Riding Cassie 2 – finding the active walk

Cassie and I had an interesting ride last night. We had to deal with a difficult situation and afterwards it really made me think on how I use my energy when I ride her. Cassie is not an easy ride. She is very sharp in her reactions and she can blow up quickly and without warning. When Cassie gets hot and flustered I try to balance and diffuse her by breathing slowly and deeply and by keeping my own energy low.

Last night we were coming up a narrow boreen when we met a jeep reversing towards us, so we had to turn around because there was no space for the jeep to get past us. The reason the jeep was reversing soon became clear;  there was a young boy on a tiny pony coming down the boreen. They were accompanied by a girl with a longe whip and what was obviously the father driving a van behind them. Next there was a car, followed by a tractor. A whole procession coming down what is normally a very quiet country lane, and it was all bearing down on Cassie, who was not impressed.

After the jeep passed us the father got out of the van and led the little boy on the pony to a spot a bit further up the road behind us, where he tied the pony to a tree. Then he got back into the van and proceeded to drive past us. The girl had gotten into the van and was now waving the longe whip out the window. I called for them to put the whip away, but they mustn’t have heard me, so as the van passed us Cassie had to cope with a pony behind her, a longe whip waving in her face and, with the car and tractor coming towards her, there was nowhere to go.  She was like a coiled spring ready to go off and it took all I had to keep her more or less together. I must have lost several pints of sweat while Cassie was practising her piaffe and other assorted movements. When the whole procession had gone and the way was finally clear it took me ages to bring Cassie back down and get her to relax. Then, interestingly, I couldn’t get her back into an active walk again, so I let her choose her own speed and we ambled our way home.

When I got off to walk beside Cassie for the last few hundred yards as I normally do, I realised how wrecked I was. I barely had the energy to walk and I wondered if the fact that I had no energy left was the reason I couldn’t get Cassie back into an active walk after she calmed down. That made me consider the possibility that I keep my energy too low for too long and so inadvertently block Cassie’s. Mark Rashid has a story in his book “Whole Heart, Whole Horse” about a woman and her horse who can’t go faster than a slow walk. He advises the woman to study how she moves and the energy it takes to speed up and slow down. So, this morning I went for a powerwalk, to try it out for myself.

I love walking, but I never pay attention to how I actually walk. To walk without either looking at the scenery or being wrapped up in introspection was a revelation. Here are the things I noticed:

  • Before I start to walk, there is a small, upward surge just below my stomach, just before I exhale.
  • As soon as I let my mind drift and start thinking about things, I slow down. I have to really focus on maintaining speed.
  • If I don’t tighten my stomach muscles, I end up falling forward. I wonder if this is how horses end up on their forehand? I also noticed that if I keep my stomach muscles tight and my shoulders back, I carry myself better and lighter.
  • I needed to breathe much higher than I usually do when I ride. I tend to breathe deep into my belly because I find it helps to keep Cassie relaxed, but to bring up the energy to powerwalk I need to breathe higher in my ribcage

I can see how it will help my riding if I can incorporate these things. It might even help Cassie to find and maintain an active walk.

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13 thoughts on “Riding Cassie 2 – finding the active walk

  1. Another possibility might have been that Cassie knew you were tired and was trying to “protect” you by not walking too quickly. Sounds like she did a really good job of staying with you during an intense situation!

    I’m always amazed how many people don’t have a clue that a horse can be frightened by certain things. Once when my horses got out, a neighbor of ours insisted on helping me lead them back to the barn (even though I had already caught one of them and I knew the rest would follow us back). The whole half-mile back to the barn we were followed closely by his brother on a revving four-wheeler, as well as their cattle dog, who couldn’t resist trying to nip at the horses’ heels every minute or so. That brought on rounds of hollering from the brothers to get the dog to back off. My paint filly–a year old at the time–tried once to spin to face the dog, nearly knocking my neighbor over (he was leading her). He said, “Is she always this flighty, or what?” By the time we got back I was a nervous wreck myself!

  2. Wow. First, congrats on managing the Cassie and the procession. What a test for both of you! Secondly, thank you for sharing your observations when power walking. I am going to use them as a guideline when I try to get Gem up to an active walk.

  3. So much for me to think about after reading this post. I’ve been thinking about getting some Rescue Remedy for myself before I get on my mare (who is similar to Cassie) again so I can keep myself calm. Interesting how keeping yourself too calm or losing focus has so much affect on our horses. Thanks.

  4. Rescue Remedy is good for staying calm?

    Can you only get the Enduro in the UK and Australia? For some reason, I’m just lusting after that thing.

    • June, Rescue Remedy helps to stay calm when faced with anxiety or a stressful situation, I always think it’s a good idea for rider and horse to use the same same remedy, because horses tend to mirror us.

      I bought my Enduro at http://www.bitlesshorse.co.uk. They ship internationally, and they reply within a day when you email them. I love it, but it is a very light and subtle bridle, so it might be less suitable for horses that prefer a bit more support.

  5. Hello, found you through Fetlock.
    Enjoyed rreading of your methods and mare!
    Excellent work, She already listens to you and responds so well, your calm trust ways are, paying off. Just need 20or so more instances..or less, she is smart!
    Your Cassie, She is beautiful and having a TB mare, know about “certain things” sending her over the edge.

    Sometimes, like day before yesterday, while riding the road for a short stint past two Feverishly angry and rushy, German Shapherd dogs..she got nervous and wanted to bolt. They run hard at us and even though there is a fence between us..the intent harsh growling barks with the hitting the boundary as hard as they can… freaks her! I have taken to actually looking the other direction- focusing on something else, now that it is proven, they can’t reach us. We’ll see what happens tomorrow…

    • Hi KK, thank you for visiting. I know all about those German Shepherds, we have to go past one every day too. I always roar at the dog to go home and I mean ROAR! Cassie knows that I’m not roaring at her and it has helped her to feel braver. She still anticipates the dog shooting out at us, but she handles it pretty well now.

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