At the beginning of the week I took Phoenix out for her much anticipated adventure. We headed over to my friend, Wiola’s, yard – Aspire Equestrian Academy .
It all started with a thorough groom and leg wash. Got to maintain our standards haven’t we, and it was nice knowing that her legs would be mud free for a few hours!
I put a tail bandage and guard on her. She’s not worn travel boots yet and as I haven’t had chance to introduce them to her, I left her with bare legs and just introduced the tail bandage. She loaded slowly. Had a good look around with her front legs on the ramp, but once she decided to commit, she walked straight on.
When we picked her up we loaded and left within seconds, but this time we took our time shutting ramps and getting settled for the journey, and she stood nice and patiently. She travelled well: it wasn’t such as straightforward motorway journey as she had last time, but she coped well with the lanes and roundabouts. That may have something to do with The Chauffeur’s skills though! She was relaxed enough to snack at her haynet en route too.
Once at the yard, we waited near her so she got used to the idea of standing on the trailer for a bit, but we were on hand to keep an eye. This is one of the best parts about taking Otis out – he would stand patiently on the trailer for hours!
Then I put on her bridle and lunge cavesson and unloaded her. She stood quietly, taking in the sights and then I took her to the indoor arena. I have to assume that she’s never been in an indoor arena before, but she took it in her stride as I led her round to have a look. After admiring herself in the mirrors, I started lunging her.
Initially I wanted to see how Phoenix performed in a new environment doing a very familiar exercise. I would say she was slightly less focused on me than at home, keeping her eye on the windows, the spaniel and my friend. Phoenix was a little slower to canter and it wasn’t quite as balanced as at home, but generally I thought she behaved well in a new environment.
Wiola videoed Phoenix on both reins and then we had a look. From the outside of the circle, you can clearly see that on the left rein Phoenix tends to lean to the inside, loading her left shoulder. Which is highlighted most in the fact that her tail is carried to left. I’ve found that Phoenix does tend to scribe a smaller circle on the left rein, which is why I’ve introduced spiralling in and out in the trot to help her learn to step under with her inside hindleg and develop the correct bend.
On the right rein, Phoenix stays out on a much bigger circle, but using the logic of the way she carries herself on the left rein then it is not surprising that she finds it easier to scribe a bigger circle.
Wiola suggested that we worked on improving Phoenix’s suppleness, as improving her bend throughout her whole body would benefit her performance on the lunge, help her balance her weight more evenly over the four limbs, make her less prone to injury, improve her vertical balance, and help to improve her canter. In order to teach Phoenix how to bend through her rib cage we did a quasi-leg yield so that Phoenix started to adduct and abduct her limbs whilst walking on a small circle.
Keeping the lunge line quite short, and walking by Phoenix’s shoulder, I walked a small circle with her on the outside. The hand nearest her girth mimicked the leg, and I used that to push her out on the circle so that each forwards step involved her stepping away from me. After a few tries I could see, particularly on the left circle when Phoenix started to take the weight off her left shoulder.
After getting to grips with this in hand exercise, we moved on to trying some poll flexions. This is similar to what a masseuse would do to release tension in the atlas-axis area. It took us a while to get this: for me to work out what to do with my fingers and to find the right pressure points, and for Phoenix to work out what I was asking.
We progressed to trying to perform this poll flexions in walk before having a final trot and canter.
I thought Phoenix looked much more balanced and supple in her trot afterwards. She seemed to find the half halts easier too, so started to use her hindquarters more. Canter looked better too, although she was getting tired by now.
Apologies for the lack of final left rein footage – we did both evenly, I promise!
After a cool down in the indoor, we went out to the new outdoor arena and Phoenix inspected the letters and took in the sights. I definitely need to introduce white boards to her, as I think she may look for monsters behind them initially.
When we loaded her to come home there was a very noisy tractor and trailer of haylage bales, but again after having a little think about the trailer, she loaded and travelled home well.
All in all, I think it was a very positive experience for Phoenix, and we have some homework practicing the various exercises as well as continuing with turn on the forehand and introducing turn on the haunches. After lunging Phoenix today, I thought I could see an improvement already.