This may be one of my favorite words that Danny Emerson uses. Puttering. He uses this to describe his way of slowly, calmly asking the horse to work a little bit harder. And then backing off. And then asking again a little bit. And if something goes wrong, taking a minute to relax before trying again. No rush, no pressure, no angst.

We’ve been puttering, and I gotta say that it’s been fantastic.

The hot weather has hit Virginia like a wrecking ball, and I am a wussy sissy baby that IMMEDIATELY got hit with heat stroke- complete with nausea, fever, chills, and headaches for like 3 days straight. NOT HANDLING THIS WELL.

Culprit: Baseball game. TOO HOT.

But once I recovered enough to get back in the saddle, I found Frankie eager to work. Me? Not so much. So we had to come to an agreement: working hard enough to satisfy Frankie’s need for activity, while keeping things light enough to satisfy my need to NOT FAINT WHY IS IT THIS HUMID. A delicate balance.

Coming soon to theaters: One of them was a salty veteran of the police force. The other was a rookie cop with no respect. wHaT wAcKy AdVeNtUrEs WiLl ThEy GeT iNtO nExT?!?!11/?!

Our agreement has been longer sessions of lower impact flatwork. Lots of walk breaks, lots of work at the walk and trot, frequent water breaks, and lots of exercises to engage the PonyBrain- we’re playing games together and mixing up our usual walk-trot-sitting trot- no stirrup work-canter-walk routine.

It’s looking more like this:

Walk a bunch. Both directions. Leave the ring and walk some more. Spiral and wiggle all over the ring and outside the ring. Enjoy the fact that Frankie neck-reins.

Pick up a contact. Just a light one, not asking for much yet. Start trotting around to stretch out and get muscles moving.

Come back to a walk. Drop the contact. Pick up the contact. Drop the contact. Pick it back up. Drop it again.

Lots of figures at the trot. Half seat, posting, sitting, standing straight up, drop stirrups, pick them back up. Go from a longer contact to a more packaged contact. Lengthen, collect, lengthen, collect.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Lateral work at the walk and trot, mostly off the rail. Get that hind end tuned into my leg and get him thinking about where all four feet are going.

Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Canter. Do some circles, do some simple changes, do some canter-walk-canter-trot-canter-walk transitions, ask for collection, ask for lengthening.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Trot around on a nice long rein so Frankie can stretch out. Then pick him up again. Then stretch out. Then pick him up. Then stretch out.

Walk. Do some more figures.

Leave the ring. Wander the property.

This low-pressure puttering has been absolutely wonderful for us. Walking on a contact used to mean jigging and anticipation, and now it means that we’re playing the Contact Game. By the time we’re done all I have to do is shift my weight and take a light feel, and Frankie shifts his weight back, rounds up, steps under, and works harder. And that’s with a feather light touch.

Unrelated: new breastplate! Because more leather straps is what we were missing in our life.

If I don’t like the transition I got, we just try again. No fuss, we just try again until we get it right and then we throw a party. Those canter-walk transitions are still not where they need to be, but we’re definitely closer than we were before.

By the ends of our rides, I’ve gotten a horse who is soft and majorly adjustable- almost more so than I know how to handle. He’s sensitive to my leg to the point where I can get his shoulders straight, right, left. His hind end straight, right, left. Bent, counter-bent, long contact, or higher and rounder. Moving off my leg even when I’m not intentionally telling him something (oops).

At the ends of these rides I have a horse that is lathered in sweat- it’s hot out and he’s been working hard. But I also have a happy horse with pricked ears who wants to keep going. I’m not moseying back to the barn with a tired horse- we’re marching back with plenty of energy to spare because we’ve worked hard and it felt good.

I can’t always take this kind of time with him- have you seen the warmup ring at a show lately?- but I plan to keep taking this time when I can. It’s gotten us working together as a team, developing our muscles together, and kept us both fresh and having fun even in this Godforsaken wasteland of a climate.

Who knew puttering could be so productive?

What approach do you take when the heat hits?

