I had no intention of getting on my horse today. I’ve been using my jump saddle as a surcingle to longe him, since I’m too cheap to buy a real surcingle. Karin, my trainer, saw him with the saddle and was about to jump with glee because she thought I was finally going to ride him. When I demurred, she said she was going to get some lunch and when she got back I would ride. So I did my usual ground work with Billy and awaited her return.
Karin told me my job would be what she calls a “facilitator”–I was to do no more and no less than exactly what she told me as she stood in the center of the ring and we circled around her. That sounds easy, but when you’ve been working a long time on problem-solving with horses, you tend to do some things with your seat rather automatically. I was instructed to “think piaffe”, in other words, keep my seat very light and not use it to influence the horse. I was to put my mind in a place that I would expect piaffe, even though there was no chance it was going to happen, in order to think “up” and “light”. Then she whisked the longe whip behind Billy (I couldn’t see, so I have no clue what she was doing) and made a lot of the interesting vocalizations that only Karin can do! Billy picked himself up, got his legs under him, and with only a little bit of rein work and a quiet seat from me was soon trotting around in a very nice reproduction of his old dressage self.
Now, mind you, this was more of a little bit here and a little bit there of his old self, but the amazing part was that there was none of the dragging, unevenness and unsteadiness of my last ride of several months ago. Several times he even reached for the bit, arched his neck and lifted his back a bit, and in general seemed quite happy to be going forward. A little occasional bump from my foot was all it took to keep him going.
I suspect that six months of all-day turnout freedom, combined with the judicious and therapeutic use of groundwork once or twice a week, contributed to Billy’s ability to carry himself fairly fluidly. He still has arthritic stiffness (just like me!) but with a little exercise is able to work a lot of it out. My job will continue to be to encourage him to use himself properly in a balanced way. He’ll never be what he once was, but we have to take into account that he’s a lot older than he once was!