We have to be able to canter a ten meter circle, on the bit, and the correct lead, in both directions.
Not an easy thing to do with a horse that has physical issues with both hind legs. That just means you suck differently in both directions. And a horse that gets very claustrophobic at too much contact (which on some days is any contact). With an overweight, older rider who still thinks she should be able to sit anything (I could when I was younger - really) but who has found moving back into consistent work difficult on thighs, groin and core. Ashke is not the only one who might be a bit sore.
But we persevere. Sometimes with an argument or too. Sometimes with pinned ears and flicking tail (when he thinks he knows it all and I don't have to ask) or a squeal and flick of the hind leg (when I insist on using legs and seat rather than my voice). This cantering thing is not easy, especially when finding time to trail ride is difficult due to weather and time commitments, and he gets ring sour pretty quick. And when the things I am asking him to do are more difficult and physically challenging than what we have done in the past.
Although, we are making progress. At least, I think so on a good day.
Monday night I had the barn to myself (it was snowing) and Ashke and I rode together for about 45 minutes. I set out the gate and three cones (24' apart this time instead of ten). We worked on finding a good trotting rhythm (using bear bells from REI to help with this - they are attached to the breast collar at each shoulder) and then progressed to trot-canter-trot transitions. We only did six or so in each direction, working on Ashke picking up the canter as soon as he is asked. I didn't want to overly fatigue him. Then we worked the gate and ran the cones twice. He made the canter-walk-switch leads - canter transition the second time we went through the cones, so we were done.
He does better if we stop when we have achieved what we were working on one time. He really remembers it better that way. Anna Blake says that once you get what you are trying, get off and be done. That release will resonate much better than anything else and I have found that to be true.
After our ride, I spent some time working on Ashke's back, using energy work and massage to loosen the muscles, relax the tension, smooth out the hamstring and work on his left stifle. I had a horse that was looking at me like I was an angel. His eyes were soft and wondering, he was licking and chewing, and he kept turning to look at what I was doing. I started at the withers and worked to his hocks, using as much pressure as I could and not once did he cringe or move away. If anything, he leaned into the massage. There were two spots of tension in his withers that I worked out, the hamstring was tight and ended up looser, and his left stifle was sore. I spent maybe fifteen minutes rubbing then blanketed him and put him up.
On Weds night I asked J to come with me and film our ride. T had a school thing from 7 - 9 and we would just have time to squeeze in a ride between drop off and pick up.
A little more
I think we have come a long way, baby.
He really hates being asked to canter. I finally told him outloud that I can't talk to him during a show.
He was better after that.
I think part of the problem is that he likes having all of the answers.
He hates having to be told.
Our halts in the center need to be better, smoother and quieter.
He does better with less contact picking up his canter.
After our ride, I spent some time on his back again. I found a very tight tendon running from his left stifle to somewhere and spent some time massaging it and the muscles around it. Hopefully, I can get that joint looser and smoother, with less pain for him. His right hammie was much better and so was the muscle I was working on in his withers. J thought he was going to fall over with happiness at the massage. I plan to do a massage after every ride to see if we can't resolve the last of his issues.
I've also told him that we are going to focus on him being healed and capable of whatever we try to do. That way we can rock the tiny effing circles.