26 thoughts on “Puttering

  1. SprinklerBandits 07/12/2016 / 11:42 am

    I’m pretty sure 90% of my “training” is this. Courage gets mentally hot very quickly, so most of our work is at the walk and very, very low key.

    It’s shockingly very effective.


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:27 am

      I’ve never really spent much time focusing on our walk work but I’m DEFINITELY seeing the results of spending a lot of time there. Super duper effective.


  2. Megan 07/12/2016 / 1:08 pm

    HAH love the caption on that one picture.

    sounds like a pretty solid training plan, and it’s nice that he’s learning not to jig because of it. my normal heat plan is to ride at 9 o clock at night.


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:44 am

      I have an electric butt and tend to turn horses into jiggers, so fixing that is definitely a training exercise for both of us! I’m trying to learn to love the night ride too 🙂


  3. Hillary H. 07/12/2016 / 1:16 pm

    Glad you recovered okay!

    Love be bridge breastplates.


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:45 am

      I’m super happy with the breastplate, I’m gonna have to have a tack post so I can talk about it more soon!


  4. Sarah 07/12/2016 / 2:43 pm

    The VA heat has been crazy. When I manage to make time to ride, it has been after 730. Yesterday it was more like 830. So sticky gross. My hair was still wet/sweaty (sorry…TMI haha) despite riding that late!


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:46 am

      Same! Sooo sticky sweaty. I have to a bring a hat to the barn because once my helmet is off it is DISGUSTING. Ugh.


  5. Heather 07/12/2016 / 4:04 pm

    Our flatting is similar to this, although our walk breaks are not nearly so successful. Lots of jigging involved. Something is working though, because even after a long ride, he’s sweaty, but still feeling pretty good about himself.


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:47 am

      I figure if we have happy horses when we’re done, then it was a successful session 🙂


  6. Olivia @ DIY Horse Ownership 07/12/2016 / 6:26 pm

    I pretty much just stop riding when it gets that hot. I’ll go to the barn and feed them and then go home and lay in the A/C. Obviously, I am very ambitious and driven.


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:48 am

      Haha I definitely procrastinate and stay at the office in the A/C until the sun goes down a bit. If I didn’t have a show coming up, Frankie would probably get much more time off because this heat is a big fat nope in my book.


  7. Courtney 07/12/2016 / 9:59 pm

    Hope you’re feeling better now! The heat has been so intense! Take it easy, there’s only a little while longer before it starts getting cool again!
    Breastplate is looking good.


    • hellomylivia 07/13/2016 / 7:49 am

      Definitely much better! I’ve never been affected this badly before and I feel like such a wuss about it haha. Counting down til September…..


  8. Micaylah 07/13/2016 / 10:51 am

    I’m a wuss and my horse and I just take a little break because we’re on a mental break right now anyways


  9. Abby F 07/13/2016 / 4:29 pm

    It’s SO hot!!! I’m at Culpeper for the second week in a row and have given up on staying cool. I’m living in a constant state of SWEAT. Thankfully, Charlie is handling it quite well and Leila is off trying to get pregnant and do an embryo transfer, so at least she’s getting a break. As soon as I get back to my hotel at night I crank up the AC and pass out.


    • hellomylivia 07/14/2016 / 3:33 pm

      Will you be there for Winston National in August too?? We can be miserable and sweaty and gross and love on our ponies together haha


      • Abby f 07/14/2016 / 4:05 pm

        Yes!!! See you there!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. relstaff 07/14/2016 / 8:06 am

    puttering…i love it! and I love Denny Emmerson. Have you read his book how good riders get good?? It’s amazinggg


    • hellomylivia 07/14/2016 / 3:33 pm

      I haven’t read it yet, but it’s at the top of my list 🙂


  11. L. Williams 07/14/2016 / 10:36 pm

    I always think of puttering as shuffling around the house not really doing anything in particular. Interesting twist on the word.


  12. shelbyrallen 07/16/2016 / 8:06 pm

    Love it. I’ve succumbed to riding no earlier than 8:30 pm… too hot!!!


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