Week of June 1st-7th – Trail Riding in Hitchcock Woods
Phil was hauled to Hitchcock Woods (Aiken, SC, Home of the Aiken Hounds) for a group trail ride. Phil loaded and unloaded on to an unfamiliar trailer with unfamiliar horses without any fuss. We had a very relaxed (on the buckle) and enjoyable trail ride. Phil crossed water and wooden bridges. He was a little excited with the new surroundings and new horses, but I did a little bit of ground work before mounting and when he focused on me I mounted. I asked for lateral flexion until Phil was super soft and then headed out for the trails.
One Rein Stop. Last week Phil and I worked on the emergency dismount. This week I want to talk about the controversial one rein stop. There are two philosophies about the one rein stop. The first one is if you teach your horse to immediately stop and soften every time you pick up one rein, you have a better chance of gaining control if your horse suddenly spooks or takes off. This would be his “warm, soft, cozy place of comfort.” The other philosophy is that the one rein stop can be dangerous. By unbalancing your horse while he is moving could result in your horse running into an obstacle such as a tree or fence at a high speed or worse flipping over on you. Both of these situations have happened to me. I have built the one rein stop into Phil from day one by teaching flexing and softening every time I pick up the lead or reins. I have not necessarily used this technique to stop Phil, so this week I will put our work to the test. Phil was responsive to the one rein stop at a walk, but was unbalanced at the trot and had a hard time disengaging his hindend. Phil is not built like my QHs, so I have to work more on tight circles which would improve his balance. I am also going to start working on modified roll backs to improve his balance and build up muscle in his hindquarters. I do not expect him to dig in and roll over his hocks, but I do want him to lift his front feet over and across. He already does this when I ground drive him in the pen. I rode in the round pen for this exercise. Phil smacked his head a lot on the panels, but finally figured out how to clumsily roll over his hocks and get his nose out of the way. I used my weight as a pre cue to signal I was going to ask for a chance of direction. I also used a gracious direct rein that Phil could visualize to guide him. When doing this exercise you have to have your horse really moving his feet and be prepared for a feeling of a mini rear as your horse rolls over and back. Stay relaxed, stay out of your horse’s mouth, and only use your legs as a directional guide, or your horse will rear to release the pressure. Although, I am not crazy about this as an emergency brake, I do like the exercise because it incorporates a lot of little lessons into one and improves the rider’s balance and timing. It also works on lateral flexion. Remember lateral flexion is the key to vertical flexion, not martingales, tie downs, or harsh bits (in my opinion).
I do want to mention that I took a video of my daughter riding Phil in her lesson. Phil did not travel with his nose in the air and a hollow back like he did when he first started with me. The video shows Phil traveling in a more relaxed way and even working on the bit for a few strides. My daughter did not ask Phil to school on the bit, he did this on his own. I wish I had video of Phil when he first arrived and traveled with his nose to the sky. The difference is remarkable and he has only had 30 days under saddle with me. I really want to stress that I DID NOT use any restraining devices (martingales, side reins, tie downs, flex/neck stretch reins, harsh bits). Our horses can learn to relax, round, track up, and work on the bit without those band aids. Lateral flexion is the secret, plain and simple.
Phil is enjoying farm life. It is only the first week of June and here in South Carolina we have already hit 98 degrees. The kids and I wear our bathing suits for afternoon chores. My daughter’s job is to fill up all the water tanks. She particularly likes to spray the horses with the hose and horses really appreciate the cool shower. I was really surprised to see Paige spraying Phil as he presented his front, sides, and rear for a nice hose down. Phil promptly rolled and stood up caked with mud; at least he’ll have clean pores. It was so nice to see him really enjoy himself. He is slowly emerging from his shell and a fun-loving horse is coming forth.