Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Riding Pangea

Pangea has been working for a few weeks now exclusively at the walk, and has been doing very well. She moves equally well off both legs, takes the same contact in both reins, responds to half-halts, and increases impulsion as asked. For the most part, she is easy to work with, takes a contact right when asked, and stays at a nice forward pace the whole time. Somebody obviously spent some time putting a good solid base on her. The girl's got the some skills.

Her evasion of choice is to break at the 3rd vertebrae and go too deep, or occasionally bounce off the contact instead of staying steady. For a horse with a long, elegant neck who was ridden in the not too distant past by novices, this is a fairly common evasion. Thankfully, Gogo gave me a set of very quiet hands (due to the fact that after she was abused, her reaction to unforgiving hands was to rear and occasionally flip over), and so with some encouragement and tact I can coax a nice solid contact out of her at the walk. At the trot and canter, however, her immediate response is HERE IS MY CONTACT HOLD ME. Which is nice in comparison... but she still wants to get too deep when she gets hangy.

When I say at the trot and canter, I also mean that I have very briefly trotted and cantered her twice this week. My original plan had been to walk for a month, trot for a month, and canter for a month, but immediately it became clear that this rehab plan is not going to work for her. An older mare who hasn't done much of anything for the past 6 years following a whump to her stifle? She's stiff, and she needs limbering up. When starting out at the trot, she feels a bit like she is made up of two different horses, one in front and one in back. However, if you let her canter a lap or two around in each direction, she is immediately ten times more supple and active. Observe what happens with a bit of canter on a long rein:

I also got up off of her back in a half seat (well, sort of.... kind of hard to do in a dressage saddle) and just let her cruise for a moment. She felt ten times better than she did before the canter. That is the kind of contact she wants to take on a long rein, which is nice... she is interested in the downward stretch, something I really like to see.

So maybe it's unorthodox... but I'm starting our fitting up work with canter first. Why not? There is no reason to trot around with her feeling like a pogo stick horse for an indefinite amount of time if a little bit of canterwork before the trot limbers her up safely. That's not to say I'm going to immediately be doing walk-canters right from the get go - a bit of trot before the canter is certainly fine - but I will primarily, for the moment, be using canter as my gait of choice for fitness and limbering. Once she builds up her hind end, stretches everything out, and gets back to a regular level of fitness, we can go back to a more orthodox warmup. It's all up to her of course, and what her body can or can not handle.... only time will tell there.

On an unrelated note, I am super impressed with her vit/min supplement. Three weeks of being on it, and she is suddenly shedding out all her old and ratty winter hair to reveal the most beautiful, dark, gleaming, shiny, soft coat underneath. She is positively glowing! I'm also betting the Cosequin will start making her feel much better pretty soon as well... I usually give a joint supplement about a month before I decide whether or not it is helping. Adequan will make a difference for her too I bet, once she starts.

"You have COOKIES? Ok here I come!!!!"


  1. I can't get over how adorable she is! In regards to your warm up method, I'm taking care of an older horse who is an absolute slug unless you lope him around the ring once or twice before getting to work. Once he has his little jaunt he's more responsive and supple.

  2. Cool, I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees a huge benefit from a canter warm up. Pre-canter we have pogo trot, post-canter we have nice flowy trot. :)

  3. She is a very pretty mover. It looks like the canter encourages her to move from behind and push her nose forward, which should definitely help the deep tendency your were talking about. My horse tends to go deep when the correct muscles are tired, so I imagine that she will get better as you get her strong. The canter definitely helps my horse warm up.

  4. Agreed on the canter warmup. My old guy was exactly the same way - you could trot for 20 minutes and he was still stiff, but a canter lap or two in each direction, followed by a bit of walk on a long rein, and then back to trot, made a HUGE difference. You have to do what works for the horse!

    What mineral supplement is she on?

  5. I agree with the other posts. I know several old or older horses that do best with a canter warm up. One lesson horse I used to ride was ancient but worth his weight in gold so everyone, right down to the lesson kids, used to walk, trot once around and then go right into canter. It really helped him loosen up. Whatever works!

    I also want to know what vit/min supplement you're using for her?

  6. Me three!

    What vitamin / mineral supplement are you feeding? I recently pulled my horse off of a ration balancer which included soy and molasses (some of your posts helped inspire me!). My mare has (had?! It seems to have cleared up!) a weird persistent thrush / yeast pockets in her frogs and white line separation on otherwise very healthy feet. Limiting grass, frequent trims etc weren’t improving things, so I pulled her off the RB and it has seemed to make a positive difference (no more yeast pockets / thrush!).

    I have switched from the RB to alfalfa pellets and rice bran pellets. She also gets Grand Hoof with MSM. I want to add a vitamin / mineral supplement to be sure she is getting everything she needs but have not been able to decide on one.

  7. Oh yeah... and canter warmup was the way to go with my prone to be stiff OTTB. Lots of walk, light trot... then canter on a loose rein. After some canter he was ready for work. Trot felt crappy until you first cantered.

  8. Right now Pangea is eating:
    Approx 20-25lbs of a quality orchard grass/alf hay (about 80%/20% orchard to alf) a day
    1/2lb timothy hay pellets + 1/4lb stabilized rice bran pellets AM/PM
    1 scoop Cosequin ASU AM
    1 scoop raspberry leaf AM (only because I had some leftover from Gogo)
    2oz Equine Challenge Grass Formula PM
    And I will be adding an additional protein source in the next month.

    Equine Challenge's website is here:
    Specifically this one:

    So far so good! We'll see if it keeps impressing me!

  9. I agree cantering can really help loosen up an older or stiff horse for trot work.

    Considering her long time off, IMO I would get her to the point where she hacks 40-60 minutes at walk in good condition before adding any faster work. You know the old fitness development scale: only weeks=muscle and wind, but months=tendons/ligaments, and years=bones for conditioning.

    She's looking awesome, by the way =)

  10. Thanks for sharing the info on the vitamin/mineral supplement. :)

    For an older horse who has been in shape before and is full grown I don't think there is any problem with cantering to get them warmed up (after all they do gallop around in the pasture and she already knows how to carry weight on her back), but I do agree with Bif on the weeks/months/years scale for any prolonged faster work.