Any New Situation="I Don't Remember ANYTHING!"

Any “New” Situation= “I Don't Remember ANYTHING!”

Sorry for missing last week, I had ridden three times and I was simply exhausted. This week I just rode Cider and had my lesson so I have a tiny bit more energy.

Sunday, when I rode Cider, the weather was absolutely wonderful. Not only did I not need my ice vest to stay cool, it was cool enough so I could wear my protective vest and my slightly hotter summer weight silicone full-seat tights. That helped make up for the frustration of Cider being not quite right, and she also seemed to enjoy the coolness. She was a little bit less ouchy on her front legs and she was a little bit more willing to lengthen her walk stride. She shows nothing obvious about her arthritis pain, no head bobbing, but I can feel the little flinches all the way up her leg. Her legs seem to feel worse with any turning, and since we ride in a very small riding ring I am afraid that frequent curves and turns are inevitable. Heading downhill on a very gentle slope brings it on too. At least last Sunday I did not have to collect her somewhat to lessen the flinching when we headed down-slope which was mildly encouraging, I will just have to see what she does tomorrow before I dare to hope for improvement.

But it was SO GOOD not to feel like I was melting in the saddle!

Since our lesson in the 2nd ring when Bingo had “forgotten” what all my aids mean, Debbie has started giving me some of my lessons in the 2nd riding ring. It seems that ANY change in routine immediately wipes Bingo's brain clean, not quite as bad as riding a horse for the first few times after introducing him to the saddle, but it is very irritating to me since I HAD gotten him rather responsive to my aids. With the changes all responsiveness has totally disappeared, all I get from him is “I do not understand you” with stuff he has understood for months.

On Wednesday Debbie asked me if I was able to mount from the two-step mounting block in the second ring. Faced with the almost certainty of Bingo balking at the gate of the second ring I told her I could mount fine from the two-step mounting block. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful that the only place he balks now when I am on his back is the narrow gate into the second riding ring, but it is sort of humiliating to have to have someone on the ground lead him through that gate. Since I mounted him inside the second riding ring he did not balk at all on Wednesday.

At least he remembers that when I press his sides with both legs it means go, which means I have the bare minimum necessary to work this horse. But halting—Bingo does not seem to like halting at all now. I start of with minor alternating tweaks on the bridoon and he ignores them. By the third request I start adding the curb rein, and it now seems to take three attempts with the curb rein before he consents to halt. So we practice halting, heading in the direction of the barn, heading toward the gate, heading to the side of the ring, in the middle of the ring, just a half-hour of telling him yes, you have to halt now. It is not that he is raring to go, if I let him he will walk at 2 MPH or less and at the trot he will happily give me his Western jog with no impulsion at all, but to get him to move out at all takes leg, Leg, LEG.

During this time of frustration with Bingo I am glad I am using the double bridle. I do not need the curb bit as an emergency brake for sudden running away, I use it to emphasize that I am actually giving him a rein aid that I expect him to obey. By using the double bridle my hands can be lighter, with just a snaffle on days that he “forgets” how to halt I had to end up by “setting” my hands and stiffening my fingers repeatedly before he would halt. I HATED how strong my hands had to get in the snaffle, I really do not like “setting” my hands because when I do his jaw and poll stiffen up and we both end up unhappy. With the double bridle it has not been easy when he is reluctant to halt, but at least I do not have to set my hands and I can preserve some lightness.

Of course I do not haul back on the curb rein. I tweak the curb rein and I release it immediately, and if necessary I repeat this a little bit more emphatically. This week I ended up using the curb rein more to get him to halt, and I had to use it a little bit more strongly though I always release the rein immediately.

I am also working a bit more on backing up. This is something I do not want to do very frequently since backing up is his second favorite resistance when just balking does not work. I am now trying to avoid using both reins at the same time since he is so ready to stiffen his jaw and poll, so right now I use one leg then the rein on the same side, alternating. After a while he seems to get the idea and very reluctantly backs up one step, then I have to negotiate the second step back using the other rein and leg, just like when I first started riding him.

Of course when we start trotting Bingo's attitude is that since I've had to use my legs so much to get him to stretch his stride at the walk this MUST mean that I want a fast trot—no Bingo, slow down a little bit. Then he wants to collapse into his Western jog and I have to tell him that he needs to speed up a little. The one bright part of him trotting is that he is rarely resistant to going down into a walk, at least until the day that he decides that he does NOT want to stop trotting. At least this week he was willing to do the trot to walk transition readily, and some of his downward transitions were actually pretty, with prompt responses to my reins and smoothly going into the walk, with no setting of his jaw or resisting with his massive neck muscles.

When I started riding with Debbie I told her I would try to ride any horse she wanted me to ride. This means I get to ride horses that have some problems in the regular lesson program, horses that are too sensitive for beginners, horses with gaping holes in their training when asked to do more, and horses that have not learned that life gets so much easier when they cooperate with their rider. This way I get to ride more “interesting” horses and my riding education is progressing, in the last decade I have never felt at a standstill except for when my MS gets worse.

But, Bingo. I am most certainly developing my patience. I am developing my persistence in the face of “adversity”. I am honing my skills of how to get a horse to understand my aids. I am learning how to make allowances for his imperfect conformation.

Once I read a Western author (John Lyons?) who said that it took 25,000 repetitions of an aid until the horse truly learned the aid. Back then I was riding Arabs and part-Arabs and my reaction was HUH? With an Arab I truly expect the horse to thoroughly understand an aid by the tenth time I repeat it, and from then on it is smooth sailing, I give the aid, the horse understands the aid, and the horse promptly obeys the aid, AND the horse remembers his training even after YEARS of not being ridden. But that is Arabs for you, intelligent, bright, easily trainable, and with memories that just don't quit.

But with Bingo I am understanding where this author was coming from all too well. It may well take 25,000 repetitions of an aid before Bingo will reliably obey it even when things change around him. So all I can do is repeat everything we have worked on each time I ride, praising him every time he obeys me, repeating it several times each ride. Maybe, just maybe, after another decade Bingo will get to where I feel he is a well trained horse. Until then I just have to develop my patience.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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