Monday I was good about setting aside time to leave to ride at lunch break. After his Friday of huffing and puffing up the hills I realized that Bear is pretty out of shape. Now I don't expect to canter circles for 20 minutes straight, but building up some muscle and endurance is only going to help make my job of training him easier. It really started me thinking. I don't think I've ever owned a really athletically fit horse! I've ridden plenty, but they weren't mine. My horses growing up were lucky to get ridden once a week, maybe twice if a show was coming up. That fact never stopped us from going all day long at shows or hauling their sorry butts out to horse camp for a week of being ridden several times a day in the grueling heat! No wonder my pony ran away from horse camp! (Literally, she busted past me while I was closing her stall door, bolted off past the barns, broke into a brisk trot straight towards the main gate like she knew exactly where it was, and then turned right on High St making her debut in downtown.) Thinking back all my childhood horses were saints to put up with me!
So apart from conditioning the old mare for a 30 mile endurance ride (back when she wasn't old) I haven't ever had to think about the fitness levels of a horse and what they should or shouldn't be doing. When riding other horses in clinics I've had to suggest we stop, or do something easier, lower, or at least take a break because I know that the horse is not in regular riding shape, and the clinicians expect a horse with the stamina to work and compete. So this is my dilemma. When do I start getting lessons? I don't want to tell the trainer that we would like to do mainly walk work because he can only canter a few laps. If I go to the show this weekend, how many classes should I do? Sometimes I'm even exhausted after a class, especially those big walk-trot classes full of the hundreds of people who don't want to canter their horse in public. I've been making things easy for Bear, we stop before it gets uncomfortable, he rarely breaks a sweat, and we move on to easier things. So where is the fine line of babying him so much that we aren't able to progress, and preserving his natural enjoyment of what we're doing and protecting all his young horse tendons and joints?
So Monday we worked on two very different things that sort of complimented each other. He is still figuring out moving off my inside leg to balance on the outside rein... I guess its not one of those things that they get over night, but still we need to get a move on! So we are breaking things down a bit. He has know how to move his shoulders and move his haunches almost from the beginning because I worked on that with his groundwork. However, he's needed a bit of a refresher lately. I think he is still trying to sort out all the different ways to move his body. Circles on an arc where his whole body follows the bend is much different than the square corners where he moves his shoulders, which is different than a one rein stop where I disengage his hip. All ways of turning... he just has to pay attention to the subtle differences. So we started with the refresher from the ground of moving shoulders, then haunches. Then we moved on to side passing along the fence line. He has the concept, just not the perfectly correct form. But we were able to do a little under saddle as well, so I was happy. So we balanced all this mentally challenging work with some long trots and a few canters up the hill. The hill in the pasture is not so steep that they really have to grunt and labor to get up, but enough grade that it makes it a work out. Overall a great use of the time I had, and I was happy with his effort. But we still hardly broke a sweat!
Tuesday night class was mainly devoted to getting some of the other horses to canter, so it was a while before I even got on. I specifically made a goal to keep trotting a little longer than when I naturally wanted to quit. I had to really think about establishing a rhythm while trotting because he either wanted to fly around, or just break back down to a walk. But we did alright when I really made him follow the rhythm of my posting, then we did a little sitting trot too. We cantered both directions and he got his leads perfectly! I have been asking for canter departs on the lunge line lately, and he is doing really well with that. So last night I asked for the canter from the walk both times, and although it wasn't a perfectly clean step into the canter, it was calm and controlled and he picked up his leads, and he really couldn't have take more than two steps at the trot to do it. I'm so glad for the easy things!