One step forward, two steps back

Sometimes I’m not sure whether Johnny and I are moving backward or forward. Wednesdays are our hack days, and one of the best benefits of our location is the Amish countryside across the railroad tracks behind the property. Needless to say, this is heaven for an OTTB and a rider who love to gallop endlessly. Johnny was a little concerned about the scary railroad tracks, but he’s so good to be brave when I tell him it’s okay. They’re getting ready to plant, but luckily we still had some room on the edges of the fields. We set out on a nice pace, a little faster than what we need for cross-country, but I didn’t want to spend the whole ride fighting him. Besides, he wasn’t running away, and there’s nothing more amazing than galloping a racehorse across open fields. We ran until Johnny lost his breath (he’s a roarer, but sometimes he forgets), took a leisurely walk, and then ran some more before we walked back. He and I both had so much fun–a much needed break from our intensive training. So yesterday it was no surprise that he was almost his old self when I pulled him out of the pasture for our ride. He was calm, cool, and collected. And, we started off nicely in the arena–he stood still for me to mount (we’d been struggling with that one lately) and calmly walked away from the mounting block instead of prancing. So, I thought we were moving forward. I had laid out a rudimentary dressage arena that was more square and probably more like 25 x 30 meters instead of 20 x 40, but I can’t find my 60m metric tape, so I made do. Unfortunately, the confinement proved to be mentally taxing on my claustrophobic OTTB, and he stopped thinking forward. Or, maybe it was the 80 degree heat. Either way, we struggled through the ride. One benefit to last week’s insanity was that as hot as he was, he was moving brilliantly off my leg. Yesterday he was back to moving off it lethargically, and I occasionally had to really kick him to get him to move his hindquarters. Frustrating to say the least. We did get a solid leg yield or two, but our shoulders-in were rough, and he kept hollowing out at the trot. I’m wondering, though, if he’s struggling to breathe with his nose on the vertical and poll elevated. Here’s what we did: every time he resisted the bend or raised his head, I added inside leg and either made him shoulder-in (at the trot) or turn on the forehand (at the walk) until he softened. Then we’d move forward. He’d hold it together for a few strides before his head would come back up. I’m going to do a little research on laryngeal hemiplegia to see its effects on breathing while the poll is elevated and the nose on the vertical.
Meanwhile, today is a jumping day, and since we’ve mostly been gymnasticizing at lower heights, today we’re going to school at competition levels. Hopefully Johnny’s having a sane day. I think the regular daily riding helps keep him calmer, but we’ll see.
Later this afternoon is a treat: I’m teaching a beginner jumping lesson to two girls. I’ve taught both of them before, so I’m excited to work with them together. Last week we introduced distances to single fences, so this week I’m going to add related fences. As much as I struggle with my dressage, I am at home with jumpers, and I truly enjoy seeing little faces light up when their ponies take flight.


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