Coach is a Thoroughbred

Coach is my new lesson horse for right now. He is an OTTB gelding, Chestnut, around 15.3+ hands, with very good substance for a TB, and very high withers that stretch way back (no “pockets”.) To prepare my tack for Coach I took out the doubled bridging shims from my Contender II saddle pad, found my 48” string girth, got my 5” Wellep single jointed snaffle, and I lengthened the cheek pieces on my cob-sized Micklem bridle.

Debbie told me that, because of Coach's high withers, that they have had to use and extra wither pad with every saddle they tried out on Coach, and she warned me that it would probably be the same for my saddle, the Pegasus Butterfly Claudia jumping saddle. Inside I groaned, I had not brought the shims for the front pockets of my pad.

Coach has sensitive skin, like many Thoroughbreds. We did not use our beloved HandsOn grooming gloves because he thinks that they are intolerably harsh. So we curried him with my new ZoomGroom cat “curry” and he enjoyed it, all over his body, legs, ticklish places and head. He also seemed to enjoy being groomed with the Tiger's Tongue grooming sponge. He was not too sure when I put my BOT poll cap and Fenwick Face Mask with ears on, part of the reason was probably that the straps of the face mask, though elastic, were too tight for his comfort.

Then came saddling, Debbie put on the saddle pad, put on the saddle, looked and told me that she had not realized how far the cut-back went with the Pegasus Butterfly saddles, and did not put on any additional padding for clearing his impressive withers. I think she was pleased that there is a saddle that can handle his withers without extra padding! When she fastened his girth it was apparent that Coach is quite capable of swelling his barrel, but she finally got up to the fourth hole on the billets (after the walk to the ring.)

Bridling was not as ideal, Coach apparently prefers THICK bits, thicker than my 1/2” thick Wellep bit. The “throat latch” (middle of his jaw) was a little too tight for his comfort too. Coach immediately started grinding the bit between his molars in between constantly playing with the movable mouthpiece with his tongue, but Debbie said he ALWAYS acted like that with every bit. She brought out Coach's regular bridle so I could see the one bit in her stable that Coach thought was comfortable, a pretty thick hollow mouth egg-butt snaffle.

I got up on him and we just walked. All my readers surely know how much I worship Arabians, their minds, their riding abilities, their responsiveness and their personalities, but even I KNOW that a good TB, as far as gaits, impulse, stride and movement, are superior riding animals to even the best Arabs, as Coach promptly proved. It was so good to ride a TB again, especially as an alternative to Bingo, the worst conformed riding horse I've ever ridden. He reached readily for contact, when we rode in contact he stopped his manic gnashing the bit between his molars, and he was moderately responsive to my hand aids. Then I started asking him to move from my leg and seat aids and Coach was wonderful, responding correctly to every aid I gave. Debbie has one of her best riders, Courtney, riding Coach regularly, and Courtney has done a wonderful job of teaching this “green” horse the meaning of the seat and leg aids.

So I have to teach Coach the meaning of my hand aids! Yes, I can get the results I want from my legs and my seat, but it takes a LOT more of my extremely limited energy to move my pelvis and my legs than it takes me to tweak a little finger at the correct part of the horse's stride. Coach was particularly reluctant to STOP, though he had no problems with giving me a slower walk. My hand signals for turning got a wishy-washy response, it was like he truly did not understand the concept of subtle hand aids. He acted like they were meaningless “noise” that he could ignore. I did a little work on this but not too much since I will change his bit to a thicker one, then I can work on “yes, this little twiddle of the rein MEANS SOMETHING” and I expect a response to my gentle well timed hand aids. We also found out that Coach thinks that my leather bit-guards were IRRITATING so Debbie took them off (luckily my leather bit guards are closed with a little buckle so it was easy to remove them.)

When we untacked Coach I gave him a little “lecture” on what I mean when I give a hand aid at a certain part of his stride, especially for slowing down and stopping.

After warming up I started to ask Coach to extend his stride at the walk. This horse has a good bit of power in his rear-end, and after doing the extension twice I told Debbie that I was not up to handling his trot that day. She talked of putting me on the lunge line to trot at first which is fine, and I remembered my Free Jump collar that would help me from being sadly “left behind”. After thinking about my ride for a few days, however, I think I would get better results if I just walked Coach during my next few lessons so I can teach him the language of my hands. He is pretty smart and he has a good mind, so I am confident that I can teach him what my hand aids mean before we go faster, when I will have to convince him that yes, I expect him to obey my hand even if he is going faster. Besides the heat and humidity are really getting to me now, leaving me utterly drained from just walking for 30 minutes. By the time it gets a little cooler I will be used to Coach's longer, more powerful stride, and I should be able to handle trotting him better.

After Debbie took the saddle off I used the ZoomGroom cat curry on his back. When I crossed in front of him to get his other side he gave me that wonderful “gentlest touch” with his nose, he really liked me currying his back after my ride.

When I got home I dug out my Micklem horse sized nose-piece, the bridle I use on Mia and Bingo has a horse sized crown-piece and brow band and a pony sized nose-piece. When I got my first Micklem bridles years ago they were not yet selling the cob-sized Micklem bridle (Dover) and the horse sized bridle was just too big for Mia's delicate lower head. The horse sized nose-piece has been drifting around my tack hoard, and I have been conditioning it with lard every year. This should be big enough for Coach's comfort. Like with all my Micklem bridles I removed the chin strap since the horses I ride all wanted NO WRINKLES at the corners of their mouths. I can always use a doubled up flash strap if it turns out that Coach wants the bit higher in his mouth and stabilized by a chin strap.

I dug through my bit hoard until I found my ancient (45 year old) Eldonian hollow mouth full-cheek single jointed Fulmer snaffle which has the thickest mouthpiece of all my metal bits (with Coach's grinding the bit between his molars I am NOT putting any rubber, nylon, plastic or leather bits in his mouth!) The mouthpiece of my Fulmer snaffle is around 3/4” thick, and I hope that is thick enough to get Coach's approval. Of course I will use bit-loops on the Fulmer so it will not interfere with the nose of the Micklem bridle.

I am really looking forward to my lesson on Coach next week! It is so good to ride a Thoroughbred again. Luckily the American Forward Seat was developed specifically to ride sensitive Thoroughbreds so my normal riding should not irritate him too much, as long as I do not get “left behind” with his greater impulsion.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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