Joe and I continue working together on accepting the bit and being balanced. It’s amazing to me how this horse runs through his inside shoulder. It has become clear that he is extremely unbalanced and maybe more than a little willing to let me prop him up rather than balancing himself.
Naughty me. I have to do less. Show him the job, let him make a mistake, and correct it when it does happen. Maybe the next time I ask, he won’t make the mistake; or at least, maybe he’ll make it a little less and a little less.
Joe does pretty well to the left, bending into the corners and then carrying himself on the straightaway without leaning on my leg or the rail too much, especially if we ride on the quarter line so that he can’t lean on the wall. The only issue in this direction is that he tends to let his hip fall in, so I need to remember to ask him to step his inside hind up and under.
To the right, it’s a different story. The problem is balance, or more precisely, lack thereof. It’s really hard for him to go to the right, so he bulges his shoulder and ribcage way in, so that we’re basically going around with a counterbend. And he just pushes hard on my inside aids.
Sometimes it gets frustrating. I have to remember that he’s not being intentionally rude…except when he is. There comes a point when he is just blatantly ignoring my aids. And that point is when we start doing rollbacks.
The theory here is just like how I see the crop. It’s a useful tool, but only if you need it very rarely. I normally carry a crop on Husky because he can be very dead to my legs, especially at the beginning of a ride. I can’t really blame him; it’s a side-product of being a lesson horse. But he should know that when I get on, I mean business. Sometimes the crop reminds him of that. I will use it once or twice if needed at the start of the ride, and after that he understands that my leg has meaning.
It’s the same with a rollback. If Joe is blatantly ignoring my inside aids, I have to give them greater meaning. So I get big with my cues and expect a big response. Once we have gotten a couple of good rollbacks in, we go back to the original exercise and Joe has more respect for my cues.
What came to light during our latest set of rollbacks was that he has very little problem rolling off my left leg, but he can hardly do it at all off my right leg. So, during our cool down I worked on moving his right shoulder at the walk to get him to lift it and step over.
Some exercises that are helpful if you’re having a similar issue with an unbalanced horse:
- Walk on the quarter line. Ask for a shoulder-in to one direction, keeping the hindquarters on the straight line. Go back to straight. Shoulder-in the other direction, again keeping the hindquarters straight. You can also do this in reverse if your horse struggles with engaging the hind and stepping under; just keep the front feet walking straight on the quarter line while asking the hindquarters to step in.
- Turns on the hindquarters. This makes them lift their shoulders and helps clear up any confusion about what your leg aids at the walk mean.
- Circles. This may be an obvious one, but doing small, even circles helps Joe get the proper bend that we’re looking for in a corner. Small circles require him to step under with the inside hind to stay properly balanced. However, I have to remember not to do too much and prop him up.
When I was working on turns on the hindquarters, I started thinking about what it really takes to execute the movement. You can’t just say, “move, horse,” and expect it work. To complete any kind of movement, you have a million tinier movements that have to happen first. For a turn on the hindquarters, a horse has to shift his weight back, lift his shoulders, lean in the direction of the turn, and pick up his feet to step over. You could break each of these basics down even further into smaller movements. It’s just like Mr. K would say in our lessons in the fall – the movement has already happened before it happens. And you really do have to ride the horse like their legs are your own.
It’s hard to do, and takes a particular kind of focus and awareness. That awareness is what helps us as riders know when the horse has crossed that fine line between being not-rude and being rude. Because normally, they’re not being rude…except for when they are.