Posted by: shannonc | July 12, 2009

Seeking self-carriage

Pony and I are struggling, struggling struggling to improve his balance and correct his tendency, now that he seeks the contact, to seek the contact too much and want to be held up.

We each have our demons feeding this evil.  Pony, for his part, is not what you would call built uphill.  He has a sensitive little back and is a big fan of self-protection; he feels very safe and comfortable being stuck in the middle.  He will now stretch happily, and it was a feat for us to achieve, but it’s a downhill stretch.  I want him to step under more, lift his ribcage and come up in the shoulder and wither.  He doesn’t quite seem to understand this.  He seems, actually, pretty confident he’s doing what I want already!

For my part, I tend to let him pull me forward, or else feed the reins out to him so they don’t feel so heavy.  The first worsens the downhill, and the second is just me enabling his fake. 

I understand it’s a stage, coming for us somewhere after “hollow and above the bit” and before “truly round,” and I think we’re working our way through it – or at least into the middle of it – but what I am learning more than ever (unless I am missing an easy, obvious solution, which is always possible!) is that I have to be, first, correct myself; then, very, very quick with my aids to correct him.  Quicker than I currently am.  And then try to let him know it’s what I want in the instant he gives it…then I’m on to correcting us both again.  It’s difficult, frustrating work.

How about a nice, long hack every day instead ;)  … that’s sounding really good right now.

The DIY fixer-upper shopping list includes:

  1. Pony must be strong behind and be *able* to do what I’m asking.  We’re getting there, I think.  He is getting some nice muscles behind.  He does not have the topline…this we can’t get until he starts actually working the areas in question.  We do lots of hills, cavaletti, and transitions for strength, and are adding in more beginning-level lateral work in addition to our suppleness stretches and time in 2pt to free his back and invite relaxation.
  2. Pony must be comfy.  And now the fun begins.  It’s time Pony got his very own saddle fitted. 

I have a County already, a Symmetry, and have loved it (of course it does not fit both horses!  As if!), and have already been working with the rep on a reflock and check for Blue, so I trial rode several Counties yesterday when she was here – including the Stabilizer (sat in it for 2 minutes before deciding it wasn’t going to let me work) and a couple of Innovations (forward flap and regular).  In the smaller (17″) Innovation – the seat size, in the little pony’s case, makes a difference in the fit over his back – he seemed very, very happy.  Floating through his shoulder, picking up an easy canter on his own volition when we were trotting out in the field, trotting comfortably down a drop, and offering a giant, relaxed bascule completely out of whack with the small crossrail it was over – apparently, just because he felt like it!

The problem with that saddle was that I couldn’t find his barrel trying to do flatwork – a huge, flapping red flag, since the pony isn’t getting two saddles unless he really does offer to become Teddy O’Connor.  I wasn’t sure if I couldn’t get my leg on because the demo had ginormous blocks, or because of its forward flap.  Much side by side analysis later, I think we determined the blocks were to blame.  I’m not sure I will get an Innovation, but I’m taking home for certain the knowledge that the pony can and will go better in something that fits him differently.

After strength and comfort on the list comes all the riding stuff.  Being better and faster and clearer with all my aids.  Asking for more forward, then half-halting back again and trying to get a few strides on the way up and back that are balanced correctly.  Making use of my thigh and knee more than the rein to whoa.  Making use of my shoulder and chest and back more than is comfortable for me atm to lift him, but less than with bracing.  Refusing to go against him, but not letting out the rein.  Following the laws of Making Figures Work for You.  Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat…but not working it so long and hard that neither of us wants to go there ever again. 


We had two lessons this week and both of them, with different trainers, focused on working this issue.  I was told to expect a rough few weeks of working very hard before it turns a corner.  I can’t say how far out of sight this particular corner is – I feel like I am in a maze.  The motivational, instructional tape in my head does not seem to have enough memory for all the different trial-and-error strategies, and I keep hitting dead ends, and looping back. 

The pony gets all next week off.  Talk about good timing!  We’ll need a little break.



  1. Wow!! That all sounds *really* familiar! :) …and she finally said Teddy O’Connor herself… Am I seeing a glimmer of conversion? :P

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