Finally! A working trot!

So far January has been fantastic for Thunder. I quit riding him at anything except the walk and I lunged him instead. I free lunge because the lunge line gets in my way. I can get into a groove with just me, the horse and a lunge whip. I’m telling you, lunging can be magical.

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I don’t do side reins or a chambon either. I decided to go the hard, time consuming way of letting Thunder figure out for himself that it’s more comfortable to lift his back and use his butt than it is to run around like a llama with a hollow back and head in the air. And you know what? He’s getting it! He’s getting it really quickly actually.

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It’s not that I’m anti side reins. I know that many people with far more experience than me use them effectively and well. I’m just kind of a purist. I want him to discover on his own with no pressure from a gadget how to properly use himself.

This month he has blossomed in the round pen. He is relaxed at the walk and he stretches down at the trot. He moves like a different horse now. He lifts his back, lowers his head and he’s starting to build muscle in his back end. It’s more than a moment here or a moment there. He’ll stretch low for several strides and he no longer acts nervous and panicky. He understands what is being asked of him and he does it without any fuss.

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After his lunging routine, I hop on him for a few minutes. I usually just tie the lead rope to the halter to make reins. We walk around calmly and then I hop off. He does not move correctly at the trot with a rider, so we don’t trot. There’s no sense in trotting on him while he’s hollowed out. It reinforces all the wrong habits and builds all the wrong muscles.

Eventually our lunge work will carry over to the trot, but we’re not there yet. I completely overlooked the walk with Baron. I had no idea how much could be accomplished at the walk and how much I was missing by skipping it and focusing on the trot. That’s a mistake I won’t make with Thunder.

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This is what I love about working with horses. Good training and riding can take a ewe necked, hollow backed, nervous wreck of a horse and turn him into the equine version of a ballerina. Lunging is like yoga. The horse stretches and builds muscle, but does it in a relaxed, calm way. The horse’s overall appearance improves. His gaits improve. He becomes powerful and floaty instead of poky and dull. All horses are naturally majestic; correct work amplifies the majesty.

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Training Thunder: Month 2, December

Thunder and I saw a lot of progress in December. I hardly rode at all and free lunged instead. I felt like riding him was jumping too far ahead. He needed to go back to basics. I’ve been doing a ton of research on how to get a horse to use himself properly and round his back and push from his hindquarters. I’ve come to the conclusion that lunging him in side reins or riding him in draw reins might get his head down but it won’t teach him to work over his back and get his butt in gear. So I’ve committed to taking the long, slow route and not tying his head down to get him in a “frame.”

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I won’t bore you with a play by play of the lunging. We lunged. He stretched some. It wasn’t epic. I was wondering if it was doing any good at all, but then on New Year’s Eve we had a fantastic ride. We walked down a residential road and we did not go faster than a walk at any point. But he stretched! And he gave me a swinging, active walk instead of moving like a tortoise! It was the first time he used himself correctly for longer than a few moments. He relaxed, he stretched his neck down and he didn’t require so much effort on my part to keep him moving at a good clip. He seemed content and interested instead of doing the bare minimum.

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If we can keep working like that at the walk, then eventually it will carry over to the trot. I really neglected the walk with Baron. Back then I didn’t realize how much can be accomplished at the lowly, humble walk. Now I get it. If a horse can’t do something at the walk, chances are he can’t do it at the trot either, much less the canter. There’s no sense in asking Thunder to relax and stretch down at the trot if he can’t even do it at the walk.

I’m learning that there really are building blocks to training horses (and riders) and when one is skipped, the hole in training will rear its ugly head at some point in the future. Better to take it slow and do it right, even if it takes longer than slapping on some side reins and getting a pretty picture.