Training Dressage Horses With Willing Minds but Weak Bodies

In her latest blog, Pam Stone shares an update on another Arabian, named Party Girl, who has come her way for training.

If it’s June, it must mean another Arabian!

However, this time it’s a 16-hand Arab/Holsteiner-cross, so a bit more size to fill out my 36-inch inseam. Party Girl, at 10 years of age, recently came to her new owner, Kathy, who found her for sale online in Texas. Due to health-related circumstances, Party’s former owner/breeder was obliged to stop riding when Party was 5 and essentially turned her out. And so Party has been living large, and I do mean, LARGE, since around 2014, thoroughly enjoying her carefree life.

When Kathy, in her own right an accomplished rider, gave me a call to see if I’d be interested in taking Party into training for a couple of months, it was to find out what we could mine out of the mare’s original education as a 4- and 5-year-old, consisting of mostly Training Level with a smattering of First Level thrown in. Yet after she had 5 years off, our initial concern was her, ahem, weight, and general weakness behind.

As she stepped off the rig at the top of my driveway, I was immediately impressed by how this pretty bay mare took everything in stride and allowed me to lead her nonchalantly down our long drive and into her stall—her first in several years. Giving her several days to settle in, I structured a schedule for her which consisted of two days work followed by a day off and repeat. This would give her a full 24 hours for her muscle groups to relax after two consecutive rides, and at least one of those rides each week would be a hack in the field, walking up and down gentle inclines.

Her first session was a light longeing and the following day was a 20-minute ride, mostly suppling at walk and about 5 minutes of trot. “You’ve got a good one!” I reported back to Kathy enthusiastically. The mare didn’t look at anything—there was a small spook in the corner near the woods, but every horse spooks there and she remained obedient, albeit as expected, very crooked and quite weak behind. 

Party was rather unsteady in the contact and wanting to brace, so I thought I’d ask her to warm up with a stretch and offer her back, but she hadn’t yet the strength to maintain it without curling and falling on her forehand. Then it dawned on me: Why not just ride her forward and straight between your legs, you pinecone and let her put her head wherever the hell she wants to? That seemed to work pretty well.

It’s easy for a rider to get greedy on a horse like Party because she’s naturally forward and quite willing. Had my friend, Laurie, who does all the filming of our rides, not mentioned that she thought Party looked tired behind after a trot set, I would have asked for a canter, as she felt eager to go for it. Sometimes the brain is willing, but the body is weak, so I nixed the idea and got off instead. There’s nothing that sends an engraved invitation to a soft tissue injury more than overworking weak stifles. Instead, adding occasional jaunts over trot poles breaks up her short work sessions and helps us strengthen her hind end. I can already see a difference in her way of moving.

And now, when I ask for a stretch at different intervals during our rides, she can maintain it for a bit longer each time. Although Party is 10, truly she is going on 4. The baby steps continue…






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