A teenager was around on the weekend. You know – those young people that can still touch their toes on leaping out of bed first thing in the morning, kind of deal?
Ah, what a concept! I was doing pretty OK until 2008 with a spectacular all-down-the-left-side whiplash (on a veterinarian’s freshly mopped floor, can you believe), which tripped off a latent lurking lymphatic condition that’s dead tedious to deal with. Creak just isn’t the word some days, and when a Chinook slides in, with madly fluctuating air pressure systems, oh my!
It’s part of the reason the combined driving is my back-up plan. And, although I started learning long-lining for very different reasons back in 2012, this last year of 2015 has had two distinct projects – call them that.
One was for learning way more about biomechanics (the anatomy and everything in that package of why a horse moves the way it does and then, using long lines, to improve that, working with specific exercises to repair damage, improve movement, natural balance and developing self-carriage). I’m hoping Shannon Daly’s going to have time this week to ‘capture’ one or two very specific moments with two very different horses, to explain both in print and visually an idea I’ve been fiddling with.
Hooves crossed there!
The second reason is, yes, I creak. I’m not as supple as I used to be, grf. So, I wondered, is it possible to train a horse completely with long reining, very little actual riding, and then plonk on some young supple thing on top and see if the package translates across.
I’ve been working with the Apache, who slid into my life sideways, not my usual type of horse at all. He’s chunky, wide-chested, short-necked (I don’t say this to him face-to-face. He can’t help that. I wish he had another foot of neckline). He’s butt-high too, with a splash of I am guessing workhorse somewhere in the package, which I’ve had a few people inform me with this cross-out can mean a certain, well, call it ‘determination’ at times.
On the plus side, he’s like riding a trampoline, wonderful pastern suspension, and you can, seriously, ride this horse on breath alone, and think in visuals and he starts to really strut the stuff; with unusual pinto stripes and slashes and a lot of chrome, he’s eye-catching. I’ve been looking, yes, for a youngish person wanting to aim towards what the Spanish and Portuguese are spreading out with their ‘working equitation.’ The Haras Cup, perhaps, down Texas way, is the North American equivalent (and, yes, working on sponsors and the money angles – I may aim high, but realism rocks too).
So, my teenager climbed on board, already well taught by another British qualified instructor, bless her. She and pinto had a serious ‘click’ beginning to happen in half an hour in halts, and walks and trots, some lateral work.
Oh joy, I thought, it works, it works, it works! But, more than anything, I’d wanted to test out the canter, on a wide-chested horse, short-backed indeed – I’d ridden him, in very early canter work and thought, ugh! I’d forgotten how dreadful untrained not perfectly shaped and sometimes, because of that, unbalanced horses can ride and all the muscles you need to build up, all the time, hours and hours and hours of it.
People so often exclaim they love working young horses, ‘You know them from scratch,’ they proclaim. Yawn. Sorry, I’ve the patience of a stone, but if you could give a youngster at this stage a fast-forward button about six months or so, I’d be one of the happiest people on the planet. Truly, the excitement for me begins when the partnership tweaks right down to an onlooker not even being able to see what you’re doing, that kind of subtle.
So, instead of the creaking fossil here aboard a tanking forehand heavy horse, I opted for trying to get the deal entirely first via long-line schooling work. Finding the right bit was a nightmare; a snaffle not strong enough to stop the tank and canter-plough a furrow around the corners, but anything stronger and he was behind the hand, behind the vertical, inverted, all the wrong things. In the end, a Kimblewick on the top slots worked (with a curb chain – is it me or is it the horses that come into my life where nearly all of them prefer a straight-bar bit AND poll pressure – I wonder on that one!).
For the first time in my life, I had a horse that ADORED arena work to the exclusion of everything else on offer, liked being IN an arena, good heavens! We were doing a bit well until I moved out, mid-summer, into the six-acre or so front field where I’d mown about a 40-metre square on the flat bits, filled in all the gopher holes, patted them flat too. Oh boy, were we seriously off to the races! I switched up to a Pelham, worked on that with way more control, then down again to the Kimblewick, then a straight mullen snaffle, then onto just a neck line to really prove it was possible. Walk-canter transitions, lateral work, all ‘on-the-bit’ – only there wasn’t a bit, not even a rider!
The idea, too, with long-lines, the really up-there high school performances, is the behind-the-scenes thought that when schooling, or doing remedial work, the rider, however good they are, is never ever going to be always in the right position, balanced perfectly in sync with our four-legged partner. Close, very close sometimes, but these riders don’t exactly grow on trees.
So, with long-lines, the horse has learnt the ‘feel’ of his own balance, and aids.
NOW stick on that fit young supple rider – and I can tell you the young lady had no idea how much of a deal was riding up there for me, and my ideas. Would it, indeed, work ?
Photographs next week!
Meantime, here’s a video of a youngster of mine. He’s seven now, started late, has run on open range with the home herd since he was six months old. Horses, by the way, as the excellent series in the print version of Horse Canada explains, operate very differently with herd dynamics than, say, one or two in a paddock. In the winter, mine run over a quarter section, huge expanses of uneven natural grassland, holes, lumps and bumps. Watch six-year old wildie Mops coming in to call these days and you’d swear he’s on the passenger conveyor belt through Calgary airport, the stride is that smooth, adapted. This blue-blooded youngster (these two play-fight, spar endlessly!) you see here is an absolute aristocrat, double-papered. He’s a shade under 15hh although he rides as a full-sized ‘horse’ of around 16.2, and a natural athlete (these don’t grow on trees either, I can assure you after four decades of training competition horses).
Video by Shannon Daly
Shannon and I set this up, with alpha herd mare The Best up at the front gate munching artfully scattered oats, the others watching anxiously, wondering what, oh no! why are we back in the corral ? The home herd also have this routine from the summer on grass rations that when that corral prison door gets opened, they run like the clappers to the front gate, passage a few mad glorious circles there, tails kinked high, before beginning the serious task of grazing as much native fodder down as fast as possible. Today, though, with that little routine a useful tactic for the filming leaving The Best as ‘bait’ (this is how film stunt coordinators approach director’s ideas, mad as they are sometimes), it was the creaky human elder here legging back down to the barn, to open the corral gate (notice the Apache just behind as they go through, and when he gets to the front pasture gate behind the bay boy!).
That final hillside you’ll see in the video is rough terrain, lumps, bumps, old pocket gopher mounds. Watch the bay youngster adapt, flow up accelerate. Speed, joy, and total adaptability of stride. If you’re competing, training, I’d say you’d want to be aiming to ride with what this youngster’s balance and flow is giving you – it’s called, in deceptively simple language, ‘independent balance.’
It’s also what, unbelievably, given how limited space and pastures are in Europe, the young Lippizaners of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, at their breeding stud grounds at Piber, experience during the first three, four years of their lives, on the high alpine pastures. To me, after all these years of horses and competing, watching, writing, what I want is a horse that can think, adapt, that’s 100% sound.