Today I’m going to update you on Hot Rod’s ongoing quest to attain the right lead. We’ve had ups and downs and I have never felt more frustrated with another horse in my life. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point. It hasn’t been easy. This fall my trainer and I worked tirelessly at convincing him to pick up the correct lead, but it only got worse. My husband gave me the “okay” and I trailered him to Oakridge Equine Hospital to have him injected. I’m finally to the realization that he will need consistent coffin joint injections twice a year.
If you’re unfamiliar with HR’s story, I’ll briefly fill you in. I bought him in May 2011 and fell in love with his fat self. Over the summer he was awesome. He knows a lot more than me and yet is still teachable, an excellent confidence-building quality. Over the course of about a month he began to refuse picking up his right lead. After a couple trips to the vet and chiropractor, we figured out through radio-graphs that he has moderate ringbone in his front right coffin joint. I was so bummed! He was only five years old, and I felt like he had just been given a death sentence. He recovered quickly from his injection and seemed much more comfortable. However, after his long hiatus from the right lead, he “lost” it. Since he can’t verbalize his pain, we assume that he lost a lot of strength on his right side as well as developed a fear of potential pain while striking out into the right lead. I kept scanning the internet for small shows with “walk, trot, left lead” pleasure classes. No one has those! Go figure!
I have really learned a lot about myself as a rider throughout this journey, including the fact that I over-think every little move to the point I confuse the heck out of my horse. So many things to work on, so little time. My trainer came up with several ways to help HR. We have used poles, asked him to move haunches-in, and the list goes on. He’s growing much stronger all the time on his right side. He seemed very weak when he would pick it up at first after the most recent injection. He’d rush around the arena in an unbalanced lope and then huff and puff to a stop like he just ran a marathon.
We just finished using the haunches-in technique, where I’d ask him to move his haunches to the inside of the ring and then ask with both inside and outside leg, but with more outside pressure. Essentially, I was just setting him up well for a good departure in the right direction. At least, that was the idea. I had a tendency to “throw my hands away” when I felt him jumping into the lope, which in turn unbalanced him and we’d lose it. I also didn’t always use my legs effectively, allowing him to wriggle his way out of the right lead. I really had to concentrate on the “feel” not the technicalities of the maneuver. The latest technique that has seemed to be the most comfortable for us both is to ask with a loose rein, mainly cuing with the seat instead of leg. After picking up the correct lead, we go only a few strides, come back to a trot and then cue with my seat again. Quick repetitions to produce strength and clarity of the cue. After a while of the quick repetitions, I let him lope around the arena several times to strengthen his right side. He seems so much more comfortable picking up the right lead now, and it makes me stunningly happy to pick it up at all considering that a few months ago I was just sure I’d never lope to the right again.