A simple but momentous fix


I have been working hard to get control over (and response from) those hind legs.


Wow, it’s been two months since I’ve posted.  October wasn’t much to write home about.  Derbs had another abscess – a dramatic one that caused one of his hind legs to blow up worryingly.  It was slow to resolve, so between that and my travel schedule, riding was spotty though we did continue to make some progress.

However, things have changed dramatically in the last two weeks and for the better due to one important change – hind shoes.

It has been so very difficult for me to put Derby together and really get his hind end engaged.  It’s been a constant struggle for years.  I can get moments of connected work but God, it’s hard and it takes complete vigilance to maintain.   Offhandedly one day, our farrier mentioned to Christy that he thought some of the horses would benefit from hind shoes, which would provide more support for their hocks.

Given that we have a barnful of ex-racehorses, who put more stress on their hind ends breaking from the gate as two year olds than your average riding horse, it makes sense that supporting their hind ends would make them more comfortable.  But honestly, this never occurred to me – Jag only ever wore shoes in front, and Mads was barefoot.

But the difference that shoes in back have made for Derby and others is (in my mind at least) pretty amazing.

I could feel the difference immediately, and in ways I didn’t expect.  Right off the back, the walk was swingier.  Half way around the arena, on our first lap, Derby strrrrrretched down and out to the end of the reins.  He stayed there, stretching all the way through his top line,  in the nicest free walk I’ve ever ridden.  And it got better – I could put the trot together and keep it together.

Over the last few lessons, Christy has ratcheted things up now that I don’t have to struggle to keep Derby on the bit.  Last week’s theme was re-installing all the buttons I had dulled, and in particular, developing responsiveness.  That really means paying attention and issuing corrections and rewards in the moment.    Here’s an interesting snippet from one of these lessons, in which Christy was first and foremost schooling me to recognize a correct response to my aids (or lack there of.)

Last night and tonight, we broke through to a new level, staying smoothly connected, round and engaged for minutes at a time.  Change of bend, leg yields – you name it, it’s easier now.   I’ll get some updated video next week.

I am regretful and feel silly that I didn’t recognize the benefit of hind shoes before this, but better late than never in this case.  The horse is providing unequivocal feedback in the positive, so I know it was the right decision. 🙂


Warm Up Act

We are growing a neck!

We are growing a neck!

The last two nights’ lessons have been grueling – on Tuesday, my britches and shirt were still damp when I got out of my car at home, more than an hour and a half after the ride’s conclusion.  Gross! I’m not complaining though, because in addition to burning about 1000 calories, the rides have also been was very gratifying.

Work continues on the new position, which is already improving my ability to refine my aids and get better work from Derby.  However, since we’ve switched gears and I’m asking for better quality work from the Derbinator, I was reminded on Tuesday by the Ringmistress that I needed to spend more time warming up.

“Plan on 20 minutes,” Christy told me, laying down the law.  “Start with walking, stretching and then lateral work.  Move him around.  Ten minutes.  Then do the same trotting.”

Christy had us trot and trot, asking me at intervals what  I felt.  As we trotted around, I felt a stiff jog, then a little bit more motion, then finally, some swing and stretching.  Then, and only then was I allowed to pick up the reins.  Point taken, boss.

Honest - to - God connection through the outside rein.

Honest – to – God connection through the outside rein.

We worked on my position and got a good connection, and then it got better and better.  I really felt plugged into the horse.  During a walk break, Christy was reminding me that this effective, plugged-in seat is the foundation for all of the more refined work to which I aspire.   “From there, things like shoulder-in will become easy,” she said.

Just for fun, I picked up the trot, and down the long side, checked to make sure my hips were pointed straight ahead, closed my fingers on my outside rein, and then turning my shoulders to the inside, I moved Derby’s shoulders inward.  Shoulder in.

“Yes. Like that.”  the Ringmistress agreed.   For good measure, I did another one down the other side.  Unfortunately, my phone had croaked, so there’s no video. You’ll have to trust me.  Until we give it another shot on Thursday.

Last night we worked on my position and stilling my lower leg.  Christy made the excellent point that as Derby carries himself, my leg stills.  A large part of the problem, it seems, originates with my nagging when he’s behind my leg.   So we worked on creating and holding a working gait, and making Derby accountable for maintaining it. Then, we focused on helping me develop more clarity with my aids, and improve my assessment of whether or not my aids elicited a response from the horse.   Here’s a video clip, in which I see a lot to like.  My leg looks better – straighter and less involuntary kicking – Derby is moving nicely and we’re doing a decent job of holding ourselves together.





