July 17, 2015

Walking Downhill is the Hardest Thing Connor Has Ever Done, Ever.

I feel like my life is just about under control enough that I can start blogging again...aaaaand I leave for the CrossFit Games in Los Angeles for 10 days tomorrow.  I'll have a mix of horse posts, CrossFit posts (for the CrossFitting ladies I know are in the audience), and no posts over the next ten days.  Cheer on Nicole Holcomb if you happen to catch any of the Games footage next week!

Nicole today, already in California, fourth from the right.

I saw my trainer teaching lessons in the open jump field, so I put on jump tack, which of course meant we ended up not jumping, but it was productive and fun, so no complaints.

He tried on his insanely amazing halter Hillary sold to us, thank you, Hillary!  It fits beautifully!

We had a biomechanics lesson entirely on a 20m circle on a slight incline.  She has been working the horses on a slight incline to magnify any imbalances they have so she can fix them - and Connor's were immediately obvious.  We focused on aligning his head with his center of gravity, and not letting it go in or out of the circle.

Connor's preferred method to go downhill was throwing his forelegs out in front of him to stop himself, but not slowing his hind legs down at all.  We've noticed this on the flat too, and for a pulling breed, it makes sense.  He has no concept of where his hind legs are or how to slow them down.  Going downhill, it meant he swung his hindquarters out to either side to avoid running into his forelegs.
Does this look like a pony who doesn't know where his own hind end is?  Well...yes, yes it does.

This was one of the more fascinating lessons I've had, because I felt the whole 'teaching a new concept to a horse' process from start to finish.  The goal was to walk downhill with his hind feet behind his forefeet.  I needed him to learn to slow his hind legs down and shift some weight back onto them.

At first, he didn't know what I wanted and just barreled down the hill.  As I gained more control of his body, he started listening to me, and got confused - he'd stop and think for a second before continuing on, asking me what I wanted.

When he aaaaaalmost had it, he suddenly realized how much work it was, and we had a really funny Welsh Cob moment: he stopped on the decline, and shook his head up and down for probably 10 or 15 seconds - long enough for me to laugh and then exclaim to my trainer "Oh my gosh, he is literally telling us 'no, this is too much work!''


From there he got better and better each time, and by the end, after several free walks in between good declines and lots of 'Good boys!' he was keeping it together on a fairly loose rein and I could tell he understood what I was asking and wasn't just complying with my aids physically.

My trainer said, "I know what your homework is!" and I grinned and said, "Uh, I know what YOUR homework is, he's all yours for the next 10 days," (She's putting three rides on him while I'm gone in exchange for the lessons I will miss/have missed.)   Looking forward to seeing what he feels like when I get back, I'm going to miss the little guy!

Just realized how long that mane is...oops.


  1. so that actually sounds really challenging!! i'm tempted to try it... except i suspect my mare will be equally miffed lol. hope you have a great trip in Cali!

  2. So funny- Rory and I have been trail riding a lot lately and he has had to learn the same thing! As a matter of fact, our outdoor arena is up a small hill which means he has to walk and down that hill a lot:)
    He was stumbled a lot at first and now he is much better! He used to grind his teeth out of frustration, but now that his balance is better he stopped that!]

  3. I am so glad the halter worked out

  4. Going downhill requires the horse to be in true collection! It's one of my favorite things to do.

  5. Your description made me laugh - both Ginger and Bridget tried the same sideways maneuvering and "OMG my hind end is overtaking my front" the first few hills we did. B still thinks it's appropriate to grunt and groan her way down the bigger hills - just to let me know how unfair I'm being making her walk straight down

  6. Love the description of this lesson! I know I really need to do this with my new lease mare but am kind of dreading the major argument I know I will get. Being an event horse its obviously important to be able to go down hills though!

  7. Oh god, the biggest fights I have with Mo these days are about walking down hills. It's insane. I'm glad Connor is more polite about it than Mo is!

  8. I've been saying I need to do downhill work, I wish I could have been at your lesson! Holly gets so discombobulated going downhill at times.