Finally I am Riding Again

And it is SO GOOD to get back into the saddle!

I have just been walking because I got so weak while my cracked ribs healed. My entire body has to be brought back “on line” so I can ride safely and without irritating the horses. Right now walking the horse is the best thing I can do to get my body back to where it was before my fall.

I am continuing my lessons on Cinnabar. To recap my previous rides, for my first lesson on Cinnabar I used an “anatomic” titanium coated D-ring snaffle. He would accept light contact but he did not readily reach out for contact (leg, leg, leg.) The next lesson I used “his” bit (and “his”bridle) used for other people's lessons on him. He still did not willingly reach out for contact, and he was only marginally better at accepting the bit. Then we got five weeks off.

Starting back on Cinnabar I used a 5” wide, 20mm thick egg-butt “rainbow” titanium coated single-jointed snaffle. When we started off walking around the ring he was a tiny bit more accepting of the bit but he still did not reach out for contact on his own. After we warmed up I started “combing” the reins, he actually reached out on his own pulling the reins through my hands as his nose went down.

After that his contact was a little bit better and I got off, he had done what I wanted, after all.

When I went into my lesson this week it was with the idea that I might have to do six more rides to get Cinnabar confidently reaching out for his bit. While he had reached down and out when I combed the reins, I did not get the feeling of confidence that I usually get from horses reaching out for contact. I had also gotten the impression that Cinnabar really did not know what to do with the bit since no one had “explained” contact to him in a way he could understand. So I was prepared for some mildly frustrating rides as I gained Cinnabar's confidence.

I needn't have worried. The very first time I asked Cinnabar for contact he reached out, accepted contact, and continued to accept contact throughout the ride even though he had been ridden by other people (in “his” bit.) I was very happy with him, especially when he seemed to prefer contact over walking around the ring with sagging reins.

During my enforced idleness I had learned about a new product called RiderGrip, rubbery pads that glue on to the surface of the saddle (you can see them at www.ridergrip.com). Once on the Rider Grips can be removed cautiously and slowly, so they are not necessarily a permanent addition to the saddle. They come in a set of three, two for the flaps and one for the seat, plus, at the same time, one can order another two flap grips which I did since I have several saddles. When I received my RiderGrips I showed them to Debbie and we had a discussion. She was not against me having more grip in the saddle, but she vehemently did want my whole seat locked into the saddle. Debbie told me not to wear the silicon grip full seat breeches once I put them on my saddle. She seemed really worried that using these that I would not be able to move easily in the saddle. Since I had fallen recently I was sort of confused about her vehemence, but apparently she likes how I move with the horse when I ride, and how the horses then move with more fluidity under me. Since she is my riding teacher and she has never led me wrong in over a decade I decided that I will only put on two of the RiderGrips on the flaps of my saddle (under my knees/lower thighs/upper calf) and evaluate for a while before I add any more to my saddle.

Getting my RiderGrips on has become an exercise in frustration, Shannon is the person with the best eye/feel for three dimensional relationships between two different materials that I know. But since I got the RiderGrips the weather has been too wet or too cold (under 25F) to ride on Sundays, when she can help me. Hopefully soon the weather will cooperate so we can get this done!

I want to start Cinnabar on the double bridle. I cannot do this right away, I want several more lessons in just the snaffle bit to confirm that Cinnabar DOES understand contact, and I want to get back to trotting securely before I put two bits in his mouth. I finally received the egg-butt bridoon I had ordered for him (5”) so as far as tack is concerned (bits, bridoon straps, curb chains, lip-straps and curb reins) I am good to go.

Right now I have the bits to fit a large variety of horses for a double bridle. I have egg-butt bridoons that are 4”, 4 1/4”, 4 1/2”. 4 3/4”, 5” and 5 1/4”, which should cover all non-giant horses. I have Weymouth fixed cheek curbs in 3 1/2”, 4”, 4 1/4”, 4 1/2”, 4 3/4” and 5” which again should cover all non-giant horses. I also have a 3 3/4” Western curb that I could use if I ever run into a horse that requires a 3 3/4” curb bit for the double bridle. I might still have to get a Western curb strap to use on horses where the curb chain does not go exactly into the curb groove. I am PREPARED, finally, to ride just about any non-super big draft horse in a double bridle!

Before I read Dwyer's book I had used a double bridle several times on three or four different horses. Though I made mistakes about sizing (my curb bit was too wide) and placement in the horse's mouth (my curb bit was up way too high) I was able to ride the horses in a Forward Seat with Forward Seat contact with satisfactory results for me, though now I bet that the horses were humoring me a lot. THIS TIME the bits will FIT, they will be sitting in the correct place for the horse, and I am eager to see the results. With three or so more lessons on Cinnabar, if he continues to cheerfully pick up contact on his own, and with the RiderGrips helping to stabilize my seat, I will be ready, willing and able to introduce Cinnabar to the double bridle, with comfort for Cinnabar.

Friday I finally got to ride Mia again. This year she will be 34 years old, and she is somewhat creaky and she has this cough that never goes away completely, so I do not have any great ambitions of accomplishing anything great with her. It does not matter to me, I get to ride a pure Arab mare (and she is the only pure Arab mare that is available for me to ride), so I worship her perfection, listen to all her objections, and ride her the best I can. I used my Bombers Happy Tongue Titanium non-jointed snaffle and she was objecting to my hands more that the first time I used it on her. The only contact she would accept had to be LIGHT, then she strode forth cheerfully, but anything other than the lightest contact would get her curling behind the bit. Next time I ride her I will probably try the titanium coated egg-butt single-jointed snaffle with the hope that she will accept a slightly stronger contact.

Mia was stronger than I had expected, she had not lost any more weight, and her coat was not in pretty good shape since she had been wearing a turn-out blanket in the bitter cold. Since she is so old I treasure every ride since she is not going to live forever.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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