We aren’t going

Late in 2016, I took on a couple ex-racehorses in my program for Janlois Racing.  Full brothers Olympic Blue and Olympic Maize are eligible for the Thoroughbred  Makeover competition to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in October of 2017.  I signed up for the competition and we began to prepare the horses.  Their owner, Ann Janlois, was particularly excited for the makeover and said the makeover would be her Kentucky Derby.

Upon entering my program both horses were quite stiff and body sore.  After some of their basic training, I began to work on loosening them up and teaching them to relax in their work.  We made good progress for quite some time.  

Olympic Blue
Then Corny had his struggle with thrush, and keeping shoes on.  He also had a hard time going forward when he was going to the right.  At his next appointment with our wonderful chiropractor, Wally Palmer, he thought some of his thrush issues and way of going could be indicative of a bigger problem.

Olympic Llama (Corny) would sometimes do this when asked to go forward to the right.
Blue hadn’t been doing that well either.  He had been on an up swing for quite some time, but then began to struggle, losing his hind end, and stumbling.  After a couple weeks of that, Blue saw the Chiropracter, who advised that it was time to work up his lameness.

I’m blessed to have a good team to keep my horses going and happy.  Dr Palmer, the chiropractor, and Dr Kielty, the vet, work very well together.  Over the next several weeks we did countless blocks, and examinations. 

Blue proved to be a very complicated case, never blocking all the way to any specific location, but several blocks changed his way of going.  Our interpretation is that Blue has multiple areas of discomfort and he wasn’t telling what hurt him most!  We decided to inject his hocks and stifles, thinking that might help calm some of his issues down.  Unfortunately he showed negligible improvement and we decided to give him another year off to recuperate from the stresses of his glorious racing career.  

Blue enjoys his turnout time and exfoliating mud baths
Corny blocked to his knee, which we injected yesterday.  We can also make some improvements to his shoeing after his radiographs which should hopefully make him more comfortable.  Fingers crossed and we will see how he is in a couple weeks.

Mark Janlois has become a very hands on owner, here he holds Corny for his radiographs
In all honesty, Blue was our prime hope for being competitive at the Thoroughbred Makeover.  Now that he is sidelined, it’s unlikely that Corny will develop a strong aptitude and sufficient training for any of the 10 makeover disciplines in time for the competition.

So we aren’t going.  The universe seems to be driving this fact home.  I obsessively watch one sporting event every year.  The Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event!  I get a lot out of watching the high quality of riding at Rolex, you should watch too.  It’s this weekend!  And it’s also held at the same venue as the Thoroughbred Makeover, the Kentucky Horse Park.  I spent the first part of this year dreaming of riding in the same hallowed ground as the riders I am wistfully watching in the competition. 

That’s not me, that’s my friend Elaine at the Kentucky Horse Park
The universe is also telling me it’s not meant to be by removing traces of the makeover from my life.  I had Retired Racehorse Project stickers on my car and truck.  Well, I traded in my truck last weekend, and my car is for sale, so soon I won’t have any stickers. (Anyone want to buy a 2008 Nissan Rogue?)

I’m sad to be missing out on the thoroughbred makeover competition. It was a fun journey, and I was looking forward to a heck of an adventure!  I’m very happy that Blue and Corny are staying in my program. They are so lucky to have owners that put their well being first.  And as for their trainer? I’m on the lookout for a new adventure!

The grave of legendary thoroughbred Man o War, located at the Kentucky Horse Park.  PC Elaine Hanscom
About the author: Ali Kermeen loves all kinds of horses and doing all sorts of things with them.  She’s currently looking for a new adventure, will it be working equitation?  Driving?  Cow work? Keep reading the Happy Canterer blog to find out what’s next for Ali.

Conformation and Posture

Corny above, Blue below

Kathy Colman Photography came to take some pictures of us for the Thoroughbred Makeover’s website.  (You can check out Blue’s profile and Corny’s profile at these links.)

To me, the brothers look very different.  But reviewing the photos, and really looking hard at them, their conformation is extremely similar.  The slight differences I see are:

  • The underside of Blue’s  neck is a bit shorter than Corny’s
  • Blue’s neck ties in a bit higher than Corny’s
  • Blue’s shoulder is more sloping than Corny’s and his front legs are set a bit more forward
  • Blue’s teeny muzzle is slightly larger than Corny’s weeny muzzle

I really had to look hard to come up with these differences, so why do these horses move very differently from one another?  The answer lies in their posture.  When we were setting Corny up for his photo, we had to work hard to get him to obtain the same stance as Blue.

