Puttering

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.

natsgame
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.

buddy_cops
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.

breastplate
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?

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