I think he’s settling down

It’s been a few days since our exciting outing, and Johnny seems to have settled back down into a normal state of mind. Perhaps the weather changes have had an impact on him, or maybe he had a couple of ‘off’ days. Either way, things have calmed down a bit. Saturday was a dressage day. I didn’t have much of a plan, because I had no idea what to expect!
We determined his leather bit is slightly too small; the designer is still in the early stages, and she advised me that instead of the cheekpieces fitting snugly against the corners of his mouth, it would be better for some clearance. It rubbed the corners of his mouth fairly significantly on our XC ride. However, I also think that the Micklem design had a role in that it keeps the edges of the bit snug against the corners. She’s sending me a different-sized bit to try, and we’ll see how it goes. At any rate, for our shorter dressage rides, I ride him in the leather bit because it doesn’t rub in that short amount of time, and it’s a far better ride than listening to him clang the metal around in his mouth.
I gave counter-canter a try to see what his response would be. Unfortunately, as big as he is, I just couldn’t hold him together. I could feel him needing my support, and I failed. He broke into trot and was immediately worried because he knew that wasn’t what I’d asked him to do. So, we went back to working canter-trot transitions, trot-halt-reinback transitions, and walk-trot transitions. He’s very responsive to my seat and can give immediate upward and downward transitions. The problem is he wants to throw up his head, brace his back, and plant to a stop. So, instead of trying to keep him in the bridle for these, I simply work on having him keep his neck lowered and staying relaxed. Eventually, we will get beautiful downward transitions that resemble a jumbo jet gracefully touching down. But, right now, we’re still in the flight simulator, because we’d crash and burn on the tarmac.

Monday, we went out for a hack with friends, and in the barn he was back to nervous pony. I’m guessing maybe he thought he was about to go for a trailer ride, as his buddies were in the barn with him, and he wasn’t in his normal spot in the cross-ties. However, once we got out on the trail, Johnny took the lead and fed off his buddies’ energy by relaxing even more. The more nervous his friends got, the quieter and calmer he became. He’s a natural leader! On our return trip, I was excited to find I had nice control of his shoulders, and so we worked some shoulder-in on the trail.

Yesterday, though, our extra-long excursion had taken its toll. As I placed his saddle pad, he swished his tail, and my radar immediately began pinging. Sure enough, when I checked, his back was tight and sore. So, instead of our planned dressage day, I took him to the round pen and did some light lunge work to help warm him up. Once he’d cantered both directions and was swinging through his back, I went to work with some light stretches and massage. If that horse could talk, the conversation would have gone something like this, “Ohhhh, yeah… Get that spot there. Mmhmm, yep, ouch! Yeah, it hurts a little there, but it also feels good. Ohhhhh…” I am a bit concerned that, upon further investigation, his back appears to be more sore near the SI joint. I get SI joint pain quite frequently and know how bad it hurts. I’m hoping he’s like me–it’s muscular as a result of over-using his back the day before. I’m very paranoid about arthritis onset, and I check him daily for any signs of such. However, he came out of the round pen, relaxed and with a swinging back, so I’m staying positive.

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