Last night I had the best ride on Ashke in the indoor arena to date, which is saying something since there were six or seven of us in there. He was not as smooth at the trot as I would have like, but we are working on collection and he has a tendency to fall out of the trot when I ask him to move slower. Plenty of power there, though.
When we moved to the canter, he just rolled into it. It was hands down the best feeling canter to the right we have had. He kept his head at a decent point, which has been a difficult thing for us to figure out together. Too far down and he falls on the forehand, badly. Too far up and he gets stiff and braces, which makes for a pogo stick ride. Last night I reminded him to lower his head just a touch, then when he did, I relaxed the reins and he maintained it for the entire canter. His stop in that direction was almost a sliding stop (his idea) and elicited an unplanned exclamation from one of the Western riders about how nice it looked.
To the left, the canter was even better, although Ashke kept turning his head and checking in with me as to when we were supposed to stop. Although the canter to the left is smoother, it is more difficult for him to maintain, because it requires him to use his right hind leg to push off of, especially in a circle. Again his stop was immediate. I have gotten much better at positioning myself before I ask, because this little horse could dump me over his head, his stop is so quick. We are working on doing it with verbal commands and very little rein. I was very pleased with the effort.
We moved to smaller circles in the middle of the arena. He is getting better at bending his head, neck and shoulder in the direction of travel on neck rein (he has no problem when on direct rein) to the right. Although, he does struggle going to the left, again because he is being asked to use his hind end correctly and not cross-canter to protect his right hip. His bend is better to the left and it is easier to keep his hind end where I want it, although he pins his ears when I touch him with the outside heel. I really think he thinks he knows what he is doing and doesn't think I should be telling him.
I was very pleased with both the effort and his overall fitness level at the end of our ride. We spent most of 30 minutes trotting or cantering and there was no heat or dampness on him when we finished. We worked a bit on turn on the haunches. I am having trouble keeping his hind feet in one place and pivoting around that planted foot, but he tried and once we had a couple of steps in both directions, I praised him and we were done.
This was a pretty significant ride for me too. I have started riding without my back brace. When I first started riding Ashke two and almost a half years ago, the pain in my back made it difficult to ride faster than a walk. It took months for me to strengthen the muscles in my back to the point where I could swing my hips with the motion of the horse. I discovered on a trail ride out of TMR in late 2012, that having a camelbak on helped stabilize my lower back and reduced the discomfort of the movement. I ordered a BOT back brace and have ridden with it ever since.
The BOT back brace has been a life saver. I also wear it anytime I will be using my back for extended periods of time, like shopping or hiking (hahaha) or cleaning the house, since it not only gives support but also keeps that part of my back warm and relaxed.
At first, even with the brace, there would be movement or motion that still really hurt, like a sideways spook or cantering. However, as I continued to ride, those movements and motions became less and less. After about a year, I could walk and trot without discomfort, although I still wore the brace whenever I was riding and also for extended periods of time on my feet. Working on the canter since April, and all of the on trail miles we have done, have strengthened the muscles supporting the injury to my spine. After our ride at Chatfield, I was sore on my hips. The back brace has started pinching some of the muscles in my hips and at the top of my iliac crest. I decided this was my body's way of telling me I don't need the brace any more.
I have started alternating rides with and without, to wean myself off of the support and to allow my body to develop stronger muscles to continue to support my core. I did the trail ride on Sunday without, rode in the indoor on Tuesday with, and then rode last night without. Although the sharp shooting nerve pain (that can stop me in my tracks) has not reappeared, all of my core muscles are sore. One of the things I get to deal with is torn external obique muscles that have detached from my iliac crest on the left side of my abdomen from the riding injury I sustained in 2006. Those muscles are knotted against the bottom of my ribs on the left side. This makes maintaining my posture more difficult, and forces the other muscles to compensate.
Today, although I am sore, it is the good kind of soreness from muscles that have been worked. I am riding again tomorrow in a WE clinic and will plan on riding with the brace. I hope to continue to alternate rides until I get to the point where I can ride all the time without it. Why is this important? Because, even though it reduces pain, it also contributes to my holding that part of my body stiff. I will never really be able to relax and move with Ashke until I can ride without any kind of brace. A brace is a brace and this one interrupts the flow of energy and communication between us.
My proof of this is in the ride last night. I believe our canter was incredible, because I was able to relax, let go of my fear of the pain and move with my horse. Just one more step in the direction I am traveling. One less thing for Ashke to fight through. I'm hoping by next spring we will be on the path of riding without the brace all of the time.