I convinced my horse to trot under saddle yesterday! For more than three strides!
That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but believe me, it is. Bailey likes to walk, or canter. This in-between stuff, aka, trotting, is not her thing.
The reasons for this are complicated, and I’ve touched on some of them in previous posts. The biggest contributing factor was a vestigial tooth that pinched her mouth every time the rider put pressure on the reins. I had that fixed a few months ago, and saw some improvement in her general demeanor. But she’s a sensitive little girl, and is still getting over the notion that any pressure on her mouth means ‘ouch!’ Also, her hip was a little out of alignment, but the barn owner knows a horse chiropractor- yes, such a profession exists- and he was able to set her right. And I only have time to ride a couple times a week, so her fitness has declined a bit. Toting my butt around is hard work for her; she’s only about fifteen hands and nine hundred pounds, and I’m not a small person.
And of course, some of Bailey’s reluctance was due to operator error. I’m not in great shape, and riding a trotting horse takes more physical effort for the rider than other gaits. So I have to cue her gently and take care not to interfere with her movement. And if I yank on her mouth, the whole thing falls apart; she starts spiraling inward to the left, and getting her back out of it is tricky. She was a lesson horse in a previous life, and having a large number of inexperienced riders, combined with the teeth issues, caused her to develop some bad habits.
This multi-faceted problem required a similarly complex solution. Fortunately, I was able to line up all the pieces as a matter of course; I didn’t have to go too far out of my way. Bailey needed her teeth fixed anyway, and the chiropractor makes semi-regular visits to the barn. Getting in shape is a little trickier, but I’ve been working on it. And even though she tolerates a bitted bridle nowadays, I’ve been riding her in a bitless bridle or a halter lately, to encourage her to go forward and not worry about whether I’m going to pull too hard on her mouth.
And I discovered, by accident, that she likes my polo saddle better than my Western one, for this kind of work. I’m not exactly sure why- maybe the lighter, smaller polo saddle gives her more freedom of movement?- but it doesn’t really matter, as long as it works.
So I put the polo saddle on her yesterday, lunged her in a few circles- she trots quite happily on the lunge line, which ties into the theory that the problem is mostly rider error- and hopped on. We walked for a while to warm up, then cantered for a bit to get the fidgets out, then I grabbed a handful of her mane so there was no way I could accidentally pull on the reins, sat very lightly in the saddle, and said, ‘Trot on.’
And she did! Only a few strides at first, then she fell apart, but I let her settle down and tried again.
We trotted about halfway around the arena, in both directions. She started spiraling to the left at the end, and I figured that was my cue to ask for something less frustrating.
You may have noticed that I’m rather proud of my girl. I’ll admit it- if she lived in my backyard and I could ride every day, merely trotting under saddle wouldn’t be an accomplishment worth mentioning. But I’m doing what I can, when I can, with what I’ve got. Under these circumstances, any improvement is something to crow about.