It has been such a long time since I last had a lesson with Pea as it was before he had his 3 month holiday! Oops! However, I finally got round to booking a lesson as I wanted to work on getting him to pick his hind legs up more and work more from behind. In a round about way, we did achieve this, however at a bit of a price in a way!
I explained to Cathy what has happened since she last saw us with him having a holiday, how he's been returning to work and then when he had the physio. She watched us walk and trot round whilst I warmed him up and straight away noticed that he's rather shuffly behind and that the reason he's been tripping is because he doesn't like putting weight on his hind thus over-compensating and ending up tripping in front. She said that we need just focus on getting him to loosen up in walk and trot so no schooling or cantering in the school :( Basically, if we did, he would just get really uncomfortable and we would end up with way more issues than what we already have. So the plan is to work him in a large space in the arena (luckily I have super large arenas at my yard so I have to ignore working in the 'flatwork' area that's like a 20x60m sectioned area and work where the jumps are in the larger part) and just do large circles, sweeping turns, etc. We're going to do pole work once or twice a week depending on how he feels and then lunge, hack and ground-work. He's allowed to canter on the lunge providing it's a large circle and he's to be lunged loose - so no side reins, and then he can also canter out hacking as it's on the straight.
Back to the lesson - Cathy ensured that we did pole work today so as to give me ideas of what to do with him and also to really get him to pick his back legs up. She set out four poles on the ground and told me to just walk him over them. It was actually quite difficult to get the right pace and energy as at first he was rather slow and lethargic or if I asked too much he would get too fast. We did get the right momentum most of the time though! The first few times he would pick up his front feet but was reluctant to pick his back feet up, however the more we did the exercise, the more he loosened up and began to pick his back feet up a bit higher. You could tell he found it difficult though as by the third or fourth pole it took a bit more encouragement to keep him going as it was obviously hard work for him. There were the odd times when he would get too close to the first pole which mucked him up a bit for the rest but as Cathy explained, due to their eyesight they can't actually see the poles directly in front of them. Instead, they see them on the approach and then have to figure out how to navigate them - ie they have to work out how far they are from them, when is the correct time to pick their feet up for them and then go over them. It's the same when jumping so she explained how important it is to not change anything on the approach, just ensure that you keep your leg on and keep the same momentum. Cathy also mentioned how some horses you just have to sit to get to the poles/jump whereas others you have to really ride them & that Pea falls into the latter! He was quite hard work to begin with and I could really feel my leg muscles working trying to get him a bit more enthusiastic so I really had to make sure I rode him not only to the poles, but over them and afterwards as well as he lost impulsion over the second half and then after it was more of a 'slump & stop' movement!
Once he was happy going over the poles on the ground, she then raised two of them and we repeated the exercise, still in walk. He actually picked this exercise up quite quickly as I think he realised just how much he needed to pick his back legs up! Once we had done this one a few times, Cathy moved the poles slightly further apart and put them back down as ground poles so that we could trot over them. The first time, he did his usual thing of hopping over the first one and finding them all a bit iffy but after a few more times he started to get the hang of the exercise and stretch over them instead. We carried out the exercise on a figure of eight and I could really start to feel him open up and stretch over the poles. We then progressed to having the middle two poles raised before eventually having them all raised. By the end of the session he was definitely a lot more open and Cathy noticed just how expressive he can be with his trot, something she said she's never noticed before with him! So now we just need to ensure he keeps his trot open and hey presto!
One thing that came to light is my position. Apparently, all this time, I've been tipping forward thus unbalancing Pea and making him carry extra weight. Being told to push your shoulders back more when you think they are back is quite weird but I could tell when I was trotting over the poles the difference! So definitely something to work on! I have really weak core strength - something which is quite shocking in a rider - so she's given me a few exercises to carry out. If you sit straight in the saddle it's 0 and then you lean forward in small increments to 5 and slowly come back up again to zero and then repeat it leaning backwards. It probably makes little sense but it really works on your tummy muscles and makes you realise where zero is! I also stick my head out apparently as she told me to bring it back more into my collar which I thought was far back but apparently not! I've also got a few exercises to try with my gym ball and then hopefully when I book a lesson next month I'll have a slightly stronger core!
Sorry this is a bit of an essay! Below is a video featuring the pole exercises we did if you fancy a watch :)
Thanks for reading,