Opening Doors, Long & Low.

Before the rain came, inevitably making the pasture too soft for riding or any ground work to commence, Reason and I were doing exceptionally well both on the ground and under saddle.  He was beginning to relax and I could ask for the canter (and receive) without much fuss.  A peaceful silence; just Reason and I crossing the ground, his hooves making soft rhythmic steps as we made our way over the grassy footing.  He would get a little stuck when I’d ask for the canter.  Occasionally throwing some hops, head tossing (though, not bad) in there like he wanted to go off in a full gallop where he’d feel most comfortable but felt contained by his understanding that I wanted just a canter, nothing more.  I like that he was willing to stay with me, I like that he understood my request, despite his certain ability to take my butt wherever he wanted. 

I try to keep my rein contact as light as possible, sometimes non-existent, to encourage forwardness as much as possible. Reason does get stuck at times at all gaits.   He’s learning about the gaits and how to actually work in them. Galloping isn’t the only way of travel.  Occasionally, I may have light contact with the mouth to secure a working connection when I ride (especially to develop a working relationship before I just ride without contact) but Reason, surprisingly (I thought he’d prefer some contact), likes little to no contact during the rides.  I plan to keep it that way and slowly bring in the hands as we venture into collected work later down the road.

I began riding him in western split reins, as I was able to really move my hands where I wanted, to seriously encourage openess and welcome forward.  I could have bought longer english reins, but I didn’t want the extra material to manage.  I wanted to have short reins that could go longer through the use of my arms.  Plus, when we eventually got into long and low work, there was less material he could get caught up in.  Simply put, it just made it easier for me as the rider to get to business and not worry about all the extra length.

I remember watching a western rider break some colts and watched how he would set his hands forward slightly higher and wider than where’d you normally see them.  On a loose rein the rider would do this to “open the door” to go forward.  The legs sit exsistant on the sides, light but there asking with some pressure to move towards that open door.  Reminding the horse that right nor left, is a door which is closed as well.  The reins further encourage the horse forward by creating yet another aid; by extending the arm a little further out, and wider, the reins are acting as another closed door, to furthermore tell the horse, to go towards the opening.  During our rides in the beginning I did this quite a lot where Reason would get sticky.  I did it to not only help him to know where to travel, but to set clear boundaries where he couldn’t go, to get his mind focusing on me and not what might be going on over at the other side of the pasture, or with the cows herding back to the barn (he intently watches the herd of cows move steadily back to the barn during feeding time and prefers not to be disturbed during this very interesting phenomenon).

As Reason has progressed in a better understanding on forward and would do so without issue, I began adding in long and low.  We only touched on it in the past and when we did, he’d get fidgety.  Many times, striking with his front legs.  Maybe it was uncomfortable, as his body was exploring areas it may have never explored before? So slowly I began to re-introduce it to him, only this time around, he immediately shouted his love and approval through his enthusiasm to stretch out.  I sponged my fingers between the reins, widening them and lowering them to ask him to stretch down.  I could feel his stride become more engaged.  He lightly balanced himself in a rhythmic motion and proceeded to truly enjoy the relaxation benefits of this work.  Effortlessly, without much encouragement from me, he carried himself around the pasture, nearly dragging his nose on the ground.  It’s a moment when you get such a good feeling, the moment of accomplishment as your horse travels happily in all sense of the word.  Ah, moments like that, are what riding and training is all about!

During EVERY ride, when I worked with Ink and now Reason, I begin, break and finish with long and low.  The mind and the body get a truly relaxing stretch that is perfect for beginning and ending a ride.  Not to mention a perfect stretch for in between your ride when your horse needs that break.  A horse that can enjoy long and low, is a happy horse!


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