Bingo “Forgets” Stuff at Summer Camp

Last week I had to delay my lesson from Wednesday to even earlier on Thursday since the stable got a load of timothy hay delivered, and they wanted to store it right away since rain was forecast for later in the day. All week I had obsessed over how Bingo did in the camp, but I did not call because everyone at the stable had a busy week.

As it turned out Bingo was not a good boy at camp, though his rider did not fall off. I did not get the particulars since Debbie did not have Bingo in her classes, just that Sam used him for only one lesson and he then got turned back out into the pasture. Bingo is not a very cooperative horse and does not seem to be able to “take a joke” like a good lesson horse for beginners should.

After much thought I had decided that it would be better for me to use the double bridle instead of the ported snaffle, Bingo seems to find it easier to “set” his jaw with the ported snaffle, which means I have to get harsher with my rein aids to get his attention, otherwise he just bulls ahead doing whatever he can get away with. Plus I really wanted a sign for Bingo that it was ME that was riding him, and the double bridle makes it easy for that since no one else at the stable uses a double bridle.

From the start Bingo was less responsive to my aids, but that is what I expected. Our dialog at first was “yes Bingo, I want you to walk”, “yes Bingo, I want you to turn”, and REPEATED “yes Bingo, I want you to stop moving.” Bingo was back to his old habit of setting his jaw, ignoring the rein aid, with an added “I don't have to, I don't want to and you can't make me!”

This lesson was when I really learned to value the utility of the double bridle. With just a snaffle bit in his mouth I would have had to spend a lot of my ride convincing him to obey my rein aids, repeating over and over again until I got his reluctant consent to doing what I wanted. With the double bridle, after two light properly timed aids with the bradoon I could tweak my sagging curb reins at the proper time and he obeyed, no fight, no arguments, and I did not have to use much energy.

With the double bridle I got to “GOOD BOY” a lot quicker.

Even with the double bridle it was not easy. It was like we had to renegotiate the meaning of every hand aid, while at the same time renegotiating the meaning of my leg aids. This is in spite of the fact that Debbie told me that Bingo looked relieved that it was me on his back.

I worked around all these problems and I got Bingo working better under me. Then I decided to try backing up.

You would have thought that Bingo had never backed up in his whole life. There was NO response to the backing up aids I've been using for months. Bingo's attitude was that these aids were irritating and meaningless noise and that he had NO IDEA of how to respond. Finally after a minute of repeating my aids, stiffening my fingers a little bit more for the first repetition then tweaking my sagging curb rein, Bingo moved his right leg back and stopped. I rewarded him, after all he had obeyed my aid even if it was half-hearted and reluctant, and I decided to stop while I was ahead. I had no guarantee that I would have another good moment asking for him to back up.

During this lesson I had to tweak my sagging curb rein at least twice as much as usual to keep Bingo going at the speed I wanted at a proper impulse for what we were doing. When we trotted toward the gate Bingo would wake up and speed up by pushing more with his hind end and I would have to work on rating him down to the speed I wanted. Going away from the gate I had the opposite problem, leg, leg, leg to get him out of his QH shuffle with dragging feet. Then when we turned toward the gate he would “say” “WHAT is your problem, you've been telling me for the last minute that you want me to go faster” as his impulse tripled or quadrupled and he gave me a wonderful impulsive trot, a trot that I did not know Bingo could do of his own free will.

However now I am working on stabilization, that the horse should continue at the speed and impulse I set until I tell him otherwise. A stabilized horse does not all of a sudden turn into a moon rocket at takeoff, a stabilized horse keeps the same speed all the way around the ring until his rider says otherwise.

I have never before worked with a horse who can, in a week's time, forget everything he had ever been taught. Bingo has no problem remembering how to resist his rider, that he gets right every time from the start. But every other bit of knowledge that he learns can disappear without any notice and he returns to his base line of disobeying every aid because he does not remember how to obey them. This is sort of frustrating and makes me dread breaks in his training since I have to teach him what the aids mean all over again, from the start.

I have no doubts that in a week or two Bingo will remember (or relearn) the meaning of my aids. Then I will go back to having a smile on my face during most of my ride because beneath all the history of abusive riding, bad or absent training and learned resistances, Bingo is a really neat little horse. I have never ridden a horse who is so mentally eager to become a fine riding horse, once he remembers how to obey my aids and I can reward him frequently and lavishly for being a good boy.

Someday it will all work out.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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