One day while working with the therapy horses, I was asked about one of the lesson horses, not in the therapeutic riding program. He's a little Appaloosa named Freckles. Freckles had begun to buck a hop or two whenever a student asked for a cantor.
Lesson horses, just as therapy horses, work very hard and are of a special gentle understanding nature. Day after day lesson horses are asked to go around the ring, walk, trot or gait, and cantor on cue. Very often the student doing the asking is just learning how to ask, or cue. They may not have mastered a gentle touch. Or may be too timid. All lesson horses at some point teach students how to ask for the whoa, back-up and walk on, while perhaps at the same time the student is finding their seat, or posture, or soft hands. Along with love and admiration, I mean who hasn't fallen in love with their lesson horse, are confusing signals, hard hands on bits and repetitious routines. They are just part of a lesson horse's life.
Sometimes they just get a little stuck and need a break, a fun trail ride or some other kind of interesting activity to engage them, just as we do. And most instructors are keenly aware of this and make sure to get some variety in the their lesson horses' routines. The center I was at is very good at this, but Freckles was trying to tell us more. All the normal things had been gone over, tack fit, time off etc, and still whenever he was asked to cantor he would give those little hops.
First I did a few of my, "Therapy For Therapy Horses" exercises because by doing them I can almost always begin to tune in to the horse's needs. It felt as if Freckles was tight in the left side and hip. I worked a bit to loosen him, especially his hind end and legs.
Now here is the neat little exercise I ended with and he responded nicely ... On a long lead, ask your horse to walk easy in a circle. At first walk close alongside, about arm's length away. As you circle together, use your wand to ask him to keep the "inside shoulder up." If you watch closely you'll see often a horse will lean in and drop the inside shoulder. As you walk, "tap, tap" the inside shoulder until he learns to hold it up. In a few moments you can begin to just point with your wand and he'll hold his shoulder up.
When you've mastered that, begin to back away, making the circle larger and larger, while being careful to keep the inside shoulder up. When you've backed away about 12 feet, and completed a few successful circles, begin to slowly reel him in, making the circle smaller and smaller. Remember to use your wand to keep the inside shoulder up. Then send him out again. After a few times of expanding and contracting the circle, switch to the other side and repeat the entire process. I only ever do this at a walk.
It's just a neat little exercise that helps any horse be more aware of their body carriage and helps make transitions smooth. I hope you'll try it!
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry