Ground Control

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The Relatable Rider

A few weeks ago, I arrived at the barn, looking forward to a ride. But when I took my horse’s blanket off, I was shocked to see three lumps on her back, and even more shocked when I ran my hands over them and poor Fire just about jumped out of her skin. I knew immediately that I couldn’t ride, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the lumps were or how they got there. Were they bug bites? Irritation from the saddle? An allergic reaction to something? I didn’t know, so I gave her the day off, hoping that things would be better the next day.

They were not. And not wanting to give her too much time off and lose all of the progress we were making, I decided to lunge her. I admit that lunging is not my favourite activity. I much prefer to be on Fire’s back than on the ground with her, which is likely responsible for her less-than-ideal ground manners. So here I was, my hand being forced, and about to embark on what would end up being a full week of groundwork and lunging.

I usually avoid lunging without some sort of equipment to help encourage the horse to work properly and allow me to have more control. Enter the Waldhausen Lunging Aid. It helps to encourage a forward-downward stretch and I find it also ensures that my lunging session doesn’t turn into a circus performance. Fire has often gone in side-reins, so she is used to having some contact on the lunge, but she did have a few protests about this one. She had some explosions and shared various “opinions,” likely in part due to how many months had gone by since I last lunged her. But after the first day, she took to it well and was very accepting of the rope.

Since lunging on a small circle can get boring and be hard on a horse’s limbs, I used the entire ring, constantly moving her up and down to keep her brain and body working. I added in trot poles one day to further challenge her. When she wanted to get distracted or a little naughty, these gave her something to think about and kept her paying attention to where her feet were.

In just a week I saw a huge improvement, not only in her behaviour on the lunge and on the ground, but also in her way of going. The first day on the lunge line she could barely hold a canter, which proved to me that I do far too much in the saddle to keep her going and we need to work on developing her own engine. At the end of the week, she could comfortably canter both ways consistently and without too much prompting from me. We even went on daily walks around the property and she was rewarded for her good behaviour with grazing privileges. Another bonus to all of this — my confidence level on the ground with her improved immensely and continues to do so.

There is a silver lining to everything, and even though it was unfortunate to not be able to ride for a week, we made the best of it and I truly think it benefited both Fire and me immensely. I did manage to figure out what the bumps were, but you will have to wait for the next blog to find that out.

Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.” - Robert G. Allen

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