In my last equine post, I told you guys about gaited horses that trot, and how in these individuals the horse ceasing to offer the trot is often the strongest indicator of that gaited horse's increasing fitness. (Well, I didn't say it in exactly those words but it was implied when I told you about Indio.)
I finished Gracie's loading doses of Chondroprotec (generic Adequan) at the beginning of November. I do the much more aggressive loading doses for IM joint supplements recommended by Susan Garlinghouse for endurance horses: one dose of IM supplement once a week for 4 weeks. This has always worked amazingly with Gracie in the past and this time was no different.
Halfway through her loading doses, she stopped offering to trot to the left (her stronger side) and was offering it minimally to the right but would hold the correction to gait instead if I requested it.
|Gracie demonstrating a nice medium trot to the right, her weaker side.|
Last week I brought out the saddle for the first time in...almost two years. I have ridden Gracie mostly in the bareback pad for the majority of the past two years. I can count on one hand the times I've used a saddle!
On this day I was hoping to be able to do a little more demanding work in the saddle, since the Alta Escuela holds me in place and all I have to focus on my actual riding. Riding sans saddle on Gracie has become second nature and is honestly my preferred way of riding: it fulfills my childhood dream of #neversaddle, where I wanted to be just like the Native Americans in the movies. But no matter how natural bareback feels, there is always a part of your subconscious that is focusing on balance. Occasionally going back to the saddle allows me to focus entirely on the cause and effect of my riding.
It ended up being an amazing ride that I had hoped to write about at the time but there was no media: I was by myself at the barn that day, and I was working on a bunch of other stuff as well so I never got around to it. The hallmark of that ride was that it was the first time where I've been able to work with Gracie on the 10-10-10 exercise with only clear, sharp transitions between her special gaits: 10 strides walk, 10 strides collected singlefoot, 10 strides medium singlefoot, 10 strides rack. And then I'd mix it up so she wouldn't anticipate the transitions. I love that exercise because when done correctly, the horse starts to get more and more and more in front of your leg as she starts to understand that she must maintain herself perpetually ready for whatever change you're going to request next. It is an awesome feeling.
We did a couple of rounds in each direction and I called it a day right when I started to feel her lose her sparkle in the changes: that exercise is tough physical work regardless of the horse's fitness level. Also: neither Gracie nor I enjoys drilling for the sake of drilling. When she "gets" it, we're done. And I've been fortunate to work with both trainers and coaches that use the same approach when training me. So I can empathize.
I didn't get to ride again until yesterday, when I pulled the Alta Escuela out again.
Carlos was with me and he grabbed G-Mare from the field while I prepped her mash. I've been using the wash stall next to the boarder's tack room to feed and get Gracie ready for rides, as it blocks off some of the arctic wind we've been having this winter already.
On this day, Gracie walked into the wash stall with her head up and what I call "dragon snorting": it's the particular blasting snort that she makes when she's amped. In typical Gracie fashion though, there was nothing else about her that showed tension: she had been calmly walking next to Carlos on a slack lead and she calmly walked into the wash stall, dragon-snorted once at her feed bowl (which made me crack up; she is ridiculous sometimes) and then noisily dug into her food while I went about knocking the meringue mud from the field off of her and tacking her up.
Gracie waiting expectantly in the wash stall on a different day.
I praised her and got on.
She felt like a freight train in the best way possible: we're at a point in our relationship where her feeling "up" does not intimidate me. Quite the contrary: it's when she gives me her best work because she wants to work.
We started out gaiting. The longer we went, the more she gathered herself up underneath me in collection. I was grinning like an idiot because she felt like a loaded spring with which I could do anything. It was an amazing feeling.
|Very collected gait here. Note how her withers are taller than her croup. This mare is naturally built downhill and she has a loooooong body. You can't tell either one of those things by looking at this picture because she's so compressed!|
|Cute little haunches-in here. Please ignore my contortions.|
Except she wasn't really ready to canter yet and she gave me a big, "Eff you!" that made me burst out laughing. You can see all of that in the video too. It was not malicious in the least. It was just a solid, "NOPE." She kept right on keeping on as if nothing had happened, and I just had her continue at her gait.
It was FRIGID in the outdoor though: wind chills were in the 20s on this day and within 5 minutes I couldn't feel my fingers inside my gloves. Poor Carlos was standing at the arena fence trying to take shelter from the wind. I rode Gracie to him, "Let's go to the indoor!"
"YES PLEASE," he exclaimed. I dismounted and we led G-Mare over to the indoor.
You have to walk through the main barn to reach the indoor, which involves two very dark hallways. Gracie dragon snorted and opened her eyes wide when I opened the barn door to an ocean of darkness, but she followed me without hesitation and without rushing me nor barging into me.
Once in the indoor, I set her free so she could run and be a goof. She obliged by galloping around, flagging her tail and snorting loudly. She wasn't scared or nervous: she just wanted to GO. So I let her. Not to wear her out but just to let her get the willies out so she'd be able to pay attention once I was on her.
|Gracie goes, "WHEEEEEEEEEE!"|
Such a dork.
|"How much suspension can I get at the trot? Dis much suspension!"|
We had a wonderful, quality ride. G-Mare gets tired pretty quickly in deep footing and while not as deep as the arena at our previous barn, the indoor's footing is deeper than the outdoor's here.
Have some media of what a gaited horse looks like when she's working on the bit and in front of your leg.
I freaking love this video. We start out gaiting to the right, with a change of bend across the diagonal while changing directions. She goes into a really nice shoulder-fore at my request once we go left. We change direction again, again with a change of bend, and I request an extension once we start going to the right again.
A smooth collected canter. It looks somewhat disunited and lateral in some parts because of the footing: like I said, deep sand is hard for her. It's the #1 reason why she used to hate arena work: the footing made it so much more difficult for her to work. She is great in the outdoor at this barn because it's just firmer stone dust. She still prefers working outside of the arena, but she is far more enthusiastic about arena work in general in our current enormous outdoor thanks to the kinder footing.
So I was thrilled that she was able to do this in the indoor while still maintaining a very slight inside bend. Maintaining a balanced bend at the canter would have been impossible for her not that long ago.
We worked in both directions and I threw some spirals in & out in the corners, along with baby leg yields across the diagonal.
|Some video stills from our ride.|
20 minutes into this session, she started to get heavy in the bridle as she began to tucker out from the footing, and I called it quits for the day
We walked out on a loose rein so she could stretch.
And that was it. Mareface was all about the snuggles after.
|I swear she thinks she's a full-sized My Little Pony.|
She was untacked and released back into her field with her friends.