Friday I finally got to visit my wonderful and always reliable trainer J. Even P was excited.
Yes, my horse selfies like a pro. Better than I do, that’s for sure.
We headed to go assess the damage and it was quite clear to her right away what the issue was.
Unfortunately it mirrored my theory (and fear) that P has been ridden by someone who has no understanding of how to use their seat and legs, and instead overuses their hands. That’s a training death sentence for a horse like Pilgrim. Since he came back, he’s been running around with his head up in the air like a giraffe, while being completely stiff throughout his body, neck and jaw, as well as being totally behind the leg.
To fix the complete lack of bend and suppleness, she had us track right (because that was the worst way) and try a couple of things to get him to connect back to the leg. The first way we tried was to put him on a 15m circle and while keeping my outside (left) hand just completely still and close to the saddle, while my inside (right) hand was opened up towards my knee, and really pushing my inside (right) leg against him at the girth.
That didn’t work. 15m became 10, then 7, then 5…
So method #2 was to continue tracking right and while my outside (left) hand was still motionless and by the saddle, to simultaneously press my inside (right) leg against him while lifting my inside hand straight up in the air.
Success! After a few tries because coordination skills are-a-lacking.
We continued around and around in our circles and each time P lost bend, inside leg went on, left hand stayed still and right hand went straight up. That put him right back into a bend and I released right away. In between corrections I do nothing with my hands. They are to stay completely still, hands low, practically touching the saddle pad/pommel, so that he re-learns to trust that I won’t jolt him in the mouth.
At least not repeatedly. I’m still an adult amateur after all.
Towards the end we had some really nice moments where he would relax completely for a few strides and go into a beautiful frame, then it was like he was terrified of hands hitting him in the mouth and he’d jerk his head straight up in anticipation. It really made me want to cry.
So we’re going to stick with dressaging it up for the next couple of weeks, working on just getting him back to where he was before. The goal is to have to make less corrections until he just responds to leg- like he did before Aikengate.
We also talked about who to work with for jumping. We discussed some trainers and then she mentioned a pair who is in the area, that I had NO idea was in the area. Husband is an eventer, wife is a show jumper. She contacted the eventer for his contact info and when he gets back from Rolex, we’re going to try it out. I’m very hopeful right now that this will work, and in the meantime we have our dressage homework that needs to get straight before we add the jumps back in.
MY homework is to work on keeping the bounce out of the reins. Part of it is definitely that P changes his head position every tenth of a second. But part of it is definitely me. She wants me to pretend that my reins are the only things keeping the bit in his mouth. When we started adding in that extra pressure towards the end, she would emit a loud “BUZZ” each time the bit would’ve fallen out of his mouth.
She buzzed a lot.
I didn’t ride over the weekend because we were with family pretty much the whole time and then I ate way too much at Easter. Worth it.