I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have been a tad dramatic in my last post.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that if I tape my shoulder tightly enough to my body I can I can keep my arm in its socket well enough to make it through a ride or two. If I’m going to have to have surgery at some point—and who knows when that will actually get to happen—I might as well ride while I still can before the long road to recovery starts.

Last week’s incident was enlightening to the fact that Nautica is not yet entirely connected to my outside rein. If he were, he wouldn’t have been able to lock and drag his neck so strongly to the outside, “spook” or otherwise. I’ve found now that he can stay soft through his neck, his sudden locking is that much more dramatic and obnoxious.

At the beginning of Nautica’s restart, in an attempt to create any resemblance of lateral bend whatsoever, I rode him very inside leg-to-inside rein. Obviously, this is not correct dressage. Back then, he was about as flexible as a steel beam and used that rigidity to brace laterally and “giraffe” with his neck. Saddle seat horses tend to hold their bodies very still, lock their necks into a “headset” and use their legs in a more animated fashion. This is an entirely opposite reaction from what we want in a dressage horse.

At the time, achieving inside bend and simply just giving to pressure laterally was the most important concept for Nautica to learn before we could progress on to anything else. It was building block number one. The idea of accepting contact on the outside rein in addition to understanding the inside rein and leg’s purpose in providing the direction of bend was too much for Nautica to process and would result in him tensing and taking quicker, choppier steps. He’s since gotten much better about maintaining his rhythm and we’re almost ready to move on to building block two: understanding the outside rein.

He doesn’t make it easy. Nautica naturally travels crooked in a perpetual shoulder-left. It’s getting better over time but it becomes much more obvious when tracking to the right. His issues with the contact on the outside rein seem to be related to his difficulty with traveling straight nose-to-tail. Ironically, in order to have Nautica be able to be “put together” to travel straight, he needs to be connected to my outside rein. But forget all of that. We’ve since found that Nautica actually takes the contact on the outside left rein fairly well, rather, he does not accept the right rein, outside or otherwise.

My contact issues, his grabbing issues… all seem to be primarily related to just the right rein. We tested our theory in a lesson by tracking both directions while maintaining contact on only the left rein, allowing the right rein to float loosely. It was like magic. Nautica was soft the entire time, loosening up over his back and opening his stride behind, almost tracking! Floating the left rein even helped with our canter issues.

There’s nothing quite like becoming painfully aware of a major hole in your horse’s (and your) training. So now, not only is Nautica crooked, he’s also a left-handed ride. I suppose I should thank him for being considerate like that, with my current situation and all.

Obviously, we’re now working to fix this issue. Nautica has recently been seen by the vet, chiropractor, and massage therapist and has no issues related to his one-sidedness other than simply years of having been allowed to work in a certain way. We’re slowly sneaking in that right side contact more and more and we are using lots of lateral work to try to balance him out. Obviously, pulling hasn’t worked up until this point, so now we’re using the “give” and “push” approach: “Give” with the right rein and “push” him into the contact off of the inside leg. It takes two to pull, after all.

So now we’re back to Basics 101. I have my grab strap attached to my saddle and I’m riding with my left hand looped through the strap. The right hand is focused on taking a feel of Nautica’s mouth but also NOT pulling against any resistance. I’m now learning just how weak my legs have gotten at their job of establishing bend. Oops.

Obviously, most of our rides are starting out pretty sucky, but I’m finding he’s connecting easier and easier each ride and really starting to “fill” that right rein with his neck without getting grabby or rushing. He can’t hold it long, and we lose it entirely with any distraction, but the good moments are getting closer and closer together. I guess that’s dressage.

You can’t keep a good rider down. I’m hoping that the barns here are able to remain open to boarders so that I can continue to ride and work on these basics with Nautica. Hopefully by the time the world reopens and I’m able to have my arm fixed, Nautica will be a softer and more balanced horse for me post-rehab!

Happy Birthday Nautica!

Nautica had a birthday last Wednesday, April 1st. He turned 14 and we celebrated with a photoshoot and lots of treats!

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