Tally Hopes! Another year has ebbed away and 2020 is here! Having enjoyed a peaceful Christmas, I turned my attention to a pair of kindly bay foxhunters who came in for a couple of months' training as their mom, Deb, is currently on her own ‘stall rest,’ as she recuperates from injury (both horses—particularly Gem, pictured—want it clearly understood their names were not mentioned in regards to her mishap).
Make no mistake about it: These are foxhunters and not dressage horses, but a straight horse is a sound horse and the desire is for these fellows to stay sound as long as possible! In this installment I’m featuring a horse who is "Gem" by his name, a Gem by his nature, and he's Deb’s main hunt horse. While he was competed at Novice level eventing some years ago with his prior owner, he's clearly not built for the sand box. He’s built a bit downhill with rather short front legs. He’d be a badass speed skater, though!
One glance at Gem’s booty and I could see immediately which rein he will feel heavy on—his right—from simply looking how much more developed is the right side of his hindquarters, especially his Popeye stifle and gaskin areas. It’s evident this horse has been carrying too much of his weight on the right side of his body. And if this isn’t remedied the likelihood of an injury on that same side increases. Just like with humans—if you’re overcompensating with one part of your body, that part is going to wear out first!
After a couple of days to settle in with his stablemate, Rustic, I lightly longed Gem and mounted up. The longeing, I soon found out, was unnecessary. As Deb had predicted, he was an absolute team player. My arena is a construction zone at present: The footing has been regraded and a dump-truck load of railroad ties had been delivered, breaking a couple of fence rails while the driver was at it. To prevent a bank of red clay from flowing in during recent rains, white plastic sheeting had been put down. Did Gem look at any of it? Nope. Did he even notice? Nope. I’m certainly not the first to say it, but one can go much further on a plain-Jane horse with a great brain than an uber mover that’s on the cell phone to its therapist every time it sees a shadow.
My focus with Gem for the next few rides is just to get his back swinging with the ability to change rein on bending lines while remaining loose and stretching. I want to be able to ride transitions and help him find lateral balance without a hint of bracing. I want him to be forward from my leg and seeking the connection with a supple jaw instead of sticking his neck out in a straight line. While Gem is built to be on the forehand (which is where he’s the most efficient when out hunting for hours), I do need to ask that he begin using the left side of his body so he can push off evenly behind. Horses never forget their training and while he needs help to relax his jaw and develop overall suppleness, Gem understood exactly what I wanted when I closed my leg and rode him into a receptive hand that was always ready to reach forward to reward him and test his balance.
The canter will be a work in progress. I love that he’s sensitive to the leg and steps easily into that gait. But he very much wants to resort to speed-skating posture and it’s going to take a truckload of transitions—ridden accurately with half halts that begin to go ’through,’ to help strengthen him behind so he can elevate those shoulders. But you know what? I think we’re both up for the challenge!