|Oh, you know, just being the most handsome pony EVAR...|
I won't name any names.
But it was apparent that a certain pony's wonky stifle was feeling a bit out of whack during our ride yesterday. However, I'd call the ride an overall success despite that.
After reading Austen's suggestion to try some poll flexions with Dino, and reading the super in-depth article she gave me, I decided to give it a whirl, starting with flexions from the ground before I got on. And it turns out that Dino is actually pretty stiff in his neck! This probably has a lot to do with the difficulty I've been having in getting him to bend and soften his body. It might be time for our good friend and favorite massage therapist Paula to come down for a visit.
Once I mounted up, I resolved to be firm but patient with Dino. Not letting him get away with running the show, while at the same time trying to be sensitive to his lack of fitness and need to feel respected. I feel like I am always toeing the line between demanding enough from Dino without offending him or pushing him past his current physical abilities. Orange Ponies are like that.
So we started at the walk - always a good place to begin! I kept contact with his mouth while at the same time allowing him to stretch his neck out and down - not floppy-reins-Dino-is-in-charge, but giving him a little space to get moving. I focused on his immediate forward response to my leg and seat, as well as keeping his neck soft and bent to the inside with a lifting inside rein. We spent a LOT of time at this, and by the end of it I had a pony who was walking freely forward with a swinging back and reaching down to the bit. Success!
Getting into the trot is where I always get impatient. I want a forward, swingy, round trot RIGHT NOW, and Dino likes to spend a little more time moseying about, shuffling around, and getting warmed up. He takes great offense to me trying to press the issue. So, again, patience is the key! And letting my trainer's words rattle around in my head a bit... "That's ok! Keep the connection! Boot him forward and then leave him alone!" I didn't push for super forward right away, kept my soft contact, and gave Dino the opportunity to respond to my leg without nagging. And guess what, he offered a more forward pace and stayed connected all by himself when I was quiet and non-confrontational about it. Imagine that.
When I asked for the canter for the first time, I was met with a bit of "I don't wanna!" Instead of picking a fight about it, I pushed Dino more forward at the trot, rebalanced him, and asked again. I calmly kept asking until he picked up the canter, and away we went in a relaxed and obedient fashion. He accepted some taps on the butt with my whip to re-engage his hind end, and was moving forward nicely after a few laps around the ring in 2-point.
I decided to pop Dino over a few fences, but it turned out that his weak stifle was not quite up to the task after having galloped around in small circles the day before. He jumped the first fence absolutely perfectly, but then Mr. Pony attempted a sharp turn immediately after landing. (Going straight into the corners is for losers.) His weak right stifle didn't quite cooperate, and he tripped pretty hard. Thankfully Dino caught himself after his bad step and we were both fine! I trotted him around a bit, he was sound, so I popped him over the jump again to give him a good go over the fence. We jumped one more very small fence, but Dino was having some trouble bringing his hind end back under after landing so I called it quits on the jumping for the day.
We ended the ride with some flatwork, and Dino was awesome! I dropped my stirrups and did a bunch of trot-halt-trot transitions, square turns, circles, and a few canter departs. Dino was very cooperative and connected throughout everything, and lifting the inside rein really helped when he started getting stuck in his neck.
Slowly, slowly, we are getting our fitness back. It's so hard to know how much to push, and how much to let slide. Does anyone else feel like they are in a constant struggle to find that perfect balance?