Saturday was another glorious day of hunting in New England. Perfect weather, perfect foliage, perfect footing. It doesn’t get much better. The fact that we were only about 20 miles west of Boston, in Framingham, made it all the more special because of its incongruity. You just don’t think of Framingham as a place with rolling hills, dairy farms and cross country jumps, but it was all there laid out in front of us.
It was while trotting and cantering down some of those hills that I was very grateful to have a horse that exhibits such exceptional balance and self carriage. While Kroni was a great hunt horse in many ways, he was a long, heavy horse that had a tendency to get on his forehand. I tended to “package” him up and ride him with a lot of contact to keep him together (especially as he got older and a little stiffer).
That’s not a great plan when hunting because you need your horse to take responsibility for choosing his own path and for keeping himself on his feet. With Kroni, I experiences a few heart stopping trips; with Freedom, he’s so light on his feet that even when we’re galloping or trotting down steep hills he’s able to lighten his forehand and really carry himself. It’s also one of the reasons why I upgraded my bit to a Kimberwicke. Rather than ride him in contact, I prefer to ask him to rebalance (or slow down) and then release, riding him on a loose rein as much as possible.
Of course, for a horse to achieve self carriage, the rider must do his or her part. Your balance directly affects your horse’s balance so it’s important to stay centered, even when you are getting tired. Pinching with your knees can restrict the freedom of movement from your horse’s shoulder, or sitting too heavily can keep your horse from using his back effectively.
To get ready for this hunt season I practiced a lot of riding in half seat. Done properly it keeps your weight out of the saddle and off of your horse’s forehand. It also keeps you in a very secure position in case of sudden movements such as spooks (when a hound comes flying out of the woods) or stumbles, which can occur when going through trappy territory. Basically, it keeps you out of your horse’s way.
The problem with riding in a two point position is that it’s hard. It’s hard on your core and it’s particularly hard on your knees. Especially old knees. I’ve started riding with jointed stirrups, which give some relief, and am careful to choose a saddle that supports my position instead of constantly having to fight for it.
Still, all the work I’ve been doing lately has taken its toll. By the end of the hunt I was in much less self carriage than Freedom and I suspect my knees hurt more!