The Dire Birds of Doom
We had a nice spring, until the day before the Solstice, then wham, 90° F or above every day. No more springtime weather for us down here in the South.
On Wednesday I told Debbie I would not be able to do much more than a walk. As usual Mick was stiff right behind the saddle so I did my usual warm-up of gradual turns and the three speeds of the walk. After 15 minutes Debbie looked at my face and decided what I needed was to go on a trail ride on the recently redone trails in the few acres of woods that the land owner is letting us use for trail rides. It felt SO GOOD to get out of the sun! I was sort of leery about doing a trail ride after Mick’s spook two weeks ago so I made sure not to be too relaxed in the saddle. Keeping my seat over my feet, heels and knees down, I kept Mick on a light contact as I did not want a loose rein spook out in the woods. This worked, though two of Debbie’s dogs were running through the woods playing with each other but Mick was content to walk behind Debbie and kept his mind on his work.
I ended up with sore muscles, thighs and butt, I guess I have been slopping around in the saddle more than I thought. Not that I did a “death grip” with my legs, when their riders take a “death grip” with the legs horses tend to get restive and often end up looking for excuses to shy and bolt. I just kept some tension in my gripping muscles while keeping my heels and knees down. Long ago I learned that the heels and knees go down first, and only then can I grip with my knees/upper calf, if I apply my grip first my heels and knees can’t go as far down and my seat is insecure. This is especially important at the faster gaits, trot, canter and gallop. A horse can trip at any time without warning and if my knees are down they just go into the knee rolls of the saddle, and my lowered heels prevent my lower leg from flying back which can lead to the rider somersaulting off the saddle. As far as contact with the bit goes my contact was pretty light, just a little bit more than when I ride in the ring, I had a good feel of his mouth but not too much. Mick did not seem to mind my increased contact at all, I think it gave him a feeling of security. Of course if I had done a “death grip” with the reins he would have gotten upset, restive, and looking for reasons to bolt.
Today I got to ride Bobby again. I remembered my ear bonnet today and I really wish they made these in different sizes, Bobby’s ears are only long enough to reach half-way up the ear coverings. Between the floppy ear bonnet and my new leather fringe brow band it took a while for Bobby to stop shaking his head in irritation, but after 5 minutes he decided to put up with it. Only then could I keep constant contact. This meant that from the very first step I was using my thighs EVERY STEP to keep him from running me into the arena fence or diving into the center of the ring, and when Bobby finally consented to move straight I praised him highly and got to relax my thigh muscles some. 5 or 6 strides later we would have to turn and I got to use my outside thigh some more.
Then the DIRE BIRDS OF DOOM appeared. Shannon has started keeping chickens again, solid black chickens with red wattles, and the chickens had been let out of their coop to pick over the pasture. Of course some of them just had to explore the riding arena! Bobby was not upset per se, after all he had run into these chickens out in the pasture, but he had not run into them while being ridden. EVERYTHING looks different to a horse that is ridden, after all any innocent animal that peacefully shares the pasture is fine but when someone is up in the saddle the universe changes and the horse has to decide all over again that the animal is harmless. So I pointed Bobby’s head toward these evil looking birds, told him to stop, and as we stood there I pointed out and counted every chicken I could see. I told him that yes, these were dire birds of doom, but there were things that a brave pony could do to overcome his rightful fear. So I aimed Bobby at a chicken, got him to walk toward the chicken, and of course the chicken ran away. Bobby and I spent a minute or two herding chickens out of the ring and a few minutes later when some more chickens appeared at the other side of the arena I pointed them out and counted the number of chickens again and Bobby was cool and composed when the chickens exploded into a run across his path. There, at least for today we conquered those dire birds of doom.
After this part of my ride we went back to the normal course of things, Bobby trying to rub my knee against the fence, me using my outside thigh in rhythm with his steps, getting maybe a stride or two of relative straightness before Bobby decided he wanted to go elsewhere yet again. I started squaring the circle of the arena which left Bobby all confused, there was no fence to hug (though it was still tantalizingly close.) Every time we had to turn Bobby popped his outside shoulder out and it took me 5 or 6 strides to get Bobby’s body straight, and as his shoulder was popped out he curved his head and neck in toward Shannon. It would have been useless for me to try and straighten Bobby out with my reins, that would have caused him to pop his other shoulder out once I succeeded in getting his head in front of his body. All I could do was keep a light contact and use my outside thigh to counteract the popped out shoulder. The outside thigh only seems to work well when I use it as my outside seat goes up (the outside shoulder is swinging back and the horse is pushing off with his outside hind leg) and using my lower outside leg as my outside seat goes down. If I am too strong with my thigh Bobby slows down because the upper part of his outside shoulder is blocked by my thigh. A few minutes before the end of my ride I told Bobby to go in toward Shannon and we rested a minute. Then I told Bobby that we would have a little bit more riding and that the better he obeyed me the shorter the rest of our ride would be. We walked off, we had to turn and Bobby popped his outside shoulder out, I used my outside thigh, and before the end of the first stride Bobby was straight. We walked past Shannon, then I sent him into Shannon again and got off. Bobby had listened to me, Bobby had understood what I told him, Bobby had obeyed my aids (finally), and Bobby was rewarded by me getting off, always the perfect reward.
All through the ride Bobby was pretty happy (ponies LOVE being bratty.) He cheerfully kept contact even when he started trying to imitate a pretzel. When I practiced standing at a halt with loose reins he was peaceful unless he was pointed toward Shannon. When we halted Bobby gently “chewed” on the bit a few times, and every once in a while during my ride he gave me a snort of approval. When I tried to get him to extend his stride at a walk he would try to break into a trot instead of extending his stride, but he obeyed my restraining rein immediately. This is normal, the extended walk is a powerful gymnastic and takes more energy than a trot of equivalent speed. Bobby needs to develop his muscles and endurance before we can accomplish a good extended walk. As it was I got him to extend for a stride or two, then I would stop urging with my legs. After all we have all the time in the world and what does not come today will come later.
Besides Bobby was so brave today, he even faced down the dire birds of doom. What more could I expect from him?
Have a great ride!