Corny’s usual stance above, and his contrived stance below
I think these pictures of Corny look more dissimilar than the pictures of Corny and Blue at the beginning of the article (aside from their markings).  Posture makes a big difference!  You can see in the above picture that Corny has a slight ewe neck, you can see the bottom of his neck bulges slightly forward.  This causes his back to drop a little.  When a horse raises their neck and drops their back, that is called hollowing.  It is not the best way for a horse to bare weight, or the most efficient way for the horse to travel.

Ultimately, we don’t want our horses to travel with a hollow outline.  Proper training will teach a horse to bring his back up and stretch his neck longer.  This helps the horse rely more on his large muscles and less on his joints when traveling.  This change can help the horse stay sounder, move better, and be a more comfortable ride.  

Above Corny shows neck constriction, Below he stretches like brother Blue.  My favorite image of neck constriction is E.T.

E.T. and his neck

In the four months that Corny has been with us, we’ve been working in showing him that he doesn’t need to thrust the bottom of his neck forward and constrict it in order to move faster.  He’s starting to get it, and I am excited to see the changes he makes in his posture over the next several months.

About the Author: Ali Kermeen runs her training business in the hills above Silicon Valley.  She loves horses, movies, and raptors. Oh and her family too.  Ali is aiming to take full brothers Olympic Blue and Olympic Maize to the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover held in October in Kentucky.

Corny and Blue get editorial work

The thoroughbreds are now officially models!  The brothers got some work modeling new products for Kathie’s Cinches and More.  Corny worked his angles and nailed his smize.  Blue didn’t care for the immobility part of modeling. Here are photos of the boys modeling beautiful hand woven mohair cinches and girths.

Corny showing off a two layer roping cinch

Corny models a mohair cinch with turquoise accents

Blue makes a statement with this blue mohair dressage girth

Kathie’s Cinches and More doesn’t have a website just yet, but if you are interested in a cinch, let me know and I will hook you up.

The haunch turn to improve lateral balance

When thinking about improving balance, riders typically imagine their horses traveling with an”uphill”balance.  The outline of the horse will appear as if he is traveling uphill when he lowers his haunches and allows his withers to raise higher than his croup.  The result is a horse who bears more weight on his hind legs than his front legs. This desired longitudinal balance is a great thing to strive for, but it is not the only dimension of balance necessary for prime performance.  

A horse must also be balanced laterally.  A horse who is balanced laterally will bear equal weight between his left and right feet.  Many horses are resistant because they lack the secure feeling of being laterally balanced.  Without lateral balance, the horse will feel vulnerable to falling.  As a result, he will try to preserve himself by:

  • going too slow… Imagine you are scared of falling on ice; you will walk slowly to maintain your balance.
  • rushing faster… Imagine you’ve tripped while walking down the sidewalk; you will run a few strides to catch yourself.
  • bracing against the rider’s aids… Imagine you’ve stepped in some mud, to avoid falling you brace yourself by grabbing the person next to you

To solve the most common lateral balance issues, you must first learn to abduct your horse’s inside front leg at will.  I teach this starting with a haunch turn.

A haunch turn is when the front legs revolve around a stationary hind end.  Begin by having your horse step back a step and then immediately cue for the forehand to move around.  To turn left, you would:

  • Weight your left stirrup 
  • Position your right leg slightly back to prevent the haunches from slipping right
  • Open your left rein and add a little pressure to your left rein to get your horse to abduct his left front leg.
  • Remember to sit deeply throughout

Initiating the haunch turn with left flexion, an opening left rein, and weight in the left stirrup.

Showing good abduction of the left front leg, this is the motion I care most about right now.

I was happy with the previous step, so I released the pressure and pasted Blue.  He hasn’t stopped the maneuver yet and is showing good adduction of the right front.

You don’t need to do a 360 degree turn right off the bat.  90 degrees is sufficient for your first attempts, then you can add 90 more degrees at a time.  Don’t do too many of these turns in a row, especially if this is the first time your horse has done these turns.  He may get sore or frustrated.  

Now that we’ve taught the horse the cue to abduct his inside front leg at the halt, we can take this cue into motion to help the horse achieve straightness and better balance in motion.

