When I started working with Schatzi (Follow the Flag - the OTTB mare that Michelle (GemTwist) got from the SPCA) the horse was badly NOT straight. She had an uneven and poorly developed top-line that tipped saddles to the left, and little to no muscle-tone anywhere except her lower neck and chest. She had a lot of flab and fat and was â€œpaddedâ€ all over. Her ribs were displaced to the right by 5 or 6 inches. She was newly blind in her left eye. We discovered that she has arthritis in both her left- front and right-hind pasterns (sloping part just above hoof.)
She is not slim and rangy but is quite wide and compact - like a 16hh Holstein rather than a TB.
Wherever we went, at whatever gait we were in, in or out of the arena, we moved sideways - curled to the left and moving "through" the right shoulder. I felt as if I was riding shoulder in on the right side of the arena.
She will do a little arena work and groundwork, but doesn't really get interested or engaged. If there are treats involved she gets overexcited and starts rearing after a few minutes. However she seems to really enjoy being ridden out and exploring the countryside â€“ as long as there is ample opportunity to graze afterwards before going back home.
She mostly chooses to move with elevated shoulders all the time, but is not very far under herself yet.
She gives every impression of enjoying "having a job" and gets grumpy and withdrawn if I don't ride at least 3 times every week.
She has a very steady temperament and doesn't spook much - in the 2 years I've known her I have seen her spook once. I often drop my reins onto the saddle and do exercises while we go along. The worst she does is drop head and graze if she thinks Iâ€™m really not paying attention.
Every now and then she used to do weird little half-buck things. I enjoyed them but knew they indicated a problem. I eventually figured out that the saddles were slipping to the left. I am now riding her in a Western that I have shimmed on the left only to prevent that slippage. One day when she is straight and her top-line is equal again I will go back to my lovely English saddle. Or bareback.Corrective Action Taken.
I did (and am still doing) a lot of walk/trot hill-work trail-rides with her. I ask for a lot of:
i.Shoulder-fore with right bend
ii.Leg-yield left and right across the tracks we ride on so we do a lot of zigzag walk and trot.
iii.I hunted out some steep hills to walk down and trot up and set goals to:
to never slip going down as well as keeping the saddle horizontal
trot as slowly as we could up them
trot shoulder-fore while bent left and right up them
trot shoulder-in while bent left and right up them (right is not quite there yet)
iiii.Shoulder-in left and right.Results To Date.
We are down to around 1 inch rib displacement to the right, and her top-line has improved dramatically. I know we still have a long way to go. She now sometimes spontaneously gives a wonderful balanced canter which is very uphill from the "bent left" shoulder-fore trot
By the way, because of her extreme "not straightness" I ask with seat and verbals for all transitions. I have needed my calves for up and half-halts for down every now and then, but mostly she responds nicely to the verbals. I sometimes ride her "loopy reins" like a Western Pleasure horse, and sometimes I ride her with the best contact I am capable of.The Questions.
In the last 2 weeks, she has suddenly started doing a few things that worry me, and I'm not sure about what might be causing them. I have some theories but I would really like to hear other opinions and ideas.
I do think they are mostly a progression of the problems I have been working on -
like the next level, or the next layer of the onion, or something along those lines.
1. In trot she has recently started leaning heavily on my right hand every 10 or 15 steps. I think the most likely reason is because the weakness in her right pastern becomes more noticeable as her ribcage straightens. I would love to hear other ideas about why this might be happening, and why now.
a. If I do nothing she will stay like that and go along apparently as happy as can be.
b. If I drop the reins, or put them down slowly, with or without leg/seat aids, she starts doing a horrible twisting "corkscrew" trot for 4 or 5 steps
and then drops to a walk, halts and gives me the dirtiest look you have ever seen.
c. If I "give" with my right hand, with or without leg/seat aids, she often stumbles on the next step and then nods every time her arthritic feet land until we walk or I take back the weight she gave me on that right rein.
d. If I "give" with my left hand, with or without leg/seat aids, she does a lovely balanced curve or circle right but doesn't lighten on the rein at all.
d. If I ask her to flex right or left (ie. rotate my hand to wrist-up with no other aids) she does a lovely flexion which makes her light on the rein/s, but she leans on that right rein again as soon as I return my hands to normal.
d. If I ask her for shoulder-fore (ie. slightly raise my right hand with right leg on at the girth) she bends a teeny bit right which makes her light on the rein, but she leans on that right rein again as soon as I lower my hand.
e. If I "take" an equal weight with my left hand and give her strong right leg on behind, she seems to even out and go light on both reins again for several steps, so this is what I am currently doing because it gets the result that I think is correct.
f. If I only give her leg support (from either or both legs) she gets faster and faster in the trot.
2. She has suddenly developed an "attitude" and I don't know where it came from or what it might mean. I am trying to be positive and tell myself that it is because she's starting to feel more fit and strong as well as feeling entitled to own herself. I am worried that I am fooling myself and overlooking a problem that she has. I welcome all opinions, advice and suggestions.
a. She is consistently refusing to try to walk downhill in certain places where she used to be willing to go.
b. It feels as if she is sometimes trying to "be the boss" of where we go - sometimes insisting that we DO go another way than what I chose, and other times insisting that we DON'T go the way I chose. These two are different - she will "fight" to head off down a track I don't want to ride on, or she will balk and refuse to enter a track I do want to ride on.
She absolutely advertises what she is about to do, and does it in relatively slow motion so I have never felt or been unsafe or nervous about this.
Well before we reach the intersection in question, she will "claim" the reins by stretching all the way from her tail to her poll to make her neck as long and as far up as it can go in the most amazing ramener you can visualize,in that position lift her nose until her head is a little above horizontal, pin her ears and roll her eye at me, deliberately swing her head left/right/left/right and then swing her head forward and down. This takes about 3 of her steps from start to finish.
As her nose reaches the ground she either
a. steps towards her chosen track
b. emphatically halts. I call this her mule-halt. She gives every impression of sinking her feet into the ground all the way up to her belly and never, ever intending to move again. Ever.
If she is trying to head off in a different direction than what I wanted, and if I take any action that hints at or forces her to go "my way" she immediately uses the mule-halt.
If I put legs on, or tap with heels, or make tongue clicks, or do anything that suggests I would like her to go forward, she goes backwards and claims the reins. If I one-rein her to the left she goes backwards. If I one-rein her to the right she goes forwards until we once again reach the point of "whose choice wins" and she will do another mule-halt.
If I do circles towards and away and "traditional" approach-retreat behaviour we usually get past the disagreement fairly well. If I dismount she will be lead past that place easily, but repeats the balk or tries to rush back there every time I try to remount
- until we are quite a distance away. This doesn't work for me as walking for more than 10 minutes or so makes my legs weaken and I reach a stage where I can't mount.
If I accept her obvious wish to go "that way" (which feels all nice and warm in my little heart) she becomes more and more difficult to handle under all and any circumstances without me getting forceful and "rough" with her, so the "warm and fuzzy" is short-term and selfish because it erodes her "social boundaries" or "rules and limitations" and creates a longer-term harshness.
I'm conflicted about this.