I Prepare Bingo for Riding Camp

First an update on ice vests. When I realized that my FlexiFreeze ice vest was causing me an allergic reaction to the neoprene I went on-line to see what other ice vests were available. I found the Kool Max ice vest from Polar Products. It is not as flexible as the FlexiFreeze vest since instead of lots of ice cubes enclosed in plastic the Kool Max vest uses 4” x 6” ice blocks, my new vest fits 9 of these, 4 in the front (2 on each side), 3 across my lower back and 2 vertically down my upper spine.

The two mornings I rode in it were rather cool (upper 50's, low 60's F) so I am still not sure how it will work in true summer heat, I was not expecting to have wonderful riding weather this week! Usually at these temperatures I figure I do not NEED any cooling besides my technical fabric hot weather shirt and breeches. I was amazed, even at these cooler temperatures, how much the ice vest helped my riding. I was able to do the posting trot all the way around the riding ring instead of just ¼ of the way around without feeling totally drained. Bingo “said” my contact was fine and he did not seem to mind the extra 4 pounds on his back. So far so good, hopefully the ice vest will help me when it gets hotter and more humid.

Debbie's summer riding camp is coming up all through the last week of June, and she told me she will have to use Bingo some, for teaching little riders how to walk and trot a horse. Since Bingo has difficulties with sudden changes, this week we are not using the double bridle, I put his new Shire's Blue Alloy Mullen mouth bit (it really is not a true Mullen mouth since it has a port) on my bridle to give him 2 weeks to get thoroughly used to this bit. I am sitting looser in the saddle, I am letting Bingo slog around the ring at his own pace, and I am practicing getting Bingo set with using sagging reins instead of contact.

In other words this week and next I am stepping back from training Bingo to be a fine riding horse (eventually) to training him not to scare his beginner riders. It is not that hard, since I am not using my driving aids (alternating lower legs) to speed him up I find that my seat is a little looser in the saddle and my lower legs are making a reasonable approximation to the control that a beginner would have (waving around in the air somewhat.) My seat bones are no longer “glued” to the saddle so it feels more like it will with a beginner up on his back, shifting a little bit more as his back moves. I mostly worked on loose reins because beginners do not know how to keep good, consistent contact. I used “primitive” hand and leg aids too.

Bingo took it all in rather well, as in he did not try too hard to take advantage of me, and when I corrected him from a loose rein he did not object. During my lesson I did get him up to one “marching” walk and I got one decent trot from him, but during my homework ride it was all “Bingo, this is what you need to do to keep your rider feeling safe”, nice slow gaits, no impulse, and no sudden movements. Bingo got into the game quite well.

As we were plodding around at the walk Bingo amazed me. Of his own free will, since I was not using my legs to “drive” him into the bit, he reached out gently and picked up contact on his own. He did not lunge into contact, he did not dive into contact, he just reached out with his head gently and picked up a nice, light contact. I think Bingo prefers this bit to the jointed snaffles, I think he likes the lack of noise in his mouth, and I think he really appreciates the fact that it does not squeeze shut in his mouth.

Then we trotted, I just nudged him into his normal shuffling trot, no suspension, with his head low and off contact. I concentrated at keeping him at a relatively stable speed on a sagging rein, using light rein aids when he sped up and light leg aids when he slowed down too much. Even at this slow, plodding trot with no impulse Bingo reached out for contact again. He did waver off his path a few times but I brought him back to his path without any problems.

You would think that Bingo was a seasoned beginners horse instead of a balky, defiant, angry and uncomfortable horse who was ready to hate anyone. Amazing what good logical training can do for a horse's outlook on life!

During my lesson Debbie talked with me about what she will be teaching her summer camp riders. After I did a “rider's push-up” she reminded herself that this was something she needed to teach these riders. I suggested that for the first time doing it that Debbie should “spot” the riders, mostly to show them where their lower legs should be during the push-up, noting that I tend to bring my lower leg back as my chest touches the horse's neck. Debbie thought that was a good idea. I also reminded her to use the Equicubes I gave her, to help these riders to find their seat in the saddle.

Bingo will not be used to jump during the camp, Debbie is worried about his front legs. After she said this Bingo “reminded” me that he used to go fox hunting and that he could jump. He appreciated that she wanted to spare his front legs, but he “told” me that he could handle trotting over cross-rails IF the rider did not hurt his mouth. So I told Debbie this, it would expand his usefulness as a lesson horse a little bit more. She probably won't use Bingo for trotting over cross-rails but she seemed pretty happy that Bingo said he was willing to do that much.

I do not think that Bingo likes any jointed snaffles at all if a beginner is holding the reins. He seems pretty happy with the Blue Alloy bit with the ported mouth, and he seems to enjoy it more than a Mullen mouth snaffle. The problem of putting a beginner on a horse is that however well meaning the rider might be, the rider is simply not capable of keeping a light, steady contact. At least with the solid mouthpiece any accidental pulls on the reins will not hurt his mouth as much as they do with a jointed snaffle. So next Friday, after my “homework” ride, I will switch the Blue Alloy bit over to his stable bridle from my bridle, and I am going to lend Debbie my Rainbow reins so that the riders can keep both reins at mostly the same length (another dictate from Bingo.)

Another thing I've been working on with Bingo the last few rides is that he is expected to keep trotting more than ¼ of the way around the ring. I did very well in the ice vest, for the first time in years I was able to do the posting trot all the way around the ring during my lesson. During my homework ride I was able to do the posting trot all the way around the ring twice, once in each direction, with only a few minutes of resting between the trotting sets. I did have to keep him moving at the trot when I got tired and more sloppy in the saddle, but he cooperated with me fine. I let him do his regular shuffling trot because that is the best trot for beginners. He sped up a few times but settled back down when I told him to. I will work on this some more next week.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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