Monday, June 30, 2008

Long Reining: Experiment #1

Okay, so instead of writing about tonight's jumping lesson (which involved very little jumping as the mare was a few fruit loops shy of a full bowl), I'll tell you about experiment #1 with long reining. I'll tell you about my lesson once I'm a little more cheerful about the situation. Especially since I just spent a post talking about how wonderful she is and how we're thinking of breeding her. How ironic.

In any case, here's the story of the long reining extravaganza. I just finished reading Philippe Karl's book on long reining, which I highly recommend. It's very concise, easy to understand, and has the aids nicely explained along with beautiful photographs to illustrate. It was a joy to read.

Some minor equipment issues that I was already aware of:
  • Our longeing caveson is too big for her. This is because we bought it for Bailey, who had a Thoroughbred-sized head, and McKinna has pony-sized head. It doesn't slip wildly around, but it's not snug.
  • I don't have long reins. Ideally you want about 5 feet of round cord with snaps at one end, and the other end of the cord tapers out into many many more feet of flat cotton line. I used longe lines, one on each side. They didn't slide very well through the rings on the caveson, but they worked passably.
  • We don't have a surcingle. I borrowed a friend's, so that wasn't too bad.
Said equipment issues should hopefully be fixed soon, since my mom just ordered a nice pony-sized leather caveson. Next item on the list is some nice long reins, and finally a surcingle. Aren't new equestrian ventures fun?

So the pony (who was, unlike her resistant self tonight, quite cheerful that night) stood patiently while I set up a longe line on each side. On the inside, you run the line through the bit and clip to the surcingle; for the outside, you run it over their back, through the surcingle, and clip to the bit. That way the inside line is softer and acts as an opening rein instead of a direct rein, which can cause resistance for the horses that aren't used to it yet.

So up we hooked and away we went!

It was a bit laughable, to tell the truth. We just did walk-trot-canter on a circle, with me trying to coordinate two longe lines and one whip (three hands would have been nice) and her trying to figure out what on EARTH I wanted her to do (hence title: misadventures). Since my saintly horse knows full well what to do on the longe line, she just trucked around trying to listen to the reins. It worked pretty well, though I have a feeling that our communication will vastly improve with proper long reins.

I think I will wait to try again until I have at least a proper caveson. I'll continue just working her on a big circle until I have the right equipment, she's a little more comfortable with it, and I'm more familiar with handling that much stuff at once. After that, we'll switch to direct rein on both sides and start practicing me driving her from different directions, moving to a change of rein at the walk (where she's bent in one direction, then as I cross behind her she switches the bend as she moves in the new direction of travel).

I figure if I can get to where we are proficient at shoulders-in reversed and shoulders-in, that's pretty good. If I can get to the elementary stage of half-pass (which is like shoulders-in reversed, only they are bent to the inside), I will be pleased as punch. Shoulders-in is an immensely beneficial exercise, and I think doing it from the ground will be very, very good for both of us. First, it removes a complication by taking the rider off the horse, making it easier for the horse to balance itself. Second, since for that exercise alignment is crucial, being on the ground lets you very easily see whether your horse is doing it properly. Third, since you don't have seat or leg aids, you need to break it down for your horse and get your horse responding to your voice, body language, and rein cues. All in all, an exercise in thinking hard for both horse and rider -- you can't box your horse up between reins and legs and pretend you're doing it right.

It is, as the French would (probably not) say, très cool.

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