All week I have been dragging around, getting over the cold I had.  Tired, tired, tired!  Even so I tried to ride.  On Wednesday morning, after 2 1/2 inches of rain on Tuesday, Debbie called just before I put my boots on saying it was still raining at the stable.  I re-scheduled my lesson for Thursday, and on Thursday morning the weather broadcast looked like I could get a ride in, but when we got a mile from the stable the heavens opened up.  We went on to the stable because Debbie had asked to borrow one of my bits for Mick, the new Arab gelding, since she needed it to show at the NC state fair this weekend.  When Mick came to Debbie's he was using a Kimberwicke, this told me that Mick, like a lot of Arabs, doesn't have much room in his mouth.  Unfortunately Kimberwickes are not considered suitable for hunt seat equitataion classes down here.  I had lent him my JP Hunter D Dr. Bristol bit, which he likes, but the D-rings are HUGE on this bit and don't give a good impression on his delicate head.  In a show last weekend Debbie had tried another bit, a single jointed steel and copper roller eggbutt snaffle, which Mick kept telling her he really did not like, though in spite of that he won one of his classes!  So I lent Debbie and Mick one of my egg-butt Dr. Bristols and put it on the bridle for her, and then went home sorely disappointed about not being able to ride.  Hopefully Mick will be pleased, and luckily I have already  ridden him in this bit once so it isn't a new bit to him.


Debbie has had to do quite a bit of experimenting to find things that both fit Mick and things that he think are comfortable!  She took Mick down to the tack shop to get Mick fitted with a saddle that would both fit him and his young riders, and she lucked out, the tack store had a used small regular Wintec with the widest gullet (white) in it that fit both him and his owner.  She also had to find a girth that Mick was happy with which took some experimenting, but since Debbie has lots and lots of girths this was not too hard.  Since my husband was sort of responsible for Mick ending up at Debbie's barn I've lent Mick my regular cob-sized bridle (not the Micklem) and the Dr. Bristol snaffles.  When Mick is saddled with a saddle that does not fit him he becomes restive and nippy, now Mick stands quietly to be tacked up, his saddle does not hurt him and he has turned into the sweetest, most cooperative and dependable horse who does everything he can not to let his rider down.  I have been riding him in my old Stubben Siegfried with the Corrector pad but I will take out my wider Wintec gullet plates so I can get my regular Wintec to fit him.  I don't particularly like riding in the Wintec but I prefer that the horse is truly comfortable.  I get a MUCH better ride that way!   


Friday was a gorgeous day!  We were lucky since Debbie, several 6-horse and 2-horse trailers, and all of Debbie's riders and their parents had left the stable just before we got there.  Yeah!  I didn't have to find a deserted corner to groom and tack up Mia.  I got Mia's toes rasped down, my son groomed and helped me tack her up, and I FINALLY got to ride!  The wind picked up as we walked to the ring so I was glad I had a jacket on.  Mia was not fazed by the wind at all though she did appreciate me letting her stand and look all around her.  Since I had almost no energy I worked mostly on my contact at a walk and trot keeping my head up, eyes up, and shoulders back.  Mia's and my contact was not too stable at first, but using my legs I kept asking Mia to reach out with her nose and half-way through my ride I achieved CONTACT, real contact, good solid contact, with Mia fearlessly reaching out for her bit.  Then we would stop with me keeping contact until Mia stopped trying to take the reins away from me, and when she kept her head still on contact for a second or two I would give her the reins.  My work on this last week paid off because Mia cooperated a lot faster this week.  I was so pleased with Mia especially since she was a bit stiffer than usual when we started our ride.  Because of her stiffness my turns on the forehand and the hindquarters weren't very good but Mia did back up regularly, mostly straight, when I asked her to.


I also experimented with how my eyes process information.  When I kept my eyes looking straight forward I could sort of see the horse's ears, poll and eyes and the path in front of us, but to get the information into my brain of where the horse's head was I HAD to look down with my eyes.  When I looked up with my eyes (keeping my face vertical) I could CLEARLY see the horse's ears, poll and eyes and my brain was able to process the information just fine.  Looking up I had no problem gauging where my horse's head and neck were, AND I could clearly see what was in front of us.  I have been thinking about all the dressage riders (and others) who I see looking down at their horses' polls (looking between the horses' ears) trying to gauge what their horses are doing with their "collected" horses clearly on the forehand and behind the vertical.  Well if they just looked UP they could clearly see what they need to plus they would stop driving their horses onto the ground.  Remember that when you look down you are telling the horse that you want to go INTO the ground, not OVER the ground going forward.  Just by looking upwards I have reduced the amount of leg I need to get impulse by around half, if not more.  I am glad that I have finally gotten strong enough so I can do this instead of the slouch I had when my back and neck muscles were weaker.  It only took me about 5 years of work and a lot of input from Debbie to get to this point. 


Today is another absolutely gorgeous day down here and I got to ride Cider.  I got a new girth for Cider, a Cool Max dressage girth.  This is a slightly wider girth which means that the rear billet has to be girthed up one hole looser than the front billet.  Fortunately Cider seemed to like the girth just fine and she showed slightly less displeasure on being girthed up.  If Mick likes the regular size Cool Max girth I got him I will be probably buying more of these after Christmas when I can spend money on myself (ie. horse stuff) again.  I'd like to try Cider with one that is slightly longer so Shannon won't have to struggle to get the girth to the lowest hole.  Anyway Cider was pretty cheerful today and got somewhat impatient with me when I told her I was still weak and  mostly wanted to walk.  She was quite good, as long as I kept my eyes looking upward I only had to use my aids every 4 or 5 strides to keep her at the rail, but every time my eyes went down Cider tried to dive into the center of the ring, just a repeat of last week.  I worked some on circles, Cider does every part of the circle just fine except for the part closest to Shannon.  It will take me some work to get my aids good enough so Cider does the whole circle properly.  Of course every time I looked down Cider started spiralling inward.  Cider is definitely not going to let me get back into my old, bad habits!  At the end of my ride I finally let Cider trot and she surged forward full of impulse.  Once around the ring was my limit, but Cider wanted to go on trotting but I finally got her back into the walk.  She willingly kept good contact, but Cider has always prefered that her rider keep contact, getting Cider on contact is nowhere near as difficult as getting Mia on good contact.  Thank goodness.


Whenever I ride the old mantra of "Heads up, Hearts up, Hands down and Heels down" goes through my head.  Now I am adding "Eyes up."  The horses just go forward so much better when I look up.  I wish I had figured this up decades ago.


Regarding my comfort, I had to switch from my Spursuader spurs.  My feet started hurting every time I put them on.  I took all my spurs out and realized that all the spurs with equal side pieces had hurt my feet, luckily my Waterford spurs have unequal side pieces so I can use a gentle spur.  There are not many types of spurs out there with unequal side pieces, I am limited to the Waterford spurs or the Prince of Wales spurs.  Bummer, I was looking forward to using my smooth rowel spurs again and the horses seem to like my Spursuaders just fine--hey I could used them when it was hot, but my feet just got to hurting too much.  It used to be that most good English spurs had unequal sides, I have no idea why the manufacturers changed to the equal sides for most types of spurs.  Maybe someone influential will point out that the old-fashioned unequal sided spurs are much more comfortable for the rider just like the old-fashioned Prussian sided stirrup irons are more comfortable for the feet than the more fashionable Fillis stirrup irons.  Maybe by next summer I can work out some padding that will make the equal sided spurs more comfortable so I can use my Spursuaders again.  Since the Spursuaders seem to come in only one size I will just have to experiment.


Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran         


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