Cider Likes Her New “Hat”

Last week I only got to ride once since Debbie had summer camp. Fortunately I have something new to report about my relationship with Cider!

Cider, an Arab/Welsh pony mare in her twenties, and I had been in a sort of frustrating round of identical rides week after week. With the help of my Kerrits IceFil riding tights silicon full seat I finally fixed her main objection to my riding lately, my inability to keep my Pegasus Butterfly Saddle centered on her back. She likes the saddle, even when it slipped to the side, because it gives the top of her shoulder blades great freedom to move further back under the saddle. Cider has patiently been working on my side to side balance in the saddle for years, by showing me when I am off center by “pretzeling” under me until I get myself re-centered. Over the past year or two she has also been kindly illustrating my poor front to back balance by “exploding” into the trot instead of smoothly accelerating into the trot. Cider is an excellent teacher of riding, she is willing to point out my riding faults in ways that only mildly humiliate me (rather than dumping me in the ring.)

When I brought out Cider's first “hat”, the Back on Track poll cap, Cider was quite happy with it and she moderated her slightly humiliating corrections to my mistakes. Since I had finally stabilized my seat in the saddle she did not have that much that irritated her when I ride, but she still was “exploding” into the trot. I was having fewer problems keeping her from turning into a pretzel, but the tendency was there whenever my balance from side to side worsened. With the BOT poll cap she was willing to react to me properly centering my seat quicker than before, making it a lot easier to get her going straight again.

So when I bought Cider her second “hat”, the Fenwick Mask with Ears it was with the idea of : 1) keeping the gnats and flies out of her ears, 2) making her ear muscles feel better, and 3) my curiosity as to whether the long wave infrared radiation would make her cheeks feel better, specifically the trigeminal nerves. I was not really expecting much beyond keeping the gnats and flies out of her ears because Cider had never really shown signs of trigeminal nerve irritation, as in she never insisted on rubbing her cheeks against her legs while I rode her, and 99.9% of the time she obeyed my soft rein aids promptly without any gaping or making her lower jaw unresponsive and tense. I put the Fenwick Mask with Ears over the BOT poll cap as I wanted to see if it would do anything additional to make the horse feel good.

We started our ride pleasantly, Cider and I established good contact and she was a little bit more responsive to my rein aids. She stayed relaxed, she was content with my small corrections of my side to side balance, and she was basically a good girl. She obeyed my aids for the turn on the haunches quicker than before, and I was able to do the normal turns better. After several minutes I asked Shannon if Cider looked comfortable and she said that Cider looked pleased with everything. Then, since the dew on the grass evaporated, I asked her for a trot, setting my body up to deal the the usual “explosive” departure. To my utter amazement Cider did NOT “explode” into the trot, she smoothly shifted gears and slipped into a relaxed trot, one with some impulse, not a shuffling dog trot. Cider trotted around happily and gently kept contact with my hands with a relaxed tongue and lower jaw. She also moved into the downward transition to the walk smoother than before.

After walking around some more I asked Cider to trot in the other direction, and, again, Cider did not “explode” into the trot. And this trot felt supple, relaxed, with the proper amount of impulse for her speed, and the trot was less jarring to me. When I asked her to extend her stride a little bit she did this smoothly too, just slipping into the longer stride instead of “explosively” lurching into a longer stride. I was ecstatic, something was working! I asked Shannon again if Cider looked comfortable, and Shannon said that Cider's upper eyelids looked different from normal. She said that before when I rode Cider the mare would have obvious wrinkles in her upper eye lid, but now, with the Fenwick face mask with ears, those wrinkles were GONE, and Cider looked more relaxed than before, both walking and trotting.

Man, that made me feel GOOD. Maybe, just maybe, some of my problems with Cider originated not from me or my hands, but from a pesky headache she had that got worse during my rides! Cider is a very good lesson horse, always willing to point out my many faults so that I will correct them, but she does not point them out by running away, bucking, or absolutely refusing to obey me. Shannon values Cider highly, because Cider can be ridden by a more advanced rider and Cider will point out the more advanced rider's faults, and then Shannon can put a beginner on Cider and the mare will gear down her expectations for perfection and give the beginner a good, calm ride. For the beginners Shannon puts the Nurtural bitless bridle on Cider, Shannon and I are the only ones allowed to ride Cider with a bit.

More and more I am thinking that some of my problems with the horses I ride may arise from the horses having a headache. When I start a horse with the BOT poll cap I usually get this mental “picture” from the horse of slamming back into the halter when tied, and the horse's eyes relax some, and they start licking and chewing some. Now, with the Fenwick Mask with Ears I am getting a mental “picture” from the horses of the cheek pieces of the halter slamming into the side of their heads when the horse slams back into the halter when tied. I have no way of proving if my headache hypothesis is correct or not, but I AM getting very positive results from several horses for my new piece of gear.

These Fenwick Masks with Ears are not cheap, almost $100 USD, but I figure that the results I have seen so far makes them well worth the money. I don't have to pay for multiple tubes of equine mood modifiers that do not last for long, and that do not in any way “cure” the horses' problems. I know these masks may not be acceptable in most show classes, but I see no reason they can't be used in the warm-up ring, to be taken off right before the horse passes through the gate. I have gotten such good results that I have paid the price to buy six of them, three for Debbie's stable and three for Shannon's stable. I particularly wanted Shannon to have them for her horses since I ride them, my grandson rides them, and also various elementary level riders. I now feel much better with the idea of putting my grandson on Cider, and I also feel much better about me riding Magic, the mare that my grandson has had his lead-line lessons upon. The one time I tried to ride Magic years ago she was extremely uncooperative to the idea of moving. Well Shannon and her niece Madison have managed to get Magic moving, but the mare does not look particularly happy carrying a rider around the ring and she still is not very cooperative with her rider.  That is why Shannon leads her around when my grandson rides her.

I have a suspicion that many of the problems that riders have with their horses may come from the horses' heads hurting, especially the poll and cheeks. I know that I am not too cooperative when I have a headache, and I am not really that much into pleasing someone else while my head hurts. Why would it be any different for a horse? Cider's new hat seems to solve a problem that I was not really aware of, pain in her cheeks. Cider LIKES her new hat!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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