I’m working to entice Stevie to reach to an elastic contact. This is the beginning of developing a new connection between Stevie and the rider. When he does reach and make contact with the bit, because I am soft and elastic, there is room for him to continue moving his body to walk or trot. I spend a lot of time walking because I want him to be relaxed in his body before we begin trot work. The trot challenges his balance far more than the walk. I want this relaxation to facilitate the elastic connection to my hand. The elasticity runs from my shoulder to my hand while the rest of my body accepts his movement instead of working against it. As we work I gently push my hands forward as he makes contact and most of the time, he follows to begin a stretch. I never us the reins to trap Stevie into a false head set. His head position must come from his hind legs, over his back and to my hand. It will take time and physical development. Trapping the horse into a frame breeds anxiety, discomfort and resistance. Encouraging them to reach and stretch produces relaxation and correct development.
On this day, because Stevie is beginning to make contact, I use the reins, along with my position and leg, twice to move him off of his right shoulder. He doesn’t like the aid, but he likes the result. He cannot maintain the straightness produced by moving him off his right shoulder because he quickly gets tired. He hasn’t been using these muscles during his race career. This too will take time, but moving straighter is the key to finding balance. Stevie doesn’t yet have the training or physical development to endure long periods of training. Working past his ability will create anxiety and defensiveness. I want a partnership. It’s clear to me he had this with his riders at the track and it was imperative to his success as a retired racehorse.
The quality of the work is paramount, not the duration. My training sessions are still short because this work is both physically and mentally difficult. I basically go in, get what I’m looking for and stop. The training period will extend as Stevie’s strength and comfort in the arena builds. Stevie will decide when it is time to move forward and do more. This will happen in small increments.
I begin very shallow leg yielding at the walk because it will help supple Stevie and bring him to my hand by activating his inside hind each direction. It will also help loosen his tight shoulders, especially when we zig zag back and forth. He is clearly better one direction than the other which is expected.
He must be ridden with a light forward seat at this point if he’s going to be able to use his back. I’m not worried about him mouthing the bit at this point for several reasons. He is just beginning to find a connection to my hand. As a racehorse, he probably trained and ran in a noseband and tongue tie. As the connection to the bit develops, his mouth will quiet.
When we get to the trot, notice how his hocks are coming under instead of out behind him. This is amazing when you consider that all during his racing career, his hocks came out behind him. These are all new muscles but this horse is so wise that he has already accepted that self carriage is the path to finding balance in this strange little training area.
Changing directions upsets the balance and requires Stevie to find it once again in the new direction. There is a precarious moment during the change of direction where the responsibility for balance rests solely on him as long as I stay out of his way. It’s important I guide him to that moment with correct aids and then allow him to maintain his self carriage. He does this beautifully. At the end when we return to the walk, he stretches into relaxation and I know it’s been a very good day.