I Feel Secure While Trotting

I know that this is an unusual new event for a rider with 45 years of riding. When I learned to post the trot at age 6 I had no problems and until my MS ruined my balance, proprioceptive sense, coordination, etc., I always felt secure trotting. However, for the last 5 years or so I started to feel like my breeches had a surface of slick glass as I started shifting around the saddle. I gradually introduced new things, like stuff to make the saddle leather stickier and silicon grip full seat breeches, and things would improve for a while. But as my MS progressed all these things seemed to stop working and I ended up shifting around in the saddle at the trot, whether I posted or sat the trot.

Ever since I put the RiderGrips on my saddle I feel decades younger. Trotting has gotten back to be a totally non-exciting gait instead of a perilously unsettled feeling as my seat, thighs and lower legs shift this way and that way as I desperately try to find my non-existent balance. I was spending a lot of my limited energy trying to keep my position at the trot and I would get so tired after a short trot, too tired to trot any more. Now it is so much easier, I feel the same type of security in the saddle I felt decades ago, and I am ready to work at improving the horses' trots.

Last Sunday I rode Cider, and I was introducing her to a new bit, a three-piece dog-bone copper roller titanium egg-butt snaffle, the first titanium snaffle that I found at 4 3/4”. I had been trying 5” titanium bits on Cider, “comfort” snaffle, Mullen mouth, Bombers Happy Tongue egg-butt, three-piece lozenge egg-butt, Kimberwick and single jointed egg-butt in Cider's 4 3/4” mouth. Cider likes the taste of the titanium but I got the feeling that Cider was humoring me about contact while she was concerned about the 5” bits shifting in her mouth. The 4 3/4” titanium bit just felt so much more stable in her mouth and she was willing to explore proper contact again. She liked the copper roller and played with it off contact.

When Shannon asked me to do a posting trot on her I did not feel the radical shifting of my seat, namely my thighs, as she sprang into the trot. The RiderGrips gave me just enough frictional grip to prevent my seat, thighs, knees and lower legs from shifting around in the saddle as she moved. After our first trot Shannon asked me to do a slow trot and I felt perfectly secure and “wedded” to the saddle as I sat her trot. Between the properly fitting bit and my added grip in the saddle Cider relaxed and started to move more smoothly under me.

Earlier, when I was using the Wellep snaffle bits on her she was quite good with the 5” wide Wellep bit (single-jointed), but when I went to a 4 3/4” Wellep single-jointed snaffle contact improved, and it improved even more when I used my 4 3/4” double-jointed Wellep snaffle. Even with leather bit guards on the 5” bits Cider finds the 1/4” narrower bit so much more comfortable and that shows up with her contact improving.

Wednesday was much more peaceful for my lesson this week. The new judge's stand was finished, all the horses had accepted its presence and I was riding at my usual time, 9:00 AM so Cinnabar knew what was happening. As I put on the BOT poll cap and the Fenwick mask with ears he was more receptive and cooperated when I put them on him. Then when we put on the BOT saddle pad and butt blanket he started to nuzzle me some when I was near his head. I think he has finally accepted that I am different, and one of the ways I am different from his other riders is that I put all these things on him that make him feel good physically. Horses LIKE feeling comfortable!

Since my new bit is too narrow for Cinnabar's 5” mouth I used the single jointed titanium coated egg-butt snaffle on him again. After wending my way around all the jumps in the ring I decided to trot. Once Cinnabar was convinced that yes, I meant it, I wanted him to trot, he was amenable. I had just been doing short trots on Cider, on Cinnabar I did a posting trot half-way around the ring before I got a little tired. Then a few minutes later I did another lengthy (for me) trot, feeling secure all the way. Toward the end of my ride I did yet another trot, something I have not been able to do for years. I did not shift around in the saddle, my legs stayed still, and the only fault that Debbie commented on was that I was carrying my left hand higher than my right hand. I even did a posting trot while carrying the Equicube. Debbie was quite happy with me.

And now that my body is no longer scared about going FASTER I can improve his trot.

Since Cinnabar's contact is not quite as steady as I want it I am thinking about changing his bit from the single-jointed titanium coated snaffle to a double-jointed lozenge egg-butt titanium coated 5” snaffle. Before, when I was still shifting around in the snaffle I figured that his uncertain contact was probably his reaction to my unsteady seat. Now that my seat is steadier I can feel that there is something about the bit that he is not really comfortable with, at least he is not comfortable enough to give me good contact. To me good contact means that the horse is relaxed and accepting of the bit with the corners of the lips, tongue and bars, with the horse's mouth actively reaching for and accepting contact in response to my driving aids with my lower legs. Cinnabar's mouth felt like it was not really reaching for the bit, it may have looked like he was on contact but I could feel a slight “sucking back” when it came to meeting the bit. When my seat in the saddle was shifting all over the place I suspected his sucking back from the bit was caused by me shifting around in the saddle. Now that I am more secure I know that it is probably the single-jointed bit, something is not completely comfortable even though he kept his mouth closed and quiet the whole ride.

When I rode Mia on Friday I was eager to see what she would tell me about my new bit, the one with the copper roller. Mia seems to enjoy the taste of the titanium bits over the taste of the stainless steel bits but she seems less than impressed with the mouthpieces. Since her mouth is 4 3/4” wide I figured that the other titanium bits were too wide at 5” and I hoped she would do better in my new bit that fits better.

Mia does not read the books. Instead of reaching for a comfortable contact she sucked back and usually refused to establish contact without plenty of leg. She seemed sort of confused about the copper roller and she really did not know what to do about it. Mia would reach for contact in response to my leg, meet the bit and sort of bounce back a little bit. She did not care that the bit fit better, she reacted worse to this bit than any of the other titanium bits I tried on her, all at 5”. While there is finally a 4 3/4” double-jointed lozenge titanium coated egg-butt snaffle that just came on the market it will take me a few months before my budget will allow me to buy it (winter is more expensive than summer when the polar vortexes visit us.) Until then I will probably go back to the Wellep 4 3/4” double-jointed snaffle since she was fine about contact with that bit. Since Mia is around 34 years old I have no problems with humoring her. Hey, I hope someone humors me if I ever get to be 102 years old!

And since I've regained my security in the saddle at the trot I now can start to work the horses seriously again about such fine points of riding as proper contact and response to the bit as I try to show the horses how they can improve their gaits in response to my leg aids. The leg aids are basic and absolutely essential, but with a bit I can refine the horses' responses to my leg aids so that their gaits improve when they get off their forehands.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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