand and weight shift than seat right now.  Not a feel she’s accustomed to, which causes resistance in itself.

But…she has to figure out how to engage her hind while rounding her back and elevating her shoulders more than she would left to her own devices.  Come to think of it, once I started doing the foreleg stretches, Good Things Started Happening in our work.  Hmm.  Need to figure out how to do more forehand strengthening.

She does have the more difficult side.  Every horse does.  That’s also the side where she picks up the speed and tries to BS me through the two track or the change.  I finally had to bust her on that with a yell, fast stop, and a backup.  Then she settled down and did it.  It’s funny how that works.  It wasn’t something that worked with her as a young horse.  Rather, it’s something that’s evolved as she matured and we developed a deeper confidence and communication with each other.  Sometimes she gets rushy because it’s her way to resist something challenging she’s not in a mood to do.  Other times, it’s a clear sign of fatigue or pain.  Part of the art of horsemanship is figuring out the difference.

Part of this is completely mental.  She’s a mature, finished mare with Opinions of Her Own about How Things Should Go.  Sometimes she thinks she knows what we should do better than I do.  However, we’ve schooled enough complex work that I know we just have to press on through in small but progressive so that she understands what it is I want her to do.  She knows it as well, and she’s more confident that I am not going to overface her when I ask her to do something new and different.  The feel of uncertain horse who needs things broken down into even smaller steps is a different feel from the horse still acquiring a skill who doesn’t want to do what you’re asking right at the moment because it’s more difficult than the previous, less complex habit she’s acquired.  Why change things?

The other piece of her acceptance, too, is that I make time for her to thunder around the arena at either an extended trot or a gallop once we’re done with the collected schooling.  That, too, is another factor.  Schooling fast work at the end means we close the schooling session with something she enjoys–running or trotting fast and hard.  Not a long period of it, but several rounds in each direction.  Lots of pleasant associations as well as developing control and conditioning.  She’s a mare who likes to use herself and work, and finishing with a brisk gallop or trot on a long rein so she can stretch out her head and neck suits her right well.  Suits me, too, since we also need to school controlled speed and transitions within both gaits.  Tonight, I managed to sit her big extended trot easily–a first.  Despite my sore back.

And when it’s all done and we walk out on a long draped rein, her head stretched out long and low as she swaggers around the arena, we both feel pretty good about the work we’ve done.  When she’s worked well she swings her back freely and loosely, with a lot of energy still underneath me.  It’s a powerful walk for such a little mare.  She marches right out, no dawdling around even in a coolout.

Then she stands quietly in the alleyway by the tackroom so I can strip her clean and throw the cooler on her.  It takes a while standing in the crossties before she’s dry.  Now’s the time I find little barn chores to do while she’s cooling out.

Yeah.  Winter arena training.  Something different of itself.

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