After much reflection, I have decided to approach my next few posts in a slightly different manner. I hope to take the reader onto Lakitos with me, giving the best description possible of what I see and feel. I also will incorporate a bit of the instuctors point of view, both in correcting the horse and rider.
A good starting point is an evaluation from my coach, Henri. What does he see as the primary issues to tackle at this moment in training in both horse and rider? Let’s begin with Lakitos. (I wish to note here that my coach is not only an accomplished rider, but also an expert in equine biomechanics.) Globally, (1) He needs work to open his shoulders to develop more fluidity in his gaits (at the walk, needs more shoulder freedom). (2) He needs to engage his haunches to obtain a lifting of the withers, (3) I need to build his confidence in the aids, thereby developing more confidence in the rider. Regarding me and my position (I am working also after a 3 year riding absence to develop my condition and improve my posture in the saddle), the most common commands I hear are: (1)open your shoulders, (2)sit deeper, (3)relax your leg down, and(4) post closer to the saddle in the rising trot. Regarding my hands, Lakaitos has a difficult mouth (he crosses his jaw and stiffens on the reins) and has a tendency to be quite inattentive, so I have a habit of meeting his stiffness with a little stiffness of my own, so I often hear, relax your contact. Don’t give him something to stiffen against. Easier said than done.
Now, to what I feel when I am riding. Let’s begin at the walk, with a description of how things feel under my seat and legs. First, I feel a bulging fullness under my right leg, and a place to sit on his back with my right seat bone. On the left, everything feels empty to my leg and seat, and he leans heavily in that direction. Because of this crookedness (laterality) it is difficult to get my legs back and control his haunches. In my hands, it is difficult to make sensitive observations since he is easily distracted and a bit flighty. It takes a long time for him to relax and the warm up required varies from day to day. However, what is consistent, he locks on the right rein, flexes easily to the left. When he is distracted, he becomes very rigid on the left rein, and any attempt to flex results in a crossing of the jaw and stiffening of the neck. (I plan to discuss at a later point what I do about this, but for now we are just “describing”.) However, when he relaxes and concentrates on his work, he enables the rider to sit squarely on his back and modify weight and seat aids easily, and comes into the left leg sufficiently that it can be used properly. In the hand, it is important to keep the bit “alive” in his mouth so he can relax his jaw and swallow. This relaxation keeps him from stiffening his neck and it becomes easier to bend and flex. Just recently he has begun to stretch out and down to seek the contact and allow the rider to make a “release” without disturbing his balance.
At the trot, his first reaction is to trot very quickly, with running strides. Because he stiffens himself and is crooked, he rushes in order to balance himself. Without any intervention on the part of the rider, the left stirrup is a bit longer than the right (again his laterality), he falls left and stiffens against the right rein, making it difficult to get a response from the right leg, other than rushing even more. His neck becomes rigid and the contact uneven. His back is dropped and it is difficult to sit and even posting is challenging without bouncing up and down (my coach calls it “bellydancing”). Overall, he is out of balance and uses speed to maintain his equilibrium.
Much the same occurs at the canter. Going left he maintains the canter easier, but is either two slow and a bit lateral in the canter, or races to keep his balance. Going right, it is more difficult for him to maintain the canter and he breaks to the trot, or he stiffens and sometimes bolts in a bit of a panic. When these things happen, there is no place to sit, he stiffens his whole body an leans on the bit.
As you can see, he has balance issues that must be addressed immediately by the rider. He is a very insecure horse, and relies on the rider considerably for his sense of “safety”, that is to say balance and security from things that make him nervous. This is perhaps an extreme case since Lakitos is very sensitive and very insecure, but it serves as a good example of the responsibilities of the rider to his horse. From him, many riders can identify similar issues with their horses. Hopefully however, their horses have patience and tolerance and the rider can learn to make good use of the aids to solve these problems, progressing a little each day.
I often have to remind myself that I am “re-schooling” Lakitos, as he was previously ridden in a different manner and discipline by riders younger and stronger than I am at this point in my life. Therefore, it requires a lot of patience, and acceptance that there will be good days and not so good days. However, one advantage to this journal is it helps me to recognize the progress we are making.
As I said, this post is not meant to discuss what I am doing to school my horse; how I use the aids, what exercises I am doing, etc. This is an initial description of how he feels to me, and what my coach can observe BEFORE we apply any aids. This is the RAW material, the horse as he is with the burden of the rider, but without any help from the rider.
My next post will begin to explain how I am proceeding with my training, and what results I am obtaining with this work. I will also include the problems, set backs and frustrations. But happily, more often than not, I go back to the barn feeling pleased with my horse and his effort to please me.