It was a lovely day, even balmy. As I hung out at the traffic light on my way home from work, I stared in amazement at the trees on the opposite side of the intersection; they seemed to be doubled over in pain. I started scanning the foliage on my side of the street and was shocked to see that they too were being bent into submission by an angry wind. Where did that come from?
Bakersfield's weather can be quite strange. It can be pouring rain on the east end of town and dry as a bone to the west. The wind can howl at one end and be eerily silent on the other. I prayed that was the case on Thursday. As I pulled into the barn's drive, I saw Izzy bolt from one end of his stall to the other and quickly realized that a relaxing ride was not in the cards.
At my last lesson lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, she suggested that I try lunging Izzy in draw reins to help him understand how to get a bit more through by fighting with himself rather than me. She has a wonderful description for him which really sums up his tension. She describes him as emotional about his work.
And it's true. It's not just anxiety or tension; he has strong feelings about what he's doing, and he's quite vocal about it. I usually see it as being opinionated, but describing him as emotional elicits more of a nurturing response from me. So rather than try to fight it out with him in, I pulled out my home made set of draw reins and got to work.
Chemaine is a very knowledgable trainer who does not rely on gadgets to get the job done. In fact, when she suggested using draw reins, I was quite surprised as the only gadgets I've ever seen at her barn are whips and spurs, and those are used judiciously and fairly.
Her Grand Prix mare, Belle, has done some funny stuff with her mouth and head lately. During a recent lesson with her own coach (how good must he be?), he noticed it and right away knew it had to do with Belle avoiding the contact by sucking back her tongue and moving it over the bit. He suggested lunging her in draw reins to encourage her to stretch and loosen her back. Chemaine says that in just a few short weeks, Belle is even softer and more relaxed than ever before.
Chemaine thought the draw reins could do the same for Izzy. Much like Belle, he doesn't want to carry himself long and low. He wants to be in an upper level frame, but he's not supple enough or relaxed enough for that.
My draw reins are a single length of poly rope with two scissor snaps that slide freely in the middle of the rope. I attached these to the girth ring. Each end has a trigger snap that can be attached to the surcingle. If applied differently, these draw reins can also be used from the saddle, although I don't use them that way. In fact, I only used these on Speedy a few times way back when we first started dressage.
It took Izzy about five minutes to figure out that the lower he kept his neck, the more comfortable he became. I lunged him with the draw reins for about 20 minutes, and I changed directions no less than four times varying the diameter of my circle. When he was soft and trotting forward nicely, I made the circle bigger. When he got off balance or tense, I drew him closer and focused on pushing the inside hind deeper.
The transformation was almost miraculous. He started out with a back that was so tight, it looked painful. His legs stabbed at the ground and he looked like he might fall over at any second. Gradually, his head came down and his stride got longer and slower. His ears started to flick back to me, and he even started to correct himself when he lost his balance. Rather than speed up to rebalance, I saw him start to slow down on his own.
When I called Chemaine to let her know how it had gone (she evens does lessons over the phone), she suggested I lunge him again today before riding and then again tomorrow at the show. Oh, right - a show. Yes, we're doing Intro A and B at a schooling show north of Bakersfield tomorrow.
I'll let you know how it goes on Monday. Have a great weekend!