Another super hot and humid day in NY. I’m not a fan of winter at all but this heat and humidity can really just break for a bit. The humans would love it and the horses would love it.
I get Alfie from his field and he’s super happy because the heat was bad by 10:15AM and he couldn’t wait to come in to be in front of his fan.
He dives into his hydro hay with such gusto and I swear he was smiling. While he’s eating I start to brush him. I get all his itchy spots and I tell him he’s gonna get a nice bubble bath when we are done with our lesson.
He finishes his brunch and into the grooming stall we go. I get him dressed in his saddle – no bareback today – and we approach the dreaded mounting block.
Alfie wouldn’t stand today. I attempted twice on my own and then asked for help from my trainer Kari. She gets him lined up and I get on.
Our lesson is divided into 3 parts, warmup, work, cool down. Part of our warmup includes working on our circles. For those that think riding a horse in a circle is easy, you are very mistaken lol. It’s hard. It’s also hard when the horse is stiff and has discomfort from being stiff and just can’t bend well. That was Alfie’s issue. When we made the switch from western to dressage, I discovered that he was unbalanced in the turns and had a lot of discomfort bending his head to the right.
To help fix his discomfort Alfie gets treated about every 6 weeks by a sports massage therapist – an amazing woman who works out the kinks for him. Since he’s been under her care his muscle issues have gotten better.
We’ve been taking dressage lessons for 1 year and 4 months. When we first started trying to get Alfie to bend into a circle was extremely difficult. Today, his circles were damn near perfect in both directions.
When you are learning to ride a horse, your balance as a rider isn’t good. You are nervous, your legs don’t know what to do and you suddenly become aware of muscles you didn’t know existed. Because it’s not easy to ride a horse…let me rephrase that…it’s not easy to ride a horse that isn’t “push button” or an “auto pilot” horse. Those horses are the ones at dude ranches and in the Caribbean Islands, they just go regardless of the riding ability of their rider. Alfie isn’t push button. Alfie has made me work for every ride we’ve ever taken. There is no leisure ride with Alfie. And learning an entirely new discipline for both of us has been a struggle. But today, after the amazing circles, it was time to trot. And that’s where I was left speechless, and full of joy.
When a horse trots, the power must come from their back end…you know, their booty, their butt. Getting Alfie to understand that, getting him to understand contact of the bit and the reins hasn’t come easy. It wasn’t just him learning it was also me learning how to communicate all of this to him. We’ve worked and worked and worked on getting him to put the pieces together, when we trot, the power needs to come from behind, not just the front legs pulling the back end.
We set up for our first trot on the long side of the arena (the straight side) and holy cow…he used his butt. It was only a few strides of trot, but I immediately felt the difference. I sat there and looked at my trainer. She’s smiling and I ask her, did he do what I think he did?? Holy cow!
We try again…and again for a few strides he picks up the trot using his butt, this time he rounds his frame a bit…he’s in an actual dressage position! We do this a few more times and change direction and again all the power is coming from his back end. As he gets more fit he will be able to trot for longer but today, he did it. It took 16 months of weekly lessons, but he did it, and I helped him do it.
We decided to end the lesson on that note because you always want to end on a positive. We go for our cool down ride and I get off. But I’m not done just yet…I walk him back to the mounting block to see if he will stand…and he doesn’t. I ask my trainer for help. At this point we’ve tried so many different things and nothing seems to stick with him. So she tells me to leave Alfie exactly in the weird position he’s standing. She has me pick up my dressage whip and tells me to tap him on his butt to get him to move over to the block. For those that know me, you all know my issues with tapping my horse. I know I’m not going to hurt him, logically my brain knows this but the emotional aspect of this is where my issue lays. But it’s been 4 years, and dang it Alfie you have to respect me enough to let me get on. So I tap him. He ignores it. I tap him again slightly harder, and look at that, he moved over. I slightly raise my arm and he moves over some more. Mind you, I only tapped him with it twice. This is good, he’s responding simply to my gesture, I’m not actually touching him. I climb up the stairs of the block and he just stands. Perfectly still. I get on. He doesn’t move until I ask him to walk into the arena. I pat him on the neck and tell him good boy and I get off. We have tried everything at the mounting block but 2 small taps got his attention.
Horses are like children. They have their days where they are perfect, respectful, attentive and listening. Other days they may be perfect in one area but challenging you in another area, because they can. For all these years, Alfie knows if his swings his butt away from the mounting block I can’t get on. He knows that I get off the block and walk him again to the block only to have him swing out his butt again. We’ve played this game before over and over. But today I made the decision to not play the game anymore.
We ended our day with that bubble bath I promised him and a nap in front of his fan. ❤️🐴