Blue’s left front leg is striking the ground under the center of his chest.  This is a common effect of being crooked/having too much bend.  The horse is not laterally balanced if he is doing this.  He’s carrying the majority of his weight on the left front leg.   I’m beginning to use an opening inside rein to encourage him to land with his left front leg more to his left.

Blue has responded well to the opening rein.  In this next step placed his left front leg more to the left.  This has both straightened him, and given him better lateral balance, his weight is much more equal over his front legs.

As horses gain lateral balance, they become more confident and less resistant.  The result is a horse who is happier, more fun to ride, and in a better position to advance in his training.
Ali Kermeen loves horses.  She loves all kinds of horses, and doing all sorts of different stuff with them.  Dressage, eventing, gymkhana, hunters, trail, cowboy dressage, jumpers, reining, and working equitation are all really fun!  Ali is currently training two retired race horses to compete in the Thoroughbred  Makeover  in Kentucky.

Joystick Control

Hopefully you know what a joystick is.  But sometimes I have to explain it to the younger crowd, so behold a joystick!

A joystick is a way to control your video game character or maybe your drone

Just like a video game character, or my drone, I want to be able to move my horse in any direction I want.  Once my horse understands the concepts of leg yield and rein yield, it’s time to get joystick control on him.

At the halt, imagine that you and your horse are standing in the center of a compass diagram.  Your  horse’s head will always point north, no matter what direction his feet are going.

Can you move your horse straight forward towards north?  Dear lord, I hope so.  Can you move your horse straight back towards south?  Can you move your horse sideways towards west and east?  

Once you can move in these directions smoothly, try going forward and sideways towards northeast and northwest.  Then try backwards and sideways towards southeast and southwest.

Chances are you’ve found a direction that it is difficult.  As part of your horse’s basic training, you need to work on it and improve his response.  If you are getting stuck, get off and work the response on the ground.  Once the response has improved, get back on and try again.  Your horse might benefit from someone cueing  him like you did on the ground while you are cueing him from the saddle to bridge the gap between rider cues and groundwork cues.

Above all, listen to your horse.  Since he doesn’t know the objective of this exercise, he might get frustrated quickly. To avoid this frustration:

  1. Release the pressure after a weight shift in the right direction.  Then release the pressure after a single step.
  2. Once your horse has done the right thing, praise him and take a few moments break before asking him to move again.
  3. If your horse was accepting the directional cues, but then started to brace, fuss with his mouth, swish his tail, or show stress in some other way, it’s time to take a break from the exercise.  That break might be moving around the arena, or it might be time to call it quits for the day.  
  4. Remember to take your time, you might be able to achieve all directions smoothly in one day, or it might take you a month.  
  5. Quality over quantity.  Remember that you want to train your horse to be a calm and willing partner. You aren’t done with this exercise until your horse moves quietly in the direction of your choosing without any head or tail theatrics.

Why is all of this important?  You want your horse to be as connected to you  as your own legs are.  He should be able to easily move in all the directions that your legs can.  This will help you with trail obstacles, like opening gates.  It will also help you with your dressage.  Your horse will be better equipped to understand bend.  He will be better equipped to make an effective half halt.  He will generally have a better understanding about your rein and leg aids.  A horse who is willing is a horse who understands what is being asked of him.

While rain has prevented me from getting good photos of real horses performing joystick control, check out this video for inspiration.

Teaching a response – leg yield

Along with its cousin, the rein yield, the leg yield is an essential tool I teach my horses.  Before I go over how I teach it, let’s learn some vocabulary.  

When a leg is moved away from the body, that is abduction.  Just like child abduction, when a child is taken away from its parent.  

When a leg is moved inwards underneath the body, it is adduction.  Just like people add to a crowd by getting closer to it.

The horse should be able to adduct and abduct each leg.  You may find your horse has a leg, or legs, that are difficult to adduct or abduct.  Your horse may never have been taught to do that motion and he might lack the strength and flexibility to do it.  Teaching him to abduct and adduct each leg will help him balance his body better.  It’s also a great way to build strength.

I begin by standing at the horse’s side and putting my palm on his barrel at roughly the height my calf would be while I’m mounted.  I’m the beginning, I’d place my other hand on the horse’s  shoulder to help him understand that I don’t want him to only move his haunches.  I apply pressure until I see the horse move away from me.  The horse may step forward or back before he goes sideways, and your job is to move with him.  Watch his feet and as soon as the horse takes a step away from you, release your pressure by ceasing to touch your horse.  Praise, wait a few moments, then repeat.

