Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thoughts on Dixie

Had another nice ride on Dixie today.

I've spent the last couple days thinking about a couple recent posts by Dressage in Jeans. She wrote this right before New Years, and I spent a couple days being all boggled that she has my horse. Or perhaps, more precisely, my horse acts like a TB. Almost all young show-bred TWH's act like TBs, actually. They're kinda pyscho, no manners, no brakes, very little steering, start racking off at top speed as soon as you get one foot in a stirrup, etc. Anyway, yesterday she wrote about her work with him and I've been mulling that post over.

I know it sounds weird that I don't know what a TB really acts like, but I don't! They're not remotely common around here. Promise the ancient polo pony is the first and only TB I've seen in the flesh, much less ridden. Anyway, perhaps yall will have a better idea of what a young show ring TWH acts like now!

What she did with Clyde only partially applies to me and Dixie. Neither of us have a fluffy flat arena, so I can really relate to riding in circles in a field. But I don't want to school the canter (not for two or three more years). I can't make Dixie relax; I have to just ride her calmly til she chooses to. And in fact, I don't mind when she flatwalks; the flatwalk is the best way to build up the muscles and cadence for a good running walk.

I'll digress again and talk about gaits for a minute. Dixie has four (or five) gaits under saddle. She'll do a slow walk (also called a dog walk), which is just a bit faster than a "normal horse" walk. Maybe equivalent to a nice extended walk? Her next speed under saddle is a flatwalk, which is still a walk just way faster. A non gaited horse needs to trot slowly to keep up with the flatwalk. The flatwalk is the one where her head is flopping up and down like a bobble head Chihuahua. If she gets panicky, or if I squeeze and kiss, she'll zoom off at a rack or a runningwalk. Both gaits are very fast; a non gaited horse has to canter to keep up. They feel different, they use different body configurations and muscles, and they're both "good." Dixie will fall into and out of a RW while she's racking. The RW is a lot harder for her to do, and it's the gait I am hoping to encourage. Lastly, if she keeps trying to pick up speed while she's racking, the timing gets off and it turns into a canter, which I am discouraging at this time.

So if it's harder for her to RW than to rack, why am I trying to make her do the hard thing? There's three reasons. First, the rack is a ventroflexed (hollow-backed) gait, which isn't great for the horse's health over the long term. Next, I am encouraging the RW because it uses different muscles and I'd like for her to build strength in all her gaits. And finally, the rack isn't as safe, imo, as the walking gaits. A walk (any speed) always has two or three feet on the ground, but a rack (like a canter) has a moment where there's only one hoof on the ground. It just doesn't seem safe to go racking through the mud, or down a field that you're not sure of the ground.

Anyway, Dressage in Jeans spent a lot of time with Clyde working on gait changes, rating his speed, learning to balance at different speeds, etc. The gait changes don't really apply to me. I mean, if I were a great rider I could help Dixie RW instead of rack, but as it is I just try to stay out of her way and encourage her to walk instead of rack. What I really thought was useful was her reminder that hot horses are usually nervous, fearful horses. I need to keep Dixie's mind on me and keep reassuring her that I won't hurt her, and there are no monsters around the corner. At the same time, I have to remind her that I'm the one in charge - she's a fairly pushy mare.

Today we did a nice slow ride in the woods. Yesterday's beautiful tank-top weather has disappeared, and it was drizzly and progressively colder all day. The trails were kinda slippery, and I had T with me on Goblin, so we stayed quite slow. Well, slow for Dixie - her slowest walk is way faster than Goblin wants to mosey along, so T had to trot to catch up every couple of minutes. I kept Dixie at a slow walk or a flatwalk the whole way - I didn't want Goblin cantering or her racking in the mud.

I'm aiming to ride her again Tuesday. If the weather sucks, I guess we'll do another slow trail ride, but if it's through raining I might take her out for some road work / flexing. I decided four reins is just too many for trail riding, so I'm just riding her in a curb on the trails. When I want to concentrate on bending, I whip out the double bridle - and next time I'll get pics for you, DP!


  1. Wow, I'm dumb. Totally didn't even see you posted this! I swear my 'following' thing on bloggers page misses updates when it feels like it.

    Thanks for the mention! I always feel like a new-time horsey owner when you mention gaited horses, lol.

    And as always, good luck with Dixie--I think you'll 'get her number' down pat. :)

  2. Heh, mine does that too! That post about Clyde was such an "ahah!" moment for me that I had to talk about it. :)

    I am beginning to realize that gaited horses really are rare and wonderful in the rest of the world, and perhaps yall don't know much about them. I don't have much unique knowledge about horses to share, but I do know a lot about gaits. So I'm trying to share that!


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