Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Dawn is "Dawntastic" and Work at the Walk

It was supposed to rain today, but the rain held off until evening so I actually rode all three horses - it was a great day with horses.  Dawn was amazing - "Dawntastic" - she is such an amazing horse and today I was in awe of her.  We worked only at the walk - she's one week out of shoes and I want to see her walking normally on hard surfaces before we move back up to trot.  I love working at the walk - it's the fundamental gait.  I believe that you can tell an awful lot about the quality of a horse's gaits from the quality of the walk.  And if you haven't got a good walk, you've got nothing.  Also, if you can't do something well at the walk with your horse, you're unlikely to be able to do it well at a faster gait - in fact it's likely to be even worse.  So, for me, walk work is fundamental and so important, and so much can get accomplished at the walk.

When I say Dawn is "Dawntastic", it's hard to communicate to you who haven't met her what I mean.  Dawn is a horse who can be very sweet one moment, and very crabby the next - there's a bit of volatility there, and she has strong opinions about everything.  She's supremely athletic - she's got moves that are hard to believe - and she's proud and stern and bold and nervous, all at the same time.  She's very smart, and really tries and wants to do things right. I often call her my "black diamond" horse - to ride her takes a special kind of attention and finesse that really stretches my abilities.  When I ride Dawn, I have to really "be there" - complete attention and being very deliberate and precise about everything I do.  She is so sensitive and responsive that it is possible to dial aids down to almost zero - in fact she demands that of you.

Over the past several years, we've made huge progress on some basics - attention (to one another) and softness, primarily.  We made a start on lateral work - basic leg yielding, one step at a time - in May at the clinic, and she's really ready for more advanced lateral work now.  The fact that we need to work at the walk right now due to her transition to barefoot is a gift - it allows us to really work on lateral in a focussed way.  Over the past several rides, I've been working with her on breaking down lateral work - all lateral work - into its basic components of bend, softness and footfall/tracking - everything, from turns on the forehand and haunches, walk pirouettes, leg yield, side pass and all other lateral movements, including shoulder in, etc., are composed of where the horse's head and forequarters and hindquarters are going, and the precise (mainly extremely soft leg) aids that are connected to the movement of specific legs - it's like a language.  I try to keep my rein aids to a minimum - just inducing bend and providing support are all I'm doing, and she's staying soft, soft, soft - it's a marvel and a delight.

Today the work focussed on a couple of movements - walking straight ahead and then moving without interruption into side pass - where the forequarters need to pivot in one direction while the hindquarters move ahead in the other direction - the objective is for it to be smooth and effortless - for their to be flow - and for the horse's middle to continue traveling (now sideways) in the direction the horse was moving in originally.  Then, after a few steps, I ask the forequarters to move back to the line of travel and the hindquarters to swing in behind.  The transition between forward to side pass is the first step of the floating exercise I mentioned a few posts ago.  All I had to do was support very slightly with my hands, bring them slightly to the side and just barely lay my leg on her and she was right there - it was effortless and just plain beautiful.  She must have taught me to dial down my aids enough for her satisfaction - there was no tail swishing or rushing.

The next thing we worked on was shoulder in off small circles on the rail, continuing down the rail for a few steps and preserving the bend and keeping each foot moving on the correct track.  To move to shoulder in from the circle, all I had to do was support with my hands, apply the slightest amount of leg behind the girth on the inside - again, I had Dawn's approval of my extremely minimal aids - and create an opening with my outside (direction of travel) leg - the instant I let my outside leg move back to her side by a fraction, we seamlessly transitioned to walking ahead in the direction of the original bend - at an angle away from the rail.  For fun, during walk breaks on a loose rein, we leg yielded all over the arena with only very soft leg aids, and walked over poles without rushing or hesitation - remember her pole phobia?

It's hard to express how good this felt - she was Dawntastic!

The two boys got brief walk rides - today was day 6 of their EPM treatment with Oroquin-10, and they both seemed to be doing well and to be comfortable, so I figured the exercise would be good for them.  Drifter was calmer than normal today but not depressed.  He still leans hard on me when I pick his right hind, which means he doesn't want to overweight the left hind. But he's no longer dragging the toe of his left hind at walk.  In tight circles in hand, he does not drag the left hind when circling left - when the left hind is on the inside - and crosses over well with left hind in front of the right hind.  When circling in a tight circle right, he still drags the left hind but does cross over well with the right hind.  I rode at walk for a bit - there's still a bit of a "wallowing" feeling but he was glad to extend the walk when I asked and seemed less tentative.  I'm not planning to ask him to trot again, even on the lunge, until the 10 day initial treatment is over.

Pie was very friendly and interactive - his affect is much improved. He's a little bit easier about having all feet picked, and the right front is no longer a problem, which probably means that he's more comfortable weighting his hind end.  Today was the first day in a long time that he wasn't crabby for girthing, which was a very good development - his insides must be feeling better. He was walking easily under saddle but without much length of stride, although that improved when we went on a brief trail loop, although walking up a small hill was clearly hard work for him.  When turned in hand in tight circles, he wants to sidestep or cross behind with the inside leg instead of stepping over with the inside hind in front of the outside hind, particularly when the left hind is to the inside, although he will cross over properly if the circle is small enough.

I'm encouraged by the boys' progress, and hope it continues.  It was a very good day with horses.

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