After the horse understands the two handed cue for leg yield, leave out the shoulder cue and only use pressure on his barrel. After that, you can start to keep the pressure on until you see abduction and adduction from each pair of legs.

Blue respond to the pressure on his barrel and abducts his outside (left) front leg
The release of pressure becomes more clear in the next moment as Blue adducts his inside (right) hind.  You will notice that I did not move at all from one picture to the next, Blue simply steps away from my hand, and my hand does not follow him.
Keep in mind the amount of pressure you apply to the horse, and quantify it in your mind.  We want to build a response to a light cue.  One way to quantify the pressure is if you are touching the air near the horse, the horse’s hair only, the skin, then even harder is pushing against the muscle, and then pushing on the bone.  You want your horse to respond to hair/skin level pressure, but you may have to get tougher at times and use muscle/bone pressure.  Tougher horses sometimes begin with harder pressure, but with correct application of release, praise, and repetition they usually learn to respond to a lighter touch happily.  This is good news for me, since I don’t want to have to expand unnecessary energy when I ride.

You want to be sure to work both sides of the horse, but don’t expect the horse to connect what you did on one side of his body to the other side.  You will essentially have to train each side of the horse separately using the same techniques of gradual progression, release, and patience.
Once the horse has an understanding of how to move sideways from the halt, you can try the cue while he is walking.  Be sure to keep a hold on your line so that you can pull your horse’s head toward you if he tries to kick you.  He may never have had constant  pressure applied to his side while in motion and take offense.

Blue respond to pressure on his barrel to yield while walking.  
Next, try longing your horse and asking for him to step sideways from a distance. While he is moving I direct my energy toward the part of his barrel I apply the yield cue on.  I lean in to the area, and follow up by pointing, then shaking the flag at his barrel.  As soon as I see the abduction or adduction, I stand up straight and lower my flag.  As he gets more sensative to the cue, I ask for more sideways steps.  Once it’s going well in the walk, you can try the trot, and even the canter.

Blue yields from a distance.  I’ve directed my energy toward the place on his barrel that I was applying pressure.  In this instance I am walking towards the area to amplify my intent.  As with all the yields in this series, I keep his nose pointed towards me.

Each horse is an individual.  Some horses may get through all these steps in one session, some may need a dozen sessions to get through this.  Have reasonable expectations and listen to your horse if he says he’s had enough. 

Once you get on your horse, you can begin the leg yield while mounted.  Your horse now knows the cue to move sideways from pressure on his barrel, the difference being that your leg is now applying the pressure, instead of your hand.  You may use your reins to keep the horse from solely moving forward, but be sure the horse has an “open door” to go through.  

Blue easily moves away from my left leg despite having his focus on something happening to his right.  My inside (left) rein helps him to look to the inside, my outside (right) rein helps to prevent him from moving solely forward and opens the door for him to go through.  My right leg makes sure not to block blue from traveling towards it.
Whether you have a green horse, or an established horse, it is good to check on these basics from time to time to see if your horse can easily adduct and abduct all four legs.  If there is a way in which your horse cannot move his legs, that is a hole in his training that ought to be filled in.

Lunch with Emily

I first heard about the Thoroughbred Makeover competition when it showed up on my Facebook news feed as something one of my friends was doing.  Emily Flaxman, now Emily Spicer, was a student of mine for awhile before striking out on her own as a professional.

Emily did very well in the first Thoroughbred Makeover.  She earned fourth place with Go Wheeler Go.

It had been awhile since I had seen Emily, so we scheduled a lunch to talk about her experience in the Makeover.  The thoroughbreds owners, Mark and Ann, came to lunch too.  Emily graciously answered our endless questions.  We talked about cross country hauling, what the Kentucky Horse Park was like, and the format of the competition.  Emily shared the things she noticed that the judges like, and what they penalized.  More than anything, Emily shared her experience of community and lasting friendships she gained through the experience.

Ann and Emily

From wombat to WIMBAT (How to cure a horse that roots)

So you know what they say about wombats, right?  

A wombat eats roots and leaves.  


A wombat eats, roots, and leaves.(For those of you unfamiliar with the slang, “roots” means has sex)

I’ve got two horses in my barn that are wombats.  Brio is fat (eats), tries to mount the other horses (roots), and breaks away when longing (leaves).Brio is making progress via a diet, and longing in the lass-rope halter.  

