Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Taking a Few Steps Back to Assess the Situation

The past few rides have been far less than steller with Milo. Initially, I wanted to blame it on the simple fact that he just would not accept outside rein support and had been fighting against it. As some time went on, I was also loosing tremendous amounts of shoulder control, and was realizing after some rides that he was not sweating or even warm at his rear or gaskin area, but instead had been sweating behind his ears and greatly on his shoulder/neck area. This immediately told me that he had not been utilizing his rear and was working off of his forehand. This was something I had been noticing in riding; I just wasnt feeling that energy from the rear as I had before.

I had been quite sure that I had been finding my neutral posture, was torso twisting back and forth on circles and even straight lines, counter balancing as needed. I posted about a particuarly bad ride, and how I felt that I was asking for something that Milo just couldnt deliver that day. But it almost feels like we are falling down a slippery slope now, and each ride is getting progressively "worse". Not only something as solid as I thought we had, that is, our figure eight works hip in, nose out, arcing (has been incredibly hard lately), but not so much of the counter arcing.

I have been bringing a dressage whip with me when I ride for if I need a reinforcer, or Motivator, for steps generally laterally where Milo gets that "flat tire" effect. But it really all boils down to why he isnt accepting outside rein contact. Ive been really trying to look to myself and discover what it is that I am doing so terribly wrong. I'm trying to maintain a soft and neutral back, I've been putting my shoulder back to encourage him to accept the contact, a trick that Sarah had shown me and had been working greatly. Ive been trying to focus on my seat and where my hips are, and yet, things still seem to be falling apart (ok, might be a little dramatic). But when we go from having those figure eight exercises down, to now not being able to perform a simple balanced circle, or even a straight line? Something is going on.

I must admit, I had noticed last week that Milo lapsed into his "old ways" of walking forward into the cross ties as I toss the saddle onto his back. His head is up and bracing against the cross ties, and his back is tight. This is something I had experienced with him back from poor saddle fitting. But this saddle is made for him - what gives? I thought initially that maybe he just was thinking that it was going to hurt as he has still been learning to trust the saddle (any saddle for that matter). Then a few days ago, I noticed that he was slightly wincing and tightening his back to me grooming him. Hmm, a sure indicator he isnt feeling so well there. I ran my hands gently along his back, trying to soften him up a little.

Then I would move onto the connected groundwork and exercises I have been employing and further reading about. But Milo had really turned back into his grumpy "old self" from those "old days" of an uninformed owner. He has been sour to my approaching him in the pasture, biting at the halter and putting his ears back (not extremely, but not his usual perky self). He also has seemed really resistant to the connected groundwork exercises, not reaching for contact and "meeting" me, not loosening and relaxing his muscles when I caterpillar or perform a shoulder delineation. Again, I've been quite sure that I've kept a soft and relaxed back, standing in neatral posture, even monitoring my breathing and finding that I am trying to find that slow and rhythmic pattern. But Milo repsonds with tension, niping, and total disconnection.

It has been frustrating to say the least - am I really that unaware of my posture? Am I really not in the positions that I have believed myself to be in? I put Milo into the snaffle bit yesterday as a friend and I took off onto the trail. I thought possibly he hadnt been coming into contact because of the lifter bit - maybe I had been too rough with it and frightened him of it? At any rate, I hoped to get him soft in the snaffle and reaching for that contact again, as I had done before. Well, the trail ride was a total trainwreck. He was so concerned about being "left behind" when the other horse would be in front of him, he was resulting to jigging, prancing, extreme tension, and even slight bucks, kick outs, and rears in place. We have had problems on the trail before with being in the back, but nothing had ever escalated to these outbursts. Needless to say, I didnt get to work on the outside rein contact.

In a frustrated and disappointed text, I sent my frustrations to Boyfriend, needing to get it out although knowing he wouldnt really understand what I was referring to with his lack of being on the outside aid. Nonetheless, he called me later and suggested maybe Milo's back is sore because of the saddle, and maybe that is why he is "acting up". I initially wanted to go onto the defensive about the saddle - his back cant be sore, the saddle fits! But then Boyfriend said that while that might be the case, Milo also hasnt had a saddle consistently on him for more than seven months. He could just be sore from having it on him five days a week since I received it about two weeks ago.

That makes sense. If his back is sore, that could result in his unwillingness to reach for the rein, lift his back, or arc his body. It could also make him resistent to all of the exercises on the ground not only through a level of pain, but also a mental block now. Like I said, he hasnt been his usual self, reverting back to an attitude I hadnt seen since before I was working with Sarah at our first saddle fitting, over a year and a half ago. If he is upset and hurting, its no wonder he doesnt want to "connect" with me. However, this does not excuse his back behavior on the trail. While pain and frustration may be a contibuting factor, I know a lot was hissy fits to being "left behind" by the other horse. He would get so upset if she was ahead of us, particularly at a trot, that he simply would flip off the snaffle bit and run right through it, even forgetting how to execute a one rein stop.

Photo from that trail ride. I guess the expression on my face really tells it all...also note the heavy sweating on Milo's neck and shoulder. The horse we were with wasnt sweating at all. This was all Milo's nerves, anxiety and frustration coming out. But I did break in the chinks that day...haha. 
Then I talked with Sarah, who believes his sore back could be coming from my switch in the saddle pads. Dave had suggested a thin navajo pad under the saddle, but Sarah who fit the saddle, suggests continuing to ride in the reverse wedge cashel pad. She believes he still needs the lift offered from the wedge pad, and it provides more "cushion" and shock absorption unlike the navajo. This could very well be a contributing factor as well.

So, after I've gotten that all out now, what am I planning to do? Well, Wednesday I was greeted with a sour face and some tenderness in his back. I decided that I for one was not going to ride and instead, give him some time to feel better and work on our groundwork exercises. Then, I will alternate between riding in the saddle with the wedge pad, and riding bareback. Hopefully this will help his back get better acclimated to more consistent saddle riding. In the meantime, we can focus on our groundwork and I can try and help him release some of his tension. It might take some time now before I can work on some of the things we had "left off" on undersaddle, but I've about said goodbye to the show season this summer anyways due to my unemployment status. This might just be the best thing for us, to take a few steps back from the maneuvers and "work", and instead focus on finding out harmony together again. And having a horse that is looking forward to riding, not greeting his owner with a grumpy expression.


An Image of Grace said...

"This might just be the best thing for us, to take a few steps back from the maneuvers and "work", and instead focus on finding out harmony together again. And having a horse that is looking forward to riding, not greeting his owner with a grumpy expression."

You just said it all right there!

in2paints said...

I think you have a good plan, and I tend to agree with the Boyfriend. Milo has been without a saddle for so long that it's probably going to take him a while to adjust to having it on his back... even if it does fit him. That was one of the things I was really cautious about when bringing Lilly back into work. I knew her back muscles would take a while to be strong enough to carry me and the saddle, so we did a lot of work in the round pen first.

I'm on the fence about the saddle pad, though. Maybe after a bit of swapping everything around you'll be able to tell which is working best for him, but if the saddle truly fits his back, he shouldn't need anything more than the navajo pad as the saddle guy suggested. You know, it's the old "extra thick socks don't make your shoes fit better" analogy. With Lilly's new saddle, I pretty much ride in a pad because it's pretty and keeps my saddle clean. Granted I'm all the way across the country and you definitely know your horse better than I...

I do hope Milo is feeling better soon. It's certainly no fun for either of you when he's uncomfortable.