If you read my last post about Lostine collapsing after taking a few steps with a saddle on her back, you know about the debate over whether she has a physical/medical condition or was just trying to get out of being ridden. Since I didn't know what the heck was going on, I removed the saddle and walked her around without it for a while.
So, today I saddled her a second time with our horse trainer present, and Lostine started to stagger around while tied to the trailer. I stood back and just watched to see if her legs would buckle again and if she would go down. She looked at the trainer and then stood upright. The cinch was loose, so it wasn't like it was putting any pressure on her heart. My trainer wiggled the saddle and Lostine didn't react to that. I walked her around with the saddle on, and she seemed okay, so we took her into the arena for some ground work with the tack on. The only thing I noticed was that she seemed a little concerned about the noises the horn bag and its contents were making. Years ago I rode her in that saddle with that horn bag, so she should be used to it, but I guess she could have forgotten the sensation in all the time I haven't been riding her.
She did okay with the ground work, so I mounted. Unfortunately, I mounted sloppily with a plop and she pinned her ears back and walked off despite having her head pulled around. My trainer stopped her so I could get my foot in the other stirrup. She told me I need to be more aware of how hard I am mounting her, because that could cause a lot of her avoidance behaviors. I realized that I'm pretty gentle in mounting Bombay, because he can be trusted to stand still for the mount, but I rush mounting Lostine, because she always either walks off or bucks the second I put my weight into the stirrup.
The trainer had me flex her head from side to side, back her and then stand for a while before moving forward. The trainer could see that Lostine was visibly anxious about being ridden, so she wanted to make the experience as pleasant as possible for her today, just to get rid of Lostine's negative expectations.
Since Lostine has a history of copping an attitude and bucking on the first few rides of the year after she's been out to pasture for the winter in Nevada or the summer in Arizona, the trainer told me to keep her nose tipped in to the side and only ride her in circles at first. If she behaves herself, we can do figure 8s and make larger and larger circles. Then if she takes off or bucks, I'm already halfway toward a one-rein stop.
She did well, so the trainer gave her blessing for me to walk Lostine pointing straight along the perimeter of the fence on a loose rein. If she sped up, I was to turn her into the fence, go in the opposite direction at a walk until she sped up, and just keep doing that. She was quiet and didn't try anything silly, so we worked on stopping better. At first she'd take 8 strides to respond to my stop cues. Then she'd only hold still for a few seconds and walk off without being cued.
So, to stop her I had to pull back on the reins, sit back and keep pulling until she stopped her feet, then release the reins and give her all the slack she needed to touch her nose to the ground. As soon as she walked off without a cue, I had to circle her and finish the circles pointing in the same direction I stopped her in. She caught on quickly and began stopping immediately and stayed still until I cued her forward.
Only once did she take off at a trot when my neighbors came outside to release their dogs and do their chores. That's her cue that dinner time is coming. I think she was trotting back to the barn to eat, so I had to turn her into the fence, but she was not slowing down, so I circled her. She still was not slowing down, so I did one-rein stop.
She got better and then all the work we did fell apart as soon as something happened to distract her. Mr. Engine Revver came out and started his thing. I've got another race car mechanic living behind me. My trainer stuck around for nearly two hours I think because she wanted to end the lesson when she felt that Lostine had surrendered control to me. Each time we thought we had her, we'd lose her and have to start over from square one.
We worked on backing and I remembered to ask the trainer why she uses the method of pulling and holding the reins until the horse takes a step back and releasing without using the legs. She said just prefers to only use leg contact for acceleration, side-passing, turning, and intricate maneuvers. By only using the reins and not the legs while backing, she feels she simplifying it for the horse. Plus she's from the horse show world and a rider who can back her horse by just picking up on the reins and adjusting her seat will get a better score than a rider who picks up on the reins, adjusts her seat, and squeezes with her legs. Constantly, squeezing or kicking with the legs is like nagging, and she wants the horse to be really light on the bit and sensitive enough to back with just really mild pressure from the reins, but sometimes you have to use a lot of pressure in the beginning until the horse understands the cue.
Lostine made it through the whole lesson without collapsing or trying to dump me. I originally did not want to ride her anymore because of her arthritis, but my trainer feels that senior horses make the best companions and until they stop walking, we should ride them. It keeps them fit and probably extends their lives. Next time we'll work her at the faster speeds and maybe take her for a spin outside of the arena.