The other wombat is one of our makeover thoroughbreds, Blue.  He eats because he needs to gain weight.

To be fair, he quit leaving.  He used to casually wander off when I let go of his lead.  He turned a corner a couple weeks ago and now chooses to hang out with me when I let go of his lead. He has become my partner, instead of an insolent pupil.

The rooting in Blue’s case refers to pulling his head and neck straight down when being ridden.  Us horse people call this rooting.  I don’t know why.  

Blue rooting.

Perhaps a rooting horse is searching for his favorite root vegetables?

Or desperately checking to make sure there are no trip hazards in his path?

Or maybe suffering  some Kunta Kinte style angst?

The term rooting probably refers to rooting in the mud like a pig.  It looks about the same.

In my experience horses root in order to exert some sort of control over their riders.

Before you begin to address your horse’s rooting, be sure that you aren’t contributing to the issues. First, make sure that you aren’t balancing on your reins.  Check to see if you can ride with super loose reins. Then make sure you can maintain an even contact in all gaits. Ensure that your tack is comfortable for the horse, a horse might root to evade an ill-fitting saddle, or a bit that pinches. If you have any doubts or questions about these areas, consult your trainer.

My first approach to correct rooting is to treat it as an innocent game the horse is playing with his rider.  Horsey thinks it is fun that he can pull his head down and he has trained his rider to pull back on the reins in response.  It is something for him to do while making those monotonous laps around the sandbox.  

In this instance I find the best cure for rooting is to simply not participate in horsey’s game.  When I anticipate a root coming, I release my reins before the root begins so that the horse never gets to feel like he’s in charge of the amount of contact on the bit.  For green horses, I find this cures them of this habit within a couple weeks.  Starting here will also reinforce the independence of your seat and hand.

Blue tried to root, but found no contact to pull against.  He was rewarded with a “good boy” to encourage him to stretch down.

Then there are the not-green horses.  The horses who are well established in their pattern of rooting and pulling.  These are the ones that are trying to pull you out of the saddle and get you to do a front flip over their heads.  

These ones need to meet their own pressure and pull against themselves. 

When you anticipate a root, change your posture.  I call this “doing the ashamed puppy.”  Imagine that you have been a very bad boy and tuck your tail between your legs.  Now when the horse pulls on you, you will be pulled deeper into the saddle instead of forward.  Some horses give up rooting at this point.  Their game is no fun if they cant win by unseating you.  

 Marie in her ordinary seat on the left and in the ashamed puppy position on the right 

If precious horseykins is still pulling on you, ride with your reins in a bridge.  Make sure your reins are pushed down into the horses neck.  When he pulls, the pressure on his sensitive mouth will change by exactly the amount he pulls.  When he’s done pulling, the pressure is exactly the same as it was before the pulling began.  Your rein length did not change.  His rooting had very little effect on you, which is no fun for him.

You can either hold both reins in both hands (double bridge) or 

You can hold both reins in your planted hand and your other hand can hold the rein normally (single bridge).  If you do this style of bridge it is best to make your outside hand the one holding both reins.

If the rooting persists, it’s time to”pull the trigger.” When horseypooh is getting ready to root, grasp both reins in your left hand, and use that hand to push down on his neck.  With your right hand, pull up on the excess rein, effectively shortening the reins, then close your right hand firmly around the reins.  Hold this short rein until the horse gives by lightening the pressure on the bit.  Repeat as necessary.

Kristin pulls the trigger, she is planting her right hand, which is better for people with stronger left hands.

So back to the weird title of this post,”From wombat to WIMBAT.” A WIMBAT is a horse that is Welcome In My Barn Any Time.  I’m happy to say both of my wombats are well on their way to becoming WIMBATs.

Corny’s update, January

My last post updated Blue’s progress towards the Thoroughbred Makeover.  This post will update you on his brother Corny’s progress.

Corny has been steadily improving under saddle.  Occasionally he pushes back when he feels the rider’s leg.  Kate has been doing a great job with teaching him that the rider’s legs mean go forward.  He’s given us some sass along the way, but ultimately is heading on a steady trajectory of improvement.

That is, until last weekend.

I recently posted that it is very difficult to hurt a horse while cleaning his feet, stating that the only time I did so was when I accidentally discovered, and popped, an abscess in a horse’s sole.  Well now I’ve hurt a horse by picking his feet twice.

