Lessons From Lesson Horses- Chapter 2
How Molly Became A Part Of My Program
Molly was boarded at our barn for many years before we owned her. Her owner had been injured on another horse and had a lot of physical pain due to the injury.
She had bought Molly in hopes that she would be able to ride again sometime. She chose her because she was a full sibling to her last horse who had died in the riding accident that she was injured in.
She paid her board bill every month and did come and visit Molly. It was obvious that she loved her. After a while, she came to the realization that she wasn't going to be able to ride again, and decided she wanted to sell Molly.
Since she was already in our barn, and we were in need of another lesson horse I decided I'd try her out. After a few months of riding her and using her for lessons, we decided to buy her. She has taught me and my student's many lessons and continues to. Here are lessons Molly has to share.
Lesson # 1
Molly is a quarter horse mare. She is built like that of a typical quarter horse 15 something hands and nice and round ( or fat. depending on how nice you want to sound describing her).
She is built with her hind end an inch or so higher than her withers, also common in quarter horses. She has small feet for the size of her body. Molly's main issue though isn't her feet it's her legs. Her front legs are super crooked. It doesn't affect the way she moves, she can be a pretty cute mover. It does affect her soundness though.
We had considered having a pre-purchase done on her, to check for certain things like navicular that is common in quarter horses. Our vet did look at her. He saw her confirmation and watched her lunge. She was sound that day.
The vet said that he would do the full exam if we wanted, but since she was sound at the time, he said he didn't think it was necessary.
Not that she is unsound all the time, but due to her front leg conformation she requires a little maintenance to stay sound. Front shoes which are no big deal. Mainly we have to be very aware of the schedule, and how much she works. She can't do more than a couple canter lessons a week, and we only jump her every so often and over tiny jumps, those crooked legs are not meant to withstand the impact of jumping.
Molly is what I call serviceably sound. She does her job well but requires some management to keep her that way. She is worth it though.
Molly taught me that I should have trusted my gut that she might not stay sound when working harder. Not that it would have changed my decision about buying her since she is perfectly useable. She taught me though that I need to take into consideration a little more seriously the difference in what the horse has been doing and what it will be doing when I get it and use it in my program. Not that I didn't know this, in theory, it makes sense.
If she was a strange horse I had gone to see and not known at all, my 6th sense would have known better than to think she would stay sound with those legs. My view was a bit skewed since I already knew her and she was in my barn.
Molly taught me that to consider confirmation more seriously when looking for a lesson horse. She taught me to get the pre-purchase done if my gut says so even if the vet doesn't think it necessary. More importantly, though I have learned from Molly how to manage a horses schedule to make sure they stay fit enough to do their job well, without making her lame. It has been a real learning curve and one that I'm grateful for!
Lesson # 2
Molly teaches the kids that they need to use their legs to steer. She does the best rubber neck of any lesson horse I have ever seen. If you don't use your legs she will turn her head all the way to your foot and just keep on going the other way with her shoulder.
I have seen some pull so hard because she gets so crooked that the bit almost pulls all the way through to one side of her mouth.
She teaches the kids to ride straight with their legs guiding her body and their hands directing her shoulders and front end. She listens when they do it right. So a student can go from super frustrated to a lightbulb moment on her easily when they sit straight and ride her whole body assertively. They go from really not liking Molly to being really proud of themselves and really liking her all in one lesson!
Lesson # 3
Molly's build with her front end being so much lower than her back end makes her tend to feel heavy in your hands. Also, not a great feeling. She teaches her rider that if they keep their weight in their stirrups and sit up nice and tall that their position will be stronger. Then Molly won't be able to lean so much on the reins.
They also learn to squeeze their legs and lift their whole upper body up, including lifting their hands ever so slightly, and they can help her get the weight off the front end and to the back end where it belongs. She teaches them that the motor of the horse is in the hind end. That they need to push her forward from behind and lift with the front end as they do. It is easier said than done but is a valuable lesson that translates to any other horse they might ride.
