A Much Better Week

I got to ride two horses.

Cider was still stiff, darn arthritis. I still loved getting back up on her. We piddled around the ring, just walking, as I tried (and failed) to refine my “new” leg aid, letting the muscle on the top of my thigh, the rectus femoris, relax so my lower leg moves back. In my theoretical mind it occurred to me that this might be a much more subtle leg aid that closing my lower leg against the horse's rib cage.

My problem is in trying to figure out exactly WHEN to relax my thigh muscle so it becomes a definite aid rather than just an unexplainable movement of my lower leg. After a few minutes I gave up, this is easy, all so easy to imagine, but when I am up on the moving horse my mind gets distracted and the horse acts mildly confused until she/he sort of ignore it as meaningless noise.

It is going to take me a while.

On Friday I got a lesson, and this week it went so much better! When driving to the stable we go over our local small river, and the river was SWOLLEN. I was sort of expecting the riding ring to be super soppy but it was just damp so I did not have to spend my whole ride navigating around the puddles.

Again I started off trying to train my thigh muscle to relax at the correct instant of time to become an aid, and again I failed, plus this was tiring me out. My lower leg, tired of not being used as usual, came back into play as an aid giver, and Bingo was pretty responsive. His reactions are still not as sharp and instantaneous as before the COVID-19 isolation, his turns in place were not as “accurate”, but he responded readily to my aids.

His reactions to the bit were just fine, prompt willing obedience with a relaxed lower jaw and tongue, no sourness, no stickiness; Bingo acted like obeying my hand aids was the most natural thing in the Universe. This snaffle, the Fager Bianca titanium double-jointed snaffle with a roller, gets Bingo's tongue moving more than any other snaffle I've tried, even better than the Wellep double-jointed snaffle. In fact this snaffle is the one that gets me the results that I had only gotten by using a double bridle on him, Bingo softens his lower jaw, his mouth feels alive, his tongue works the roller gently and slowly, and he reaches out for contact willingly. Not just that, he also keeps his whole body straighter, like this bit gives him a “central” point that keeps his whole mind and body centered.

I have found that horses are very picky about their bits. The horses care about how the bit lays in their mouths, they care about exactly where the bits come into contact with their tongues, bars and lips, they care about the taste of the mouthpiece, they care about how the bit moves—either with my hand aids or with the horses' tongues, and they care about how big around the mouthpiece is and how that fits in their mouths. This can make searching for the best bit for a horse challenging, any of these variables can make an otherwise acceptable mouthpiece simply unbearable. Getting it RIGHT for a horse can result in a horse who reacts to the bit as if they are reading your mind. This is why many horse-people have a vast bit collection and why all those bits accumulate in our bit boxes. The vastness of this bit collection comes from desperately trying to find an acceptable bit for the horse, and the reason the bits accumulate is that we know one time or another we will run into a horse for which THIS bit is the one that gets the YES after we try all of our old standards that other horses like.

Horses are picky about their bits.

The other good news from my lesson is that my lower leg stability improved! Debbie said my right lower leg, the one which usually drifts too far back, stayed stable even when I did my “rider's push-up to vertical-far exercise. Concentrating on tightening my thigh muscle back up after I gave a leg aid, a lot of my lower leg faults have begun to disappear, much to my relief! It had never occurred to me that relaxing my rectus femoris muscle too much could negatively affect my position in the saddle. Live and learn.

Debbie gives a lot of credit to me exercising during my enforced riding “vacation”, in that I did not let my muscles deteriorate like they usually do when I don't ride for weeks on end. It is nice for me that my exhaustion from exercising did serve some long-term good for my riding!

I also had more energy for my lesson. When it was obvious that Bingo needed to trot to loosen up his body it was not too hard on me which is good because I trotted two times. I was also able to do more than one “rider's push-up” to vertical-far exercise at one time, and I was able to do it several more times during my ride. Debbie likes me doing this exercise, it helps me “unlock” my hip joints, she can check the stability of my lower leg accurately, and it helps me get into and keep a good position in the saddle. I've also noticed that after I “unlock” my hip joints Bingo reacts better to my leg aids, at least I get less of the “are you SURE” from him as he decides whether to obey my aid or not!

I am SO GLAD I am riding again!

I hope you all get to ride soon. Life is so much better when we can get up on a horse!

Jackie Cochran

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