I took Corny to a clinic with Terry Church last weekend.  On the second day he jumped and pulled back when I was cleaning his hoof. When I picked up his hoof after this incident, this is what I saw.

Yup, Corny is bleeding from his foot.

I knew this was likely deep thrush, but I freaked out anyway.  Thrush is a fungal infection that is very common in its mild form.  This is a severe form.  I knew a farrier friend of mine was on his way to the clinic as well, so I frantically texted him and he talked me down a bit.  He thought I could probably still use Corny in the clinic, but unfortunately Corny was significantly favoring the foot.

I brought Corny home and tried treating him as my farrier friend suggested.  Cleaning up his hoof the best I could, and applying a Betadine mixture to it. The problem was that Corny is so tender on that foot that he wouldn’t let me touch his frog, even with my finger.  Normally good natured Corny was simultaneously yanking his front foot away from me and trying to kick me with a hind foot.  He was unsuccessful because he isn’t quite athletic enough to pull that off, but I wasn’t getting anywhere in treating  his thrush.

I had the vet take a look because she had drugs if Corny decided not to participate in his treatment.  Corny behaved nicely for the vet who was able to clean up his foot, pack with iodine, epsom salts and gauze, and wrap it.  Corny has to wear the wrap for a week, then he gets shoes with a hard pad.  Hopefully he won’t be painful by then and he can resume training.

Corny’s hoof wrap

Unfortunately this is not the same sunny update as we got with Blue.  Hopefully Corny will be back on track in a couple weeks.

Blue’s update, January

Olympic Blue is one of the thoroughbreds I intend to take to the Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky.  He’s now been in part training with me for two and a half months, this is an update on his progress.

The format of the Thoroughbred  Makeover  competition is to take a racehorse and transform it into another kind of horse (trail horse, polo pony, hunter, etc) in less than a year.  This strict timeline encourages training short cuts just like futurities tend to do.  However, I’m more concerned with Blue’s long term training than I am about going to Kentucky, so I’m going slow and trying not to leave any holes in his basics.

Blue’s groundwork has improved, he can now easily yield his hindquarters, shoulders, and barrel in the walk.  He can do most of these yields on the line in the trot too.  This work is lightening him in my hand, as he habitually keeps a strong and steady pressure on the line.  The canter is still more problematic, and while he can canter a circle on the line now, he can’t hold a lead yet.

Yielding his barrel while Terry Church looks on Nice abduction of the outside hind!  Blue is softly executing a walking rein yield/haunch yield.

We found a bit that Blue likes better than the simple dee ring snaffle I had on him .  He’s now going in a 3 piece loose ring snaffle (French link with bean).   I took the opportunity to switch bridles at this point so he could have a black one to match his saddle, instead of a brown one. I stole his bridle from my pony (My Poni) since he has a dainty head.  I’m leaving the noseband on, but keeping it super loose.

Under saddle Blue has found an even walk tempo with consistent stretch and energy.  We can do this walk in the arena and around the ranch.  He can execute a rein yield and a leg yield in the walk without resistance.

This is about as high as Blue’s neck gets in the walk right now.  He’s got a pure rhythm with good energy and reach.

Blue is working on these same elements in the trot.  He’s making good progress towards an even tempo, an even stretch over his top line, and yielding from the rein and the leg in the trot.  When he is more consistent in these departments, we will begin cantering under saddle.

 This is the worst we do in the trot right now.  Even so, it’s not horrible.  While his neck is up and his back is down, he is not bracing against my lateral aids.  This arena is on a bit of a slope and we had some trouble turning and balancing while going down hill.

 I’m certainly not winning any equitation contests here, but I am encouraging Blue to lower his neck via direct pressure.  Moving around in the tack is also useful to teach Blue  how to balance with a rider on top of him who is not going to hold him up.

Ah ha! This is what I’m going for!  Blue is stretching his neck down and lifting his back up.  He’s got an energetic trot that isn’t running.  He’s softly following my left rein’s request for turning and bending without leaning in.  If I’m being hyper critical I would like to see his mouth more relaxed.  

That last picture looks like an example of a good stretchy circle as is required in training and first level dressage tests.  In competitive dressage, my reins would have less slack in them, but Blue’s outline would be the same.  The stretchy trot is worth double points because it is demonstrative of having correct basics, just like the ones I’m trying to teach to Blue.

Picture credits to Elise Lalor, who took photos of my ground work lesson with Terry Church, and riding after the lesson at Zorado Fields.