After a few rides in which thing went really well (previously documented here), things have gone a bit south lately. I attributed much of my difficulties to a few intense Pilates sessions, which left my hip muscles and core tired and made rides  on the same day as my sessions hard.   Then I promptly got sick, and missed a few days in the saddle.

Today I got back on and had an okay but still-not-as-good ride on Derbs.   He’s moving forward nicely but I’ve been having the very devil of a time getting him connected.  He’s been bracing and resistant, and my ability to influence his inside hind leg has been iffy.   It’s not been terribly pretty.

After I put Derby away, I pulled out my buddy Tucker.  He’s my truth teller, and I was looking forward to seeing what my ride would reveal.

Well, it was revealing all right, and not at all in the way I expected.  We had a lovely ride.  Tucker was steady in the bridle.  We rode lovely connected serpentines, deep corners with nice bend and easy shoulder-fore.

All righty then.  Tucker tattled on Derby, effectively revealing that I’m riding nicely at the moment.  However, a certain someone is, as Christy says, “giving me the hoof.”

Will report back after tomorrow night’s lesson.

End of season crunch time

Still working on the canter.

Thank God. After a brutal couple weeks, I’m off the road, back at home, and back in the saddle. We’re shooting for a couple shows at the end of this month and the beginning of next to wrap up the season, so it’s time to buckle down.  The last show is the IDCTA schooling show series championships.  We’re qualified already, but I’d love to get one more show under our belts.

I’m pretty happy with how our rides have been lately, though as I discussed with Christy today, I really need to concentrate on making true forward gaits our default gear.  I’m still falling into the habit of letting Derby lollygag and slow down, rather than staying in front of my leg.  We’re going to focus on this issue in particular this coming week.

I’ve also been working on improving our bend, and really getting Derby to step under himself and into the outside rein. This is a real weak area for me but I’m determined to nail this key basic.  At the Robert Dover clinic last fall, a woman who was riding Fourth level on a gorgeous and talented horse wound up getting schooled for her lesson on bend.  It underscored for me the importance of mastering the basics.

So I’ve been doing a lot of spiral in/leg-yield out and other exercises assigned by Christy.  We’ve also uncovered a few issues with my position that interfere with (or mute?) my aids.  One thing I’ve caught myself doing – especially to the right – is curling my inside leg up, rather than encouraging the horse to bend around it.  In addition to clarifying my aids, I also need to insist upon a crisp response from Derby.

However, I’ve thought he had something else going on. He’s not entirely comfortable going to the right. His canter to the right can get lateral, and he’s harder to bend to the right.  So I scheduled a chiropractic appointment for Derby, and that appointment was yesterday.

It was fascinating to watch. Dr. Heinze from Fox Valley Equine work on Derby and the other horses.  He first evaluated each, and was able to identify areas (such as part of the spine, or a hip) where there was less motion.  In Derby’s case, he had little flexibility in his right hip, and also had some stiff spots in his spine.  We went ahead with the adjustment, and Dr. Heinze said I could expect to see improvement over the next few days.

I do believe he bent more easily to the right, however, I wasn’t riding terribly effectively today.  But when I finally got both of us warmed up and moving,  Derby felt pretty good.

Derby getting used to the Micklem.

However, I complicated things a bit by adding a new variable – a Micklem bridle.  I got a bit of a wild hair this morning and went up to the Dover store and picked one up.  It took some futzing with to get adjusted, but I think Derby liked it.  His mouth felt quieter and the contact was better.  However, Christy experienced improvement in contact and a softer mouth after having one of her own horses adjusted.

So whether or not it was the bridle or the adjustment, I don’t really know.  I  really should have just used my old bridle for the next few days, but I couldn’t resist giving my new toy a try.

In other news, I’m having Derby re-scoped on Tuesday.  He’s having more difficulty than usual with his breathing.  Normally, he’s fine after taking a few laps to clear his pipes, during which time there’s lots of coughing and sneezing.  Lately, however, the episodes of coughing and sneezing have been more frequent, recurring during our rides. Hopefully it’s just a little inflammation, and we can knock it back with some drugs.

We’re riding again tomorrow (the weather is perfect!) and I’m hoping for a better ride that will give me a better read on  how effective the chiro treatment was.