I had the most enlightening experience last night riding Fame. I pondered it overnight, don’t know if I’ve got it sorted out yet.
I’ve been working a bunch out of town and Fame has been vacationing. He is always happy for time with mom, I am too, so I usually just coast him around.
He is innately a tight, high-stress, high freeze until it comes bubbling out horse. Tommy brought Waldo down just on a rope, so we were doing lots of talking when I started.
As Fame walked and we talked, I softly pushed him over, mostly with long reins, I circled and pushed him over, circled and push him the other way.
Fame Moved Easily
He was good, moved over easily, but when I asked for a trot, I could still feel his body braced, especially in the middle, and he didn’t want to go forward. I didn’t pick on him, just accepted what he offered and coasted around.
As he loosened up, his trot relaxed and he went forward better, not a big, through, hack-winning trot, but a nice afternoon at home trot. Before cantering, I went back and walked more, doing a bit more pushing him over.
When I went to softly prep for the canter transition, he braced in the middle again, like right under my lower leg, changing the bend needed for the transition.
I like to ask him by thinking canter and softly rolling canter in my seat, but for it to work he must be soft, bent correctly and listening. He braced, I set him back up, we went back and forth a few times before he relaxed.
His transition was beautiful and the canter absolutely lovely, soft, balanced, relaxed, going forward. I commented on how much all the extra time walking and moving over had made. Note to self walk two or three times what you think is good, if you want a lovely relaxed canter right away.
We walked again and changed directions. Either Fame or I have a funny block about the lead change. I don’t ask for them until he is really loose, forward and we are jumping. So in normal hacking, I always either trot or walk to change directions.
I spent a moment fixing him up, and he spent a moment resisting before he softly lifted up and cantered again. It was nice but our little dog Blueberry was tracking us and it was annoying to us both. I started doing lots of turns to try to trick and discourage her, to no avail.
I’m these turns I noticed Fame wasn’t really all going forward, he would leave his shoulders drifting out, like a fake bend. I realized this was our weak link in the lead change, he wasn’t completely straight. I continued to push him for more straightness, he tried.
We came back to the trot and he was a bit tight, so I decided, instead of scrambling at a normal trot, I’d do some sitting trot and ask him for some more lateral work. He wasn’t happy, but he contained himself and made an effort to oblige me.
We went round and round, finding a straight line, moving over, finding a straight line, then moving over. I noticed his pieces seemed to move at different speeds. I noticed his hip didn’t like to move left, it loved drifting right. How interesting.
So then I asked for a little shoulder-in coming off a circle. I brought his shoulders forward and into the right, inside right leg back to keep his hind legs on the track. He couldn’t do it. He struggled with moving the shoulders in committing the forward movement through his body, keeping his hind end on the track.
I could all of a sudden feel the stretch of the exercise, and the blocked spot in my horse so clearly. This was his block in the lead change. This was the blocked spot in so many lead changes! Was it me or him, I don’t know?
We did some more, he did his best, and I felt him weirdly coming alive under my leg. He wasn’t comfortable with this new life, but held his displeasure inside.
I found a good effort and let him out to do a normal trot. He was significantly more up through the wither and back, both hind legs pushing more evenly, neck reaching forward with an open throatlatch (big deal to him bc he with close his throatlatch, curl and drop his head when he is braced or blocked).
Electricity in The Body
There was more electricity in his body, more activity, more bounce, more suspension. Neither of us was used to it, and neither was completely comfortable, but we acknowledged the good parts and found a good place to walk and be done.
I was happy and thinking. Had I found the exercise, a simple shoulder-in done with intention and feel, that was blocking my lead changes?
He stopped as I thought and reached around and scratched behind the girth with his teeth, then turned the other way and bit at the girth to scratch under it. He went back and forth, almost frantically biting at these spots. It’s like when the fascia in a spot releases and the feeling starts coming back to the area bc the fascia releases around entrapped nerve endings.
I stepped off and started to scratch right behind and under his girth, he stretched his neck and lip out with great pleasure. Demanding more if I stopped.
Drop and Roll
I pulled his saddle and his bridle off so he could roll. He immediately dropped and rolled, one side, getting up to drop to the other side. After which he jumped up and tore around the ring like a crazy horse.
He ran and bucked as if trying to get away from a swarm of bees. It was wild, but I’ve seen it before not only from him but other horses when they release something really big.
As quickly as it started, it was over, and he peacefully started grazing as if nothing had happened. I waited a few minutes before catching him, going over what had occurred.
I suddenly understood why my new leading exercise was such a powerful tool to help horses break through a brace, especially with the lead changes. It creates that same shoulder in shape, committing them to go forward with all their parts lined up correctly. It’s so close range that it’s immediately obvious when a part is out of place. It’s the perfect, non-confrontational way to get to the lead change!
I looped the reins around his neck and we walked to the barn. Going into his stall he pointed to his sides and I started to rub and scratch them. He stretched his neck out again and a weird wave kept going through his jaw like I’ve never seen. Even Tommy pointed it out as freaky.
As I kept going, the hair in those spots stood up in an odd ruffled pattern, the rest of his coat shiny and slick. This is also consistent with a big release.
Then a saw him open his elbow, lots of horses have been doing that to me lately, so I started rubbing under his arm. It was so tight, there were even bumps, tight bumps. As I rubbed the whole area relaxed and puffed up.
I realized this tightness under the arms was a huge piece of the lead change too. These two realizations were huge for me! It was like the case was cracked wide open for me to solve after all these years.
I rubbed him everywhere he requested. Then we walked out together, just my hand softly under his jaw.
I went up and started stretching these spots in myself. It was a bit uncomfortable, but if I’m braced and this is what is blocking my horses, I must take responsibility and work on myself too.
I’m so excited to see if this is as big as it felt! If this opens the door to the lead change in an easier way, then not only Fame will benefit, but Matt, and all my students! I’m so excited!
I realize this is too many words, but if I do my best to lay it all out, then someone that really understands can make sense of it all and put it more concisely.
To learn more about The Cannon Method, click HERE