Last weekend I worked Kat on Saturday, then pulled his shoes and trimmed his feet. I admit to getting him a little short and he is now tender footed in the front. Especially on the right front... This gave me a chance to go back and fix something that has been nagging at me for a little while.
Kat does not readily 'give' on the left side like he used to. Going to the right used to be our problem, but now it is the left. Fix one thing and something else pops up right? Since Kat was too tender for driving on Sunday it gave me the chance to put him in long lines and ground drive. He could comfortably walk around the arena in the soft footing, so all was not lost.
We worked on lengthening the walk, bending to the left, bending his nose to the inside while going to the left and so the right wouldn't go back to the old ways, we worked a little to the right as well. Before I worked him at all though, I like to see if there is a pain issue involved or if he is just refusing to give and being a brat.
I will stand at his side, back by the girth, place my left hand on his nose and gently ask him to turn his head to the left. I hold the left rein in my right hand and as he brings his head around, I will take up slack in the rein, then gently tug so he gets the idea that the tugs mean turn your head. If he is comfortable and relaxed, I will take my left hand off his nose, but tug gently on the left rein to keep his head where it is. I will also praise him verbally then release him and let him straighten out.
I will then try it again, more rein and less hand, but with my hand still on his nose for guidance and reinforcement. Kat learns quickly so usually two or three times and he has reached a good understanding of what is being asked.
If there is any resistance when turning his head with just my hand on his nose, I will let go and ask again. If there is still resistance, he is a bit tight, maybe stiff or even sore and this needs to be addressed before moving on. If I were to proceed with his work when he is stiff or even sore, it may compound into bigger issues needing to be resolved before moving on.
We made several laps around the arena at a walk, bending both directions and he seemed to get the idea he was to tip his nose to the inside whichever direction we were going. Everything was good or so I thought.
This weekend I took him out Saturday morning and we went for a walk around the neighborhood. We logged about 3.5 miles this time, but it wasn't until we were nearly home that I finally realized what the real problem in all of this is. It's Me! I have created this issue with him not giving to the left by reverting back to an old habit I used to have about 20 years ago in my dark ages of beginning to ride. I had discharged and overcome it when the trainer I was working for pointed it out. Now it has reared it's ugly head and come back to nag at me.
While we were out walking, I noticed two habits I have. My back started to hurt a little so I sat up straight, lengthened my spine, took a deep breath and brought my shoulders back. I have a habit of hunching over as if to hide my chest. My right shoulder gives me issue because of this and when riding, I do it and also tend to twist at the trot while posting.
Once that was sorted out, I thought I was good. Until I noticed my right rein was always shorter than the left. I would slide my hands up or back on the reins, shortening or lengthening, but it always seemed to be shorter. An even length of reins just felt weird and foreign.
All this time, even if Kat had wanted to turn his nose to the left, the way I was holding my reins- I wasn't letting him. I may have asked for it, but I still wasn't letting him. I would try to turn him to the left, but still hold firm with the right rein. I'm pretty sure, knowing him, the whole time he has been thinking "WTH??????"
The trainer I was working for all those years ago, had asked me if I had ever ridden a bicycle. Of course, but what does that have to do with horses? Holding on to the handlebars, when you turn right, where does your right hand go? Where does your left hand go? You don't let go of the handlebars and equally, you don't let go of the rein. But you do 'let go' of that side and ALLOW the horse to turn their head the direction you are turning. It all made perfect sense when it was explained that way.
Once the light came on in my head and I realized what I was doing, I figured the easiest way to fix it, just happened to be in my hands. I let my whip drop over and put my left thumb over the top of it. It was almost like a pair of bicycle handlebars. Now my reins were even, (like it or not) and whenever I asked him to bend, right or left, the other hand went forward without question.
Since we had been on the pavement for most of our walk, Kat got Sunday off to help keep him from wearing any more hoof down and so he could also relax knowing I have finally figured out how to give him a chance without getting in his way at the same time.