By Alyssa Pilkington
The little guy Firehawk, my 16.2 hand Friesian cross gelding, is just so much fun to ride! He is only four years old, so he is still a novice to this whole riding thing. It takes time for a horse to carry himself with ease, let alone be a wheelbarrow to weight that likes to shift as much as a full load of turds on their way to the manure pile. When encompassed by a strong wind that you are moving your weighted wheels against, you generally shift your weight accordingly to stay balanced. Same with our horses, especially if they are not used to carrying an extra 150 pounds on their back (I’m working on that. I love pizza and Riesling, what can I say?)
With Friesian type horses, we must consider their tendency to hang their necks back as if they know they are going to get caught up in a trip wire. It is more of a conformation stumbling block if anything. They cannot help that their necks sit high on their shoulders, and their backs hollow accordingly. My guy definitely is not advanced. He is pre-Training Level and I have been taking my time with him for a myriad of reasons. The biggest one is because I have three kids who absorb a lot of my attention, rightfully so; another is because I am super twitchy to rush him. I do not want him to burn out and become a ring sour old goat that has his crackers cheesed by kids skateboarding on the sidewalks.
His natural tendency to carry his neck has made me formulate a plan of sorts. Thanks to my dear trainer of about 19 years, I have been able to diagnose Firehawks’s idiosyncrasies with hinging his top line back. I want to encourage my dear steed to reach for the bit, even though his head is up in the trees with his giraffe brethren. So, I give him the reins, not crazy loose, but enough to avoid smothering him. My green bean likes to charge gallantly across the arena, and he especially enjoys cutting in to the right, onto his heavy shoulder. If I straighten his shoulders and keep his head and neck between my hands, he seems to put his neck out and seek the bit. Sheer happenstance? Who knows!? I figure that I have time and can connect him at any point that I need to, but for now, I am just riding him straight and balanced, while also keeping myself straight and balanced, a la Mary Wanless.
Keeping him connected to the rein is an ongoing struggle. Even if he looks to the rein in the meantime, down the road he could revert back to his trip wire ways- especially when the going gets tough. Keeping him in front of the leg helps, but it is only a component of the bigger picture. I suppose the takeaway is that all horses are different and will respond on their own conditions. We can make these conditions easier for them as a rider, by opening doors and closing others, while maintaining an eyelet to funnel them into. Don’t go too tight with your Friesian, or he will always slide back from his bottom line. Enjoy that fancy trot that they were bred for!