A Taste of Fall

Last Sunday's weather was simply wonderful. When I stuck my head out of the front door it was COOL, so cool that I felt no need to wear my ice vest. In fact it was cool enough that I could wear my protective vest, a regular shirt, leather half-chaps, and I did not have to use my hanging neck fan. Together with the lower humidity it was glorious.

I did not get hot at all.

Cider was sort of stiff, the cooler weather triggers her arthritis joint pain, in spite of the BOT front boots on her cannons. I was glad it was cool because I had to use my thighs a lot to get her going straight, otherwise she was pretzeling. Trying to straighten her using just the bit is an exercise in futility, her crookedness manifests in her back, not her neck. Using my upper thighs when her spine bulged against my thigh, first mostly on her stiff side and then, as she straightened some, alternating to try and get her spine straighter. Then I had to use my lower thighs to keep her straighter in alternation with my lower legs. When that started working I used my seat bones, letting the push from the hind leg move my seat and then I emphasized the forward movement with my seat bone, alternating all the way. She even reached out with her head to take good contact.

Then, all of a sudden she frantically started working the bit around in her mouth, snorting and shaking her head a little bit. She was not listening to my rein aids and I asked Shannon what I was doing wrong to get such a reaction. I told Cider to go to Shannon who checked everything out, and she found drops of blood inside Cider's nostril. We came up with a hypothesis that one of the little biting flies had gotten up into her nose and bit her hard. I stopped trying to do upper level control and I just did my exercises on horseback for a while, the “rider's push-up” alternating with vertical far, and I did my stretching exercises seated and while in two-point. After that we just walked some, Cider was better but it was obvious that the mare was not happy with life, and I stopped riding her. Nasty biting flies, a plague for horses and their riders.

Wednesday morning it was back to mugginess, there are a few tropical storms in the Atlantic headed toward us, and one of them was pushing humid air way inland. I wore my ice vest and all my other hot weather gear. I also tried an experiment, I had gotten the impression from MJ that he did not really recognize me as human with all of my Covid-19 protective gear on my face. Then I read on-line that horses can interpret human facial expressions accurately, so I got a clear face shield to use while in the barn, pushing my face mask down to my chin. MJ was SO MUCH more cooperative, both when I groomed him and when I rode him. I guess it helped that he could tell that I was really a human being rather than a bug-eyed alien monster. Because of the face shield I could not flip up the lenses of my sunglasses so MJ could not see my eyes, could it be that horses read our nose and mouth area more than our eyes?

MJ was good, cooperated (mostly) with my aids and I did not have to spend as much energy as usual just to get him going. That meant that I had enough energy to do a posting trot all the way around the ring! That has not happened for months. Since MJ was more cooperative I did not have to use as much leg as usual to get him to extend his walk, and I had to use fewer and lighter rein aids to get him into a slower walk. He still has not completely figured out that I want him to stop moving forward during the turns in place, both fore and hind, but he was very cooperative with backing up properly. I am working on aids for moving the individual diagonals back, and this at least he is figuring out quite well. He is not perfect yet but Debbie is very please with how his backing up is improving. Who would have guessed that letting MJ see my mouth and nose would have resulted in such improvement?

When Debbie called me to make sure I was going to ride Friday morning I asked her permission to use the titanium coated “rainbow” single-jointed 20mm thick eggbutt snaffle I've lent to MJ for use with his other lesson rider. I told Debbie that I would just rather not use the double bridle outside of my lessons during the hot and muggy weather. I wanted to see if any of his improvements in the double bridle translated to improvements with just a snaffle, and I wanted to school him some in responding to the snaffle for halting.

When I got to the stable MJ's other lesson rider was there getting a basic “barn lesson”, along with her mother. When I found MJ's lesson bridle the bit was coated with dried up grass, so I told his other rider that MJ would certainly appreciate it if she made sure that his bit was clean before she rode him. She helped me some with grooming him and tacking him up, it is so much easier to bridle a horse with just a snaffle bit on the bridle! MJ was being a little pushy, he is perpetually itchy somewhere or another and he has to learn that he CANNOT act like a total brat pushing people around. He got a few lectures from me in a sharp voice, escalating in volume and sharpness until he behaved better. I had to shake my finger in his face a few times too before he settled down. I am kind and understanding with horses, but handicapped as I am pushing me is completely unacceptable and he has to learn to behave.

Because I had to do more grooming I was already tired when we got to the ring. The temperature and humidity were both rising, and the only blessing was a decent breeze. We just walked as I was still sort of tired from our longer trot on Wednesday, and it was so hot and humid I had to turn my hanging neck fan to its highest speed (MJ was not too sure about the increased whirring noise.) Without the two bits in his mouth he was a bit more resistant to my hand aids, with the double bridle I give halting/slowing down aids with both hands at once since I have the curb bit for more emphasis, with just the snaffle in his mouth I was alternating my hand aids to try and teach him that a one-sided rein aid means to move his hind leg on that side less forward, something he obviously needs to learn so that his turns in place can improve.

This is going to be a fine line, on one hand when just a snaffle is in his mouth MJ has to be suitable for his rather inexperienced rider. That means that I cannot get too exacting, and once he realizes that one direct rein of opposition means that he moves that hind leg less forward, I will be going back to using both hands for the halt/slow down signal. When I ride with a double bridle I can be as exacting as I want, no one else at the stable uses a double bridle and I am the only person at the stable that owns a double bridle. So, if I train him properly, when there is just a snaffle bit in his mouth he will be on “beginners time”, giving responses suitable for his beginning riders. With the double bridle he will learn that I am a bit more demanding than a beginner, and that I expect/hope that he will respond to all my aids at a more advanced level. He can handle this, I just have to be patient enough to explain everything clearly so that there is no doubt in his mind that one bit means lower level rein aids while two bits mean that he has to up his responses to a more advanced level.

At least I hope this will be the result.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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