We’ve only been training and riding in smatterings here and there the last month or so. Traveling and having five birthdays in the immediate family in six weeks will do that to you!
Still, we have been making a little progress. We’ve chipped away at it here and there as we’ve been able to make time. Cecily has been riding Sophie, Betsy’s little yellow haflinger mare, to get her a little more respectful and responsive under saddle. Betsy is still such a new rider that Sophie needs the ginger taken out of her before Betsy can get on. But this morning Betsy rode my black gelding, Saxton after I’d tuckered him out with a lot of trotting and cantering. Danny actually rode Sophie when Cecily was done with her, and did a fine job of practicing his one rein stops. I’m glad to see the two little ones back in the saddle. I’m hopeful that they will feel confident in their ability to ride and to control their horses by the time cold weather hits.
Cecily has been teaching Sophie to flex to the bridle, which is very useful in a one-rein stop. A horse who will flex instantly (bend their head way around to the side when you pull one rein) will stop instantly, as they can’t run very well with their heads bent far around to where your stirrup is. That way, if the horse spooks or gets silly and threatens to buck or take off, the rider has complete control to stop the situation before someone gets hurt!
I am always impressed with Cecily’s tenacity as a horsewoman. She has only just turned twelve, has been riding since she was newly ten, and training horses for about a year. She gets frustrated, she has problems with the horses, but she keeps on until she works through it. I admire that in her.
Photo by Chrisada
In addition to working Sophie, she also works with her retired harness racing mare, Spur, who is granddaughter to the famous Cam Fella. Cam Fella is showcased at Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Fame as the sire producing the all time highest earning harness racing offspring (over $2M). That would include Spur who won somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-12,ooo in her career. That was, of course, well before we got her, and we would love her tremendously if she’d never earned a penny in her life! LOL!
Cecily has been teaching Spur the “Cruising” lesson at the trot and canter, and teaching her to “Follow the Fence” at a trot. I’ve been doing the same with Saxton. Cruising is where you ask your horse to trot or canter. Then you expect your horse to keep that gait until you ask for a different gait. So if they try to speed up or slow down, the rider corrects them and brings them back to the gait they’ve originally asked for. You don’t steer at all, but let the horse go wherever he wants, so as to work on only one issue at a time. Obviously we do this in the arena where the horses can’t really go anywhere! The purpose of this exercise is to teach your horse that he has the responsibility to maintain the gait you’ve asked for.
It is good teamwork to ask your horse for a gait and have him give it to you until you ask for a different gait. It is a poor team who are fighting each other over whether to walk, trot, or canter, and can be dangerous as well.
After that, “Follow the Fence” is merely trotting or cantering alongside the fence (or from tree to tree if you desire), in a straight line. On the surface it sounds simple and unnecesary (to me anyway), but most horses can’t really just travel in a straight line. This teaches them to take responsibility to go in the direction you point them!
Each new exercise we bring to the horses is an enjoyable challenge. It is improving our skill as riders and trainers. I never considered myself to have a good seat, not since I was in high school anyway, and was not confident that I could both stay on a horse and control him! But hours of posting the trot (rising and falling in the saddle in time with the hoofbeats) and now more and more cantering continue to improve my confidence in my ability to stay with my horse. The basic respect I have earned from Saxton through controlling where his feet go, have given me the confidence to really get on and ride. And the ability to stop him at any given moment has given me the self-assurance to ask him to do new and unfamiliar things.
Although we have been limited lately in the amount of time we’ve had to work, it’s a high priority this summer, and the glib motto “horsework before housework” has been reality for us, as I’d much rather let laundry stack up and the carpets need a vacuuming than let the horses stand idle, forgetting what we’ve already taught them! After all, the warm months when we can work without worry of ice injuring us or our horses, are short and disappear quickly!