Phil is fantastic.
When I hurt my neck for work I took 3 months off from work and riding. Phil got worked during that time, but I couldn't afford for him to be ridden as much as I would have if I'd been riding. I was completely thankful for the help but I wanted to ride!
As soon as I went back to work, I went back to riding. Sadly, right around this time the owner of our barn passed away, and I had to move barns. That really throws Phil for a loop and our first few rides were a bit rough while he got used to the place. Then the arctic freeze hit Ohio and much of the Midwest/East Coast, so I had lots of days where I just couldn't ride. I know lots of people did, and that there is a huge debate on how cold it can be and still be ok to work your horse.
Here is the problem when it gets cold. It's not him I'm worried about, it's me. Since I have cold induced asthma, riding and exercising when it's that cold sends me into quite an alarming asthma attack. I've been on a horse before and have had to stop because I was gasping for breath. Not really fun, let me tell you. So I've set a rule for myself that if it's less than 25 degrees outside I won't ride. Chances are at that temperature it's warm enough in the barn that I can still ride. So far this rule has served me well.
Because of this long stretch of really cold weather I wasn't even going out to the barn. Just being out in that extreme cold makes my lungs seize up. It's quite uncomfortable. Therefore, I missed a whole lot of riding since the beginning of the year. I was able to ride random days here and there, but our training was disturbingly uneven.
This past week we had a warm up in the weather, so I decided it was time to get things done. Phil had finally settled into the new barn, and had gotten used to all the noises that the barn and arena make. So I decided it was time. I was finally going to teach Phil that he could accept contact.
For a long time I rode him with very little leg because he would shoot forward when I used my leg. He also didn't like it when I took contact. I spent most of my time trying to fix the front end with my hands and some with my seat, but really what I needed was for Phil to go to my hand and make contact when I put my leg on. Easier said than done with a horse that is over sensitive to the leg and avoids contact with the bit!
Tuesday's ride was difficult for both of us. I decided a while ago that above the bit was not acceptable, but I tried very hard not to fuss with his his face too much. Instead I just put my leg on and drove him to my accepting hand (at least I tried my best to). Well, Phil thought this was a terrible idea. It was a rough ride for both of us. Thursday was better, but Phil still was resistant to actually making that contact. Yet he was a tad bit lazy off of my leg.
Friday, I put the spurs on. Phil is surprisingly accepting of the spurs, and we actually had a great ride. I forced myself to not fuss with his face, and relied on my leg and seat to drive him into my hand. I'm not saying it was a perfect ride because we both made our mistakes. But Phil was finally going to my hand off of my seat, and I was finally leaving his face alone.
Plus the leg yield to the left is getting much better. We get four to five really good steps before he loses the rhythm and his haunches fall behind. The leg yield to the right still needs work. He is resistant to go to the right at first so it starts off a bit rough. He can do it, but it's not very good. Yet!
He gets the idea of shoulder in very well. However I feel like he's a little too bunched up when we try it. I'd like it more if he would take some bigger steps during the shoulder in.
The canter work is coming along really well. I need to remember to actually sit my butt down in the saddle and relax my legs. It's hard because his canter can be quite big and I still have memories of him taking off with me, so my body reacts with a gripping leg without me thinking about it. I have to constantly remind myself to relax my legs, use my seat, and make my core work for me. We've been doing shallow serpentines at the canter (or a shallow loop if you want to call it that, where we go from the corner across the diagonal to X then back to the corner on the same side). His balance is quite good, and I can tell when we come across the diagonal he is waiting for me to tell him what to do. Sometimes we do the turn at X and continue the canter the same direction. Sometimes we canter to X, come to the trot, pick up the other lead and continue across the diagonal. Sometimes we continue across the diagonal and keep the lead and counter canter a lap or two. And sometimes I ask for a little haunches in across the diagonal at the canter. Little beginnings of canter half-pass. I can feel him trying to love the haunches over. We are certainly not there yet, but he gets the idea.
Phil has improved so much since I got him. He really wants to be in the program (as long as the program doesn't include whipping). He tries really hard and is super smart. Now we just need some consistency and we may actually be ready for some shows this year! I know I said that last year but I didn't feel ready. I think I may never feel ready, so I just need to go and do it.
I'll keep you posted if we enter any shows. I'm excited about my little grey horse!
The Harmany Muzzle
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