"I noticed as Marissa led Lilly, her footfalls and placement improved with almost every stride."
Lilly is a Quarter Horse. She's a seven year old beautiful black and white paint who loves her job working with children at Verde View Equestrian Center. She's a Therapy Horse. I had the honor of playing with Lilly, and her teammates this past weekend while I was there conducting my "Therapy For Therapy Horses," clinic. Like all the horse partners there she receives the best of care. The owner Lori Piccirilli, her daughter Marissa, and the volunteers make sure Verde View is a wonderful, fun and happy place for the children who come for healing, smiles and giggles, and for the horses too. They understand therapy horses need a little therapy too.
|Lilly and me just goofin' around early in the morning - I was massaging her gums here to help her relax - Doesn't she stand beautifully?|
Our "Therapy For Therapy Horses," clinics are an all day affair, the volunteers learn a lot of new things, and the horses do too. The clinic is designed to teach and promote exercises that help the horse release, relax and maintain proper posture, and clear their minds. This was my second visit Verde View, so we added a few more fun exercises to the mix, and for me it was a delight to see what they'd learned in May had been incorporates into the routine care of all the therapy horses. As Lori says, "Without our horses we can't have equine assisted therapy, they are the heart of what we do."
"Lilly's surprise?" You might be asking.
Just as hard as the volunteers work to understand and master the techniques and exercises, so do the horses. It is honestly a lot to throw at them in just a day or two so I'm careful to space out the layers of learning and allow for plenty of time for the horses to process the new feelings, releases and posture.
Near the end of the day I noticed Lilly was a little overwhelmed. Her volunteer had worked hard to master an exercise I call the "one step," and while Lilly stood quietly after numerous repetitions, I noticed she was clearly asking for a break, so I asked Marissa to simply lead her around the arena at a walk to help her relax and process. I thought they could just walk while I explained a bit more.
The other horses and volunteers stood quietly, and as I spoke I asked them to watch Lilly and Marissa. This was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how, while a horse might be cooperating and doing a great job, they might be internalizing confusion, stress or worry and I was hopeful by watching Lilly relax as Marissa led her, the volunteers would see the transition as she softened and lengthened. The reason I was pretty sure Lilly would be a good example is unless you looked really close it was hard to notice she needed a break. She's a very good girl.
I noticed as Marissa led Lilly, her footfalls and placement improved with almost every stride. And I pointed out how she stepped perfectly heel to toe. How her hind feet came forward nicely to her front feet.
I asked Marissa to walk on a bit more quickly. Lilly began a soft half-a-hoof overstride with her hind feet under her and falling exactly on the track of her front foot. Her neck lengthened, her body lengthened and softened. In another lap Lilly had a full hoof overstride and her carriage was beautiful, soft and rhythmic. I thought I knew what I was seeing and had to tease, "If I take Lilly home for a few months I'll bring you back a Quarter Horse with a running walk." We all laughed a bit and Marissa kept up the pace.
I encouraged Marissa to walk just a little faster as I explained a bit what was going on, then I turned to Lori and said, "Lilly's gonna get it right here, right now."
Everybody understood what we were trying for by now and having a grand time as we watched.
I instructed to Marissa to go just a little faster, keep Lilly at a walk, but move on just short of a trot. A few times Lilly did go to a trot, but Marissa is really, really good, and soft, and she brought Lilly back to a brisk walk. This was all being done on a loose lead.
|Marissa and Lilly walkin' on (sorry, we don't have a better picture) but you can see here Lilly's great soft posture and good foot placement ... One of the things we work on in the clinic is something I call "ReConnecting Your Horse To Her Feet" so Lilly has had those exercises by this time - You can read about them on my blog (HERE) -|
Then, on the third lap, Lilly stepped into a running walk! – WOW! – She could only hold it a few strides, but everyone saw it and burst into a cheer! It was soft and beautiful! Lilly and Marissa got it two more times, just a few strides each time, but it's there and simply delightful.
Then we just knew we had to try it under saddle. And since this post is already long I'll just tell you, after a few laps around they got the running walk under saddle. Again just a few strides, but perfect and sweet.
Now to help Lilly build the muscles to maintain that sweet, soft running walk, Marissa will ride her on the trail for miles and miles at a walk. And of course continue to do our release and relax exercises. Yes Lilly can and will still trot, canter and gallop, her new running walk is just another new gait she'll have. And folks this was done barefoot, on a loose rein, soft and easy. Simply beautiful!
My mentor, Diane Sept often said she believed most horses can do the running walk and since this is not the first time with horses of other breeds I witnessed it, I sure believe it too!
What a wonderful surprise Lilly shared with us and I'm so tickled to have been there to be part of the fun when she discovered her new gait!
Gitty Up ~ Dutch