One thought crossed my mind when I pulled Grace out of the pasture tonight “Ride the horse you have that day”. I had every intention of heeding the advice that had been handed down to me by more than one horse trainer. Grace is in season, usually I can’t even tell but this time around she is very clear about where her mind is. There is a stallion next door, and after 5 years she has finally taken notice of him. He was turned out in a pasture where she could see him yesterday, it was then that she remembered that she is a horse. I very rarely have a plan for our rides, I have learned with Grace that it is best to see what I have that day and then take it from there. At times I will set cones up with the anticipation of working on a pattern, but lately I have scrapped those plans if something else needs to be worked on. It’s a good thing I have adopted the plan of having no plan, because tonight when I went to get Grace all she could think about was the tall drink of a bay gelding standing in the neighbors pasture.
Grace planted her front hooves into the ground more than once as I led her past her new love interest. By the time I tied her to the trailer I knew we would be starting with connected groundwork. She would hold still while I tacked her up as long as she could keep an eye on her boyfriend, as we walked away to head to the arena he started to scream after her. With her tail flagged and her head in the air, I don’t think anyone would have known she was a quarter horse. I put Grace to work as soon as we entered the arena. I sent her out on the line away from me and then combed her back in. Every time I combed the line she started to mentally come back to me. It was as if the small vibration in the line allowed her feet to reconnect with the dirt below it. After working both directions out on the line and closer in hand, I figured it was time to get on.
I walked Grace over to the arena gate where her snaffle bridle was hanging. We were now walking in the direction of the pasture, Grace’s head popped up when she heard her buddy scream again. Now – this is where I will admit that I tend to let Grace get away with things. She behaves like this once a year, if that. I find it is not worth getting in a fight with her when she is out of her mind and body. The best I can do is to give her a channel to return to planet earth. So after fumbling to get her headstall on, I swung a leg over and hopped on.
I again put Grace right to work – the horse I had was a little tense, very forward and moving with a lot of impulsion. I decided to keep her in the bridle there would be no need to ride on the buckle tonight. At one point I added my left spur to ask her to move her hip over, Grace squealed as soon as she felt the pressure. Her upward transitions were phenomenal; I posted the trot so I could stay out of her back. Knowing that she was very distracted I worked on large figure eights with straight lines in the middle. The more I changed direction, the more Grace seemed to focus. Into the lope she gave me one of the very best left lead transitions of all time. There was no hesitation and her normal hop from her front end was gone. Grace was very much moving from behind. In the lope I worked on my body, rotating my hips to the right to get my left hip to stay soft. Grace’s lope was so easy to ride, while her head was level, her front end felt elevated, she was lifting my body with each stride.
I gave Grace several walk breaks in between the work at the lope. This is when I allow her to be on the rail. 95% of my ride is done off the rail, the rail is a reward you get to go there to rest and be left alone, the rail is a happy place. Most nights Grace slows down and milks the rail break for all its worth, tonight she was fine until we were headed in the direction of the out gate. As soon as she was pointed towards it, she felt like a dude ranch horse headed for home. I changed direction on the rail and Grace’s walk break area was now limited to the far end of the arena. As we went back into the lope I put her back on the figure 8 pattern we had worked at the trot. I’ve been throwing in a few flying changes at the end of our rides. I have learned with Grace that if I can make the “hard thing” her reward and do it at the end of a ride she will look forward to it every time. It also usually gives me a really good stopping place and I don’t get tempted to drill her on any one maneuver. Grace again had that lovely elevated lope; I had kept her bridled up in the snaffle so she felt more like a dressage horse. I moved from a figure 8 to more of a 4 leaf clover pattern to keep her guessing. I made my circles bigger and then started to work on a longer straight line.
After the horse shows were canceled due to the EV-1 outbreak, I stopped working on the Western Riding pattern and went back to the elements that were needed for the pattern. On the longer straight lines I asked for 2 lead changes 5 strides apart. Grace would nail them every time as long as I kept my hips soft and moving, when I locked down and stiffened she would miss the second change. I came around the corner to the straight line again keeping the movement in my hips. This time we only put 4 strides in between the changes, the changes were clean, and Grace stayed soft the entire time. I was almost ready to end on that note when I came to the next straight line. I turned my hips to the right and Grace changed underneath me, as soon as she landed I turned my hips to the left and she gave me a beautiful clean change to the left. OMG – was that? Really? Don’t they call that a tempi change? I gave Grace a big pat on the neck I knew we were done for the night. As soon as we left the arena Grace lifted her head in search of her new boyfriend. She will most likely be out of her heat cycle tomorrow, but I honestly kind of hope not. I will ride that raging bag of hormones any day of the week!