A few days ago one of the ladies I was riding with said something to the effect of, “If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think you were riding a Quarter Horse.” I had to chuckle, because I wasn’t sure if that was meant as a compliment or an insult! (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t trying to insult me!) My mare does have a very ‘athletic’ build, though I’m sometimes a bit bothered by her low-slung belly. She’s NOT fat, that’s just the way she’s built. But what I am proud of is how beautifully muscled she’s become. Not that when I got her she was in bad shape. But she wasn’t a trail horse and the miles and miles of hills and long trots we’ve been doing is paying dividends in muscle and conditioning. Dharla does have a very nice butt if I may say so myself:
What she doesn’t have is a great neck and that’s something we need to work on. It’s time to start encouraging better head carriage and get her neck muscles built up so she’ll carry herself properly. That’s not too important out on the trail, but it IS important for overall strength, balance and confirmation. In fact, if I’m understanding this correctly, proper head carriage will help round her back and tuck her tummy up a bit. Tia had beautiful collection and framed herself naturally. In other words, I didn’t have to work very hard at getting Tia to collect. Dharla is a totally different story. While she’s not a star-gazer, she does tend to want to carry her head more upright until she’s fairly fatigued. Then her head comes down and her nose comes in. Even when I lunge, her head tends to go up and her nose goes out more than is should. Eventually her head carriage improves as she relaxes, but that takes awhile.
I haven’t been pushing Dharla for any sort of specific refinement until now. We’ve mostly just worked on getting to know each other and trying to relax in this new environment. But it’s time to start nudging her toward some specific goals. Yesterday we did a little work down in the ring. Last week I introduced Dharla to a ground cloth. (Tarp) My goal was to get her to walk across a tarp that’s laid out on the ground.
I started by leading her out to the middle of the ring and opening the tarp. At first she was a little startled, like, “What’s this?” But I took my time and let her check things out. I slowly unfolded the tarp as she stood beside me. Once her initial curiosity was satisfied she pretty much ignored me as I opened up the tarp and weighted the corners down with a few large rocks. Next, I lunged Dharla in different corners and spots in the ring. Nothing too close to the tarp, but she could clearly see it. It was interesting to see how she reacted differently depending up on which eye was facing the tarp. We lunged in different places at different gaits until all the shy had gone out of her.
Next, I walked Dharla up to the tarp and asked her to step on it. It took a few seconds before she made an attempt, then shifted her weight back slightly. She didn’t try to back away, it was just a subtle weight shift. I gave her a couple of seconds, then asked again. Twice, she repeated her response, then on the third try she stepped one foot onto the tarp. I released the pressure and let her stand there with one foot on the tarp as I pet her and encouraged her with my voice. After a minute or two I asked for her to move forward a bit more. She complied and put her other front foot on the tarp. I released, praised her and paused. The next time I asked her for forward movement she walked boldly forward and we crossed the entire tarp. I stopped her on the other side and praised her liberally. After a minute or so, we circled around the tarp and did the whole process again, but with much less reluctance. By the third try Dharla was stepping onto the tarp with no hesitation at all.
We spent about five more minutes walking across the tarp from all different directions. I broke things up by walking around the ring a bit between crossings so each time we crossed was like a separate incident. After we finished that I put on her bridle and spent about twenty minutes riding around the ring at a walk and trot. The tarp was still on the ground in the middle of the ring. Oddly enough, Dharla did shy a few times at the tarp once I was on her back, but we just kept working calmly. It was pretty windy, which always amps her reactivity so we just worked on quiet walk/trot transitions, a little neck reining, stops and some backing. Simple stuff.
I finally decided it was time to see if Dharla would cross the tarp with me up. I urged her over to the tarp and when I felt her hesitate slightly I gently asked her to keep moving. Much to my delight, Dharla stepped boldly onto the tarp and crossed willingly. Yay! We did a few tarp crossings from different directions, then called it a day. I was very pleased!
Now if we can just get that head inching in the right direction …