Gemma’s now got 4, count em FOUR, post-track rides under her girth, so I guess you could say things are getting pret-ty serious.
Just kidding, we’re still walking and trotting and learning about circles.
She is, however, a very good girl. Truth be told, she’s a lot different than I expected. I thought she would be a bit hot and quick and tense… which, ya know, is fairly standard for most horses off the track, especially sensitive mares. But she is not hot, nor is she quick, and not nearly as tense as I expected. If anything, she’s got a tendency to be slightly nappy and her preferred gait is walk. But she’s also definitely sensitive too. It’s an interesting mix.
Her first real ride (real meaning doing more than 3 mins of walking) was last Thursday, and we walked and trotted for about 15 minutes. I set up my Pivo so I could get an idea of what she looked like under saddle.
We started out at the walk again, doing some walk/halt transitions, moving left and right off my leg, making some circles and figure 8’s of varying sizes. Then I asked her to trot, and… crickets. Asked again and she trotted a few steps then walked again the second I took my leg off. Interesting. Not what I expected. We trotted again, with me immediately asking her to be a bit more bright and forward, and then we were cooking. I didn’t do a whole lot, just asked her to trot forward and straight. It was a little bit like riding around with the parking brake on… if I so much as thought whoa, she stopped. Which, I appreciate that she isn’t a lunatic that tries desperately to avoid leg and has a default “run away” mode, but also… riding around with the parking brake on isn’t the right answer either. So from this first ride I got a pretty good idea of what we would need to work on first.
A couple days later I got back on her again, doing pretty much the same thing but asking her to be quicker and more responsive to my leg. She was a little better but it’s interesting because she doesn’t want you to ride around with your leg touching her, but she also isn’t really inclined to go forward if your leg isn’t touching her. Honestly she would prefer to just stand there and get cookies and be told she’s pretty. Fair enough. She started Regumate last week and is still on ulcer meds, so some of this may be due to her heat cycles or whatever lingering tummy issues might still be there, but I also think (from all the other work I’ve done with her and knowing her pretty well by now) that she’s a little lazy in general. I rewarded her every time she immediately moved off my leg, although she’s definitely less responsive off the left leg than the right. Another interesting tidbit gleaned.
For this ride I also put her in Henry’s eggbutt Neue Schule. Her mouth is a little small so she seems to prefer a slightly thinner bit, and she was steadier in the eggbutt than she was in a loose ring. Gemma is not averse to contact or seeking the hand, which is great… I think she’ll get that part of things pretty quickly. The way she’s built helps a lot, she naturally carries herself in a good place. I’ve been keeping her noseband very loose as she figures things out, and she’s gotten quieter in the mouth every time too. She strikes me as the kind that would very much resent having her mouth strapped shut, so we’re… not gonna do that. Force is never the way, but it especially won’t be with this horse.
After that ride I took her out in the pasture to walk around for a bit – her first little hack out! She seemed really happy out here… she’s curious and likes to explore and see new things, so she was very content to walk around on the buckle, watch the turtles in the pond, etc. She still had a little bit of a gravitational pull back towards the barn, but didn’t require much convincing to march forward and away.
Yesterday I enlisted the assistance of a dressage whip, thinking it might help make my point a little bit more clearly. We also started working more on moving her body laterally around my leg, bending slightly to the inside and outside, etc. Suppleness – she needs it. I’ve been riding her with my leg on but not active, and she’s getting less annoyed about it. Makes sense, she’s never felt this much leg before, being a racehorse. If I ask her to go forward or move off my leg and get no response, I touch her lightly on the butt with the whip and that seems to get my point across. I love that she’s not frantic and tense and trying to move her legs 1000 miles an hour, but she still has to be forward and responsive to my leg. There’s a middle ground, and I’m confident that she’ll find it. She’s smart and does want to be a good girl ultimately, so I think as long as I make the expectations very clear and consistent, she’ll get it pretty quickly. This is all very different from anything she’s done before, after all.
I also took her for another little hack in the front field yesterday after our ride. Even with the guy weedeating across the street she never so much as flinched. At this point I’m still keeping our rides very short, under 20 minutes, and so far it’s just been walk/trot. We’re in no hurry so I want to wait until she understands things a bit better before we add in any canter, and there’s no point in putting longer rides on her right now… just enough for her to understand what I’m asking and give me some good efforts. I think if I started pushing too hard and too fast it would just make her sour or want to fight, so – slow and steady it is. I want to make it fun for her and make sure she understands. Not to mention she was just off work for 3 months and is transitioning between two very different careers. I want to give her body the time it needs to build up correctly.
Today I think we’ll venture out to the way back to the hacking path and see what Gemma thinks about that!