All Three Horses Point to my Right Hand

All Three Horses Point to my Right Hand

Last Sunday I rode a still sore Cider. When I went to buy the supplement that worked somewhat on Cider's arthritis the feed store was out, so I got the “Stop the Pain” supplement after consulting with Shannon. By Sunday Cider had been on the new supplement (AND a feed that included some supplements that help arthritis) for a week. Shannon was happy that Cider liked how the Stop the Pain tasted since Cider did not particularly like the coconut taste of the Acti-Flex. Alas, Cider still moved stiffly, and she was a little bit stiffer than when she was on the Acti-Flex arthritis supplement.

I used my titanium coated “rainbow gloss” three piece snaffle with a tilted lozenge, that we had used the previous two weeks, a bit she found acceptable back then. However I have been deteriorating every week since Hurricane Florence, the extra humidity really drains me and my hands are not what they used to be before Florence. Since Cider was stiff and really unwilling to move much we just walked. She did pretty good on the flat areas of the ring and going “uphill”, but when we went “downhill” got worse. First I walked her downhill on loose reins, noted the flinching, and the next time I added my collecting leg. Cider's flinching improved a little bit but it was still there. So I got myself all organized and added a “collecting rein” so, at the same time, I was pressing my calf muscle against her barrel as it was pushing my leg out and “fingering” the opposite rein as that side's seat bone went down. Cider stopped flinching as long as I did that, but started flinching again if I did not use my reins.

Since I was using my reins more that usual Cider was “champing” on the bit gently and licking. When I returned to my normal rather passive contact Cider started grinding the right side of the bit gently between her teeth, it was not a constant grind but---a grind—then a few steps later another grind, always on the right hand side of her mouth. I remembered when I tried the titanium coated “comfort” snaffle she also ground the bit on the right side of her mouth.

Then when I rode Mia the following Friday in the titanium coated “comfort” snaffle, the bit she found reasonably acceptable our previous two rides. Mia did well with contact in between her coughs, but a little bit into our ride she started grinding on the right side of the bit. This was just an occasional grind, less than Cider's grinding and MUCH less than Coach's grinding, but it was new. Usually when Mia does not like a bit or disapproves of my hands she is rather blatant about flinging her head around, so I figured I was not causing her serious discomfort, just an irritation that needed to be corrected!

On Wednesday I had my lesson on Coach, the 6 year old OTTB, using my titanium coated Mullen mouth snaffle. Debbie had not gotten to the stable when I arrived so I went ahead and groomed Coach. By the time Debbie arrived all she had to do was tack him up. Coach ground the bit between his teeth some at bridling and walking to the ring, but when I mounted and asked for contact he was willing to meet my hands. It was so hot and humid I did not even try to trot, and we just walked around the ring, curving around the jumps, doing turns in place (he is starting to improve), and working on extending his walk some. Debbie had pads put on his front feet when his shoes were reset and Coach was much more comfortable, he lengthened his walk stride a little bit but even that little bit was an improvement over the previous week. Then, off contact, Coach started grinding the bit on, you guessed it, the right side of his mouth.

One of the reasons I ride horses is that the horses are so much better than any doctor at telling me when my central nervous system has problems, and the horses are infinitely better than any doctor in telling me which parts of my nervous system has problems. Obviously, between the heat, humidity, and the aftereffects of my cold, signals are not getting through to my right hand as well as they did two months ago.

What really impresses me is how the horses take great care to communicate to me when the bit itself is bothering them as opposed to when my hands are irritating their mouths. Coach is the most subtle communicator, when he finds the bit inherently uncomfortable (stainless steel or a three piece mouthpiece) he grinds on the bit more or less furiously and constantly when off contact. When I made a stainless steel bit more stable in his mouth (as when I used bit loops on the Eldonian heavy weight Fulmer snaffle) his grinding lessened and he did not do it constantly off contact. The titanium coated bits start off with some grinding, but as the ride goes on the grinding gradually decreases until his just does not grind the bit between his teeth while I ride off contact—unless something about the bit or my hands irritate him. Instead he “invented” a new signal, picking up the rein that offends him the most between his teeth (the titanium coated three piece snaffle.) He is particularly precise when I ride with the titanium coated bits, when he grinds them it is nowhere as constant or furious as with the stainless steel snaffles. I think that he really likes how the titanium coated bits taste and feel in his mouth and that he DOES NOT want me to go back to a stainless steel bit. On Wednesday he ground the bit between his right molars, occasionally, both on contact and off contact and he was rather polite about it all.

The horses have spoken, and all three of them agree that my right hand is not as good as it should be.

SOMEDAY it will get cooler and less humid. NORMALLY by this date I would be wearing a long sleeve shirt instead of my technical fabric cooling shirt and I would be trotting several times during the lesson. Debbie is getting bored watching me just walk Coach, she wants me to work on his trot. Since Coach is the first horse I've ridden in around a decade that has a mouth suitable for a double bridle I want to start introducing him to the Weymouth curb and the brandoon, but I cannot do that until my hands improve in the cooler weather, hope, hope, hope! Right now Mia, ancient and creaky, is not going to “improve” (hey, I think she is perfect), Cider might improve when we find a supplement that works for her stiffness and flinching, but with Coach I have a horse that can go as far as I am capable of riding and I am really looking forward to this!

When it gets cooler.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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