Grr. I wrote my blog and it disappeared again.
This was not a very calm weekend, I got awaked by a robo-call at 3:00 AM Saturday morning about a tornado warning. Luckily the local TV stations were following the weather so I saw that the real bad weather was not headed toward me and after an hour I finally got back to sleep. Saturday when I woke up I learned that a tornado had passed a around 10 miles to the north, destroying several houses and pulling the roof off of a local stable. Luckily none of those horses got hurt. I just got wind, rain, and a lot of paranoia.
By this morning the rain had all stopped and Shannon said I could come out and ride. She had Merlin all groomed when I arrived and she tacked him up. Shannon is a believer in tightening the girth gradually, walking the horse around between holes, and I noticed that Merlin was looking cheerful instead of sour and displeased about the prospect of being ridden. Merlin has a cute face when he is cheerful, a very different expression from when he is irritated and getting angry.
I went to the staircase where I mount, got up on Merlin, and Shannon started walking across with ring with Merlin following. I asked him to stop in the middle of the ring while Shannon continued to the fence and we stood. After a few minutes Merlin finally sighed and I did my escalation of the driving aids, saying WALK, waiting 4 seconds them squeezing lightly with my legs, waiting 4 more seconds then doing a light touch with my spurs. Merlin did not move so we stood in the sun and I talked with Shannon some. I practiced sitting in my new modified chair seat, sitting back in the saddle, back vertical, legs somewhat forward with no weight in the heel. Then I started practicing my escalation of the turning aids. I have found that the Arabs I ride respond very well to me alternating turning my outside hip and shoulder forward at the same time when the horse's outside foreleg moves forward, then going back to center as I lightly use my outside lower leg as the horse's inside leg moves forward. Last week Merlin had been very resistant to me using my inside rein so I was trying to move him to the side just using my seat and my outside leg. Merlin stood perfectly still, then he sighed again when I asked him to move forward again. No response at all.
Not wanting to waste my time in the saddle I started to do some suppling exercises, leaning forward and back, twisting my upper body from side to side while keeping my seat bones even in the saddle, and circling my arms around. Merlin stood like a statue. Then Merlin decided he wanted some grass. I have always let my horses graze while riding them so long as they do it politely and stop when I say ENOUGH and pull lightly on the reins. I let Merlin have a few bites, said ENOUGH, pulled lightly on the reins and he ignored me. I had to use alternate light pulls with my hands to get his head up. Then we continued standing with Merlin alternately needing to scratch his front leg and snatch a few bites of grass, but since he raised his head when I told him to it did not bother me at all. Then Merlin sighed again, I gave him the escalating driving aids and Merlin moved one foot forward. Good boy! We stood for about a minute and I tried my turning aids and Merlin again moved one foot, this time to the side. More praise. After a minute I tried the driving aids again with no result so we stood some more. Then, after around two minutes Merlin voluntarily moved off at a walk toward Shannon, letting me steer him around a barrel. I told him to go to Shannon and when he got there we both gave him plenty of praise, petting, and scratches on his neck.
I asked Shannon if she thought Merlin had ever been given a chance to cooperate with his rider. She said she does not know what type of training he had in Europe before he was imported except it was supposed to be "high end" hunt seat. Since Merlin was donated to the program when he was just 4 1/2 years old with bone spurs in each hock I seriously doubt that anyone gave Merlin the time he needed to learn to move forward to the leg, I think what he got was an aid with the leg rapidly followed with a whack with the whip. When she first saw him at the stable of the lady who donated Merlin and 3 other horses to Shannon's handicapped program, she saw him ridden by a little girl who carried a crop, and Shannon noticed that most of Merlin's attention was on the whip. Once he got to Shannon's each rider HAD to carry a crop or Merlin would not move. I know that when I rode him for a while several years ago I had to carry a crop and I used it some, I was guilty too.
Twice more Merlin voluntarily (ie. one to two minutes after the driving aids) gave me a good, free, long striding walk. He let me turn him away from Shannon with the reins (plus seat and outside leg) without any great objections, and when we reached the fence Merlin went in the direction I wanted to go (opposite of the direction HE wanted to go), again without any great objections. Both times when he went in the direction I wanted, I told him to go to Shannon and he got more praise and petting. The third time was at the end of my 30 minutes so I prepared to dismount. My body was not working right today, my right leg got caught by the cantle of the saddle and I hung there precariously until I finally got it over the cantle, hitting Merlin on the rump a few times with the side of my heel. Merlin stood through it even though he was not pleased. I was grateful, Merlin is 18.2 hands high and it is a LONG way to the ground. When I finally slid down I went to Merlin's head, telling him what a wonderful and perfect horse he was to put up with my clumsiness, and Merlin turned his enormous head and started breathing into my nose. He did this again when we untacked him. Shannon noted that Merlin did not stomp his foot at all today, and I noticed that while he started backing up in evasion twice today, he stopped after just one or two steps as I moved my hands forward, I did not have to use my legs.
Shannon thinks that Merlin is realizing that we are approaching riding him differently, and is responding in his own way. Even though Merlin is nowhere near a perfect lesson horse right now I am pleased with the progress we have made in just 3 thirty minute rides over the past month. He moved voluntarily today!!!!!
Have a great ride!