Dear John Henry
John Henry, New York's favorite Eventing mule, now not only has his regular column in the BRAYER magazine, but has given ADMS permission to publish to the World Wide Web!

He and owner Kathleen Conklin welcome questions - but they cannot quarantee they will be answered in the column form used in the BRAYER and ADMS website.  Please post any questions to ADMS, who will forward them to JH and Kathleen for review for the column.

Dear John Henry:
My mom is working me on a lunge-line before she rides me. I'm coming 4 years old, and I am getting light daily riding. One thing she has noticed is that I seem to take shorter strides when lunging to the left (counterclockwise, she says). She is having a hard time feeling it under saddle (she says she can kind of tell if she trots me in circles to the left) but she's sure she can see it when she lunges me at the trot.

She had the vet look at me, and he says I'm not lame, I just need exercises to make me lengthen out that side. How can we do this? I can go round in circles all day, but it doesn't seem to help.

Gone Crackerjax

Dear Cracker,
Tell your Mom that you are still quite young and it might be better to lunge you just a LITTLE (in VERY LARGE circles) to get any bucks out and then to ride. Your shorter strides on one side could be the result of uneven muscling on that side. If this is so it is a long term process to even out.

I would suggest that you ask your Mom to ride in large easy circles in both directions but more to your weaker side. I would also suggest that your Mom always use a mounting block [or a stump, rock or trailer fender] when mounting to ease the pressure on your withers. Work over a larger number of ground poles at the (posting) trot in a straight line and eventually on a large curve will help even out your trot strides. You should make sure you have a good forward trot rhythm before you head to the ground poles. This isn't a fast and easy answer, but a long term goal that needs your Mom's continuing attention. There is a great book you can buy called Cavalletti written by the German Olympic Gold Medalist in dressage named Reiner Klimke that explains all about the use of ground poles and there placement and how they help improve the equine.

Another tip is to make sure your Mom posts (rises to the trot) when trotting and that she post more often to the diagonal on your weak side. This will help a little in developing that side. (This means that working in a ring or pen, with the weak shoulder to the rail, she should be sitting when the outside shoulder is on the ground or all the way back). A lot of care should be taken that all training is done in both directions, but not necessarily equally at this time.

Practicing carrot stretches to both sides and full front leg stretches should also help in equaling out your muscles. Carrot stretches are fun!  Have Mom hold a carrot behind your elbow, and you stretch your head around low and to the side to get the carrot.  She can stand beside you and keep you from swinging around.  Later, after your ride, you can also do a carrot stretch with her in the saddle.  She should hold it near her toe and watch to see if you shift your weight, step, or just reach with your head and neck.

It might also be a good idea to get some professional instruction from an instructor you admire. It is always good to have an experienced "eye"; looking at you and helping you develop good habits. Speaking of an "eye", if you have access to a video camera be sure have someone take a lot of film of you lunging and being ridden right now and at intervals in your training.  It will give your Mom a good reference point when, in the future, she looks back and is able to see your progress.

I have a problem lunging myself you Mom (Kathleen) noticed early on in my training that I will cross-canter for a few strides on downward transitions in the lunge pen (in both directions). After much thought, Kathleen decided that I really didn't need to be lunged and that it would only reinforce cross-cantering when going from a canter to a trot. I never cross canter when being ridden under the same circumstances. The vet looked at me and so did a Standardbred race horse vet who's specialty is leg lamenesses. Neither vet could find anything wrong except that I am a little weaker on one side. I guess that this is usual in equines as well as people. Kathleen does everything listed above with me and in addition makes sure that I use both canter leads equally.

These little problems are not usually life-threatening but they give you and your Mom something to work on and small goals to achieve. I like it when Kathleen notices something she doesn’t like or wants to improve on,  because then we have a new training goal to work on. It keeps my life interesting. Good luck.!

Happy trails and Tally ho,
John Henry \ /   & Kathleen