Lesson # 4
Molly teaches her riders to keep their fingers closed around their reins with a soft but solid grip. Why is that such a big issue with her? It goes back to her build and being lower in the front than in the back. Since she tends to be lazy and to not use her back end, as she pulls herself with her shoulders the front end gets super heavy. Without your fingers firmly around the reins, Molly goes the way her body is built for her to go. Which is heavy on the front end. As she leans heavily on the front end if the rider doesn't have a firm grip on the reins before they know it she will have pulled the reins through their fingers and be going around with her nose almost in the dirt.
Which reminds them of the other ever so important lesson. Sit up with a straight line, shoulder, hip, heel. It puts you in the best position to have leverage, balance, and control while riding. Molly is a great reminder of this!
Lesson # 5
Check the girth!!! Molly is the master at puffing up her stomach, making it practically impossible to get the girth on her, even to the loosest hole. Once she walks out to the arena though she will have let out all that air, and the saddle will be super loose! She does it every single time she goes out with a saddle on. If you don't check your girth with Molly, you put one foot in the stirrup and you will be upside down underneath her. Her broad (fat), practically flat backed shape makes the saddle roll right over if you forget to check the girth. Luckily, most if they have to learn this lesson the hard way, only make that mistake once.
Lesson # 6
Molly teaches her riders the importance of keeping their distance from other horses in the arena. Especially her field mates. Why is this? It is because Molly loves to play follow the leader with the other horses she turns out with, her field buddies. When in group lessons if the kids ride her too close to the other horses, she goes into cruise control, just following the other horses. Playing copycat doing whatever they do, whether it be good or bad. Speed up, slow down, eat grass, try to leave the arena. Molly is a follower, so she needs her rider to be a good leader and keep her in their own space so that she listens to them instead of sticking with her friends and taking her rider along for an uncomfortable ride.
Lesson # 7
Carry a crop! You need one on her. She is really good at ignoring her rider when it comes time to go faster. You can kick and kick and she will barely listen. Luckily, it turns out that she is a wimp and all it takes is a light smack with the crop and she will get into work mode.
She also teaches her rider that sometimes you use the whip differently on different horses. For example, typically we are trained to carry our whips on the inside rein to keep the horse out on the rail. Molly always drifts to the outside and pops her shoulder out, carrying the whip on the outside is much more effective with her.
Learning that every horse is an individual and should be treated as such is an important horsemanship lesson. Carrying the crop on the outside and understanding why it works the way it does is also a valuable horsemanship lesson.
Lesson # 8
Don't let your guard down when you are outside of the ring. Not that she is going to do anything dangerous or mean. She is just going to try and snatch grass. Molly is one of, if not, the worst grass grabber I have ever had. She cannot be trusted as far as that goes. Even if you correct her firmly with the whip and making sure she can't slide the reins in your hands, it doesn't matter, she will still try it again. Then even maybe, again and again. You would think she never eats, that's how obsessive she is outside the ring about grass grabbing. This leads me to lesson # 9
Lesson # 9
Molly teaches her riders not to pay attention to her, whether they are in the ring or on the trail. Why is this? It is because Molly is the type that any little thing she gets away with once she will do again and again until corrected. Which teaches the rider it is better to be assertive and not give her an inch, if you do she will take a mile, and then keep taking more and more until the rider gets tough and corrects her. Luckily, as I mentioned before, she is super wimpy about being hit with the crop. So, if her rider accidentally lets her slide, getting her back in line again is pretty easy if you have a crop and use it like you mean it!
The Moral Of Molly's Story
The way a horse is built has a great effect on its soundness and how it rides under saddle. A confirmation flaw in a lesson horse isn't all bad since it helps the rider learn how the horse's body can be influenced by how we ride. Molly can teach riders this very early on and in a very basic way that will be beneficial for throughout their riding career. I have learned how to manage a lesson horse with a soundness issue. How to keep her feeling good, and still pulling her weight in our lesson program. Molly is case in point number two that every horse has something to teach. Even the lesson horses can teach the teachers if they pay attention. Our success on our horsemanship journey depends on our ability to pay attention and listen to these lessons the horses are trying to teach us.