Part of making your horse look their best is having them in shape. When your horse is in condition and working, they will look a whole lot better than they do when they come in out of the pasture after having several months or longer off. They will have muscle where they previously had little to none and their body shape will change as their muscle tone is re-established.
When your horse is working either on the lunge line, in long lines, in harness or under saddle, how do you tell when the horse is moving properly, besides being able to see it or feel it? Simple really- the muscles that are working will be the ones that sweat. If your horse is heavy on the forehand, their neck and shoulders will be sweating while their flank areas, hip/butt and between the back legs- not so much. When the horse rocks back on their hind end, using it underneath them to push off with impulsion, the muscles will sweat. The sweat on your horse will be close to the amount of balance they use carrying themselves properly.
Sweat marks evenly on both front and back ends show she was working in a balanced frame.
What I have found while training my pony to drive is that once he learned to rock back on the rear end, which frees up his shoulders and creates incredibly forward and bold movement- he not only moves this way when working, but it carries over to when he is loose. He runs around with that same free flowing, beautiful movement in turnout.
Since my pony is getting the summer off for the most part, I have shifted my focus to a couple of the other horses in the barn. I have started riding my WB mare Aruba and between us, we are learning a lot. First off, I had to stop leaning forward into the movement when asking her to trot. A little is good, but what I was doing was pretty much forcing her to drop everything back down on the forehand and she stopped. I would ask her to go forward again, lean into the movement and she would stop as it all dumped onto the forehand again.
Last weekend I rode her last Saturday and the weekend before I rode both days. The main thing I focused on going in- Sit up straight and look where you want her to go. The results? We did a lot of lovely trot work and she didn't so much 'quit' on me, stopping when she felt like it. Last Saturday when I rode her, I tacked up western because the weekend before while I was riding, my right boot suddenly had a cool breeze coming in under my foot. Where the sole and the boot meet- it split along the outside.
Aruba was funny starting out in the western tack. It is bulkier and a lot more constricting in her opinion. She didn't think she could bend her body around under it. Going through the gate into the arena, she rubbed the stirrup on the gate and scooted forward because of it. On the lunge line she finally figured out that she could still stretch out and move, it wasn't the same, but she could do it. She even moved out in a bit of an extended trot for me. Riding was a little different too I have to say.
My stirrups were all the way up, but still a tad too long for me. My hole punch set will fix that, but I figured we would do a lot more walking work. Aruba got bored with that pretty quick though and we moved into trotting anyways. I could keep my stirrups, but couldn't put a whole lot of weight into them or keep my heels down. I used my legs a lot more, that was for sure and on Sunday I was feeling the effects of that. But it was all good because I need to use those muscles and get in shape myself.
This weekend, I punched the holes and raised my stirrups. Sad to say- They need to still go up a little more, but they are better. They are still a tad long, but with the length, it encourages me to relax into my leg, reach down and let the lower leg hang loosely unless I am cueing for something. For anyone who has seen me ride from long ago- western? My legs stuck waaaaay out to the sides as I braced against the stirrups.
Did I mention this mare is 16.2? With the stirrups up where they belong and where I need them to be- It is a stretch to get on her without the help of my handy mounting block. After tearing the pirifomis in my left hip back in January, it ain't happening for me yet.
After our ride... She's really getting into the whole thing about being a western horse. She is liking just jogging along instead of having to trot with energy and enthusiasm. LOL! Now I just need to find her another French link snaffle so I am not switching it back and forth between bridles.