I Will Be Changing My Lesson Horse

My lesson on Wednesday was the usual. Cinnabar, came in with his usual “you again” sour expression, he did not particularly enjoy the grooming (mostly Debbie), and the overall impression I got from him was that he thinks he is overworked and “underpaid” (he gets fed plenty and has lots of turn-out with his buddies.)

Riding him was no different. He had the same reactions to my aids (why do you expect me to do this?) and he was reluctant to move out. He had been trail ridden the day before and his reaction to the aids was keyed to his previous rider in that she got him going, and the reaction to my driving aids was more of a lurch forward than a smooth definite forward push. Our contact through the reins was tentative, he would reach out for contact fine, keep it up decently for a few steps, then he would start sucking back micro-meter by micro-meter. I may have had contact with his mouth, but I definitely did not have a CONNECTION with his brain.

We just walked. I am still adapting to the time change and I was tired, and he was sort of stiff from the day before. Cinnabar did NOT want to extend his stride at all, and if I asked too strongly he started a slow, shuffling trot. I reduced my demands, it was obvious that Cinnabar was not going to go forward freely, he was not finding my schooling interesting, and that he would appreciate not having to carry me around for 30 minutes a week. Don't get me wrong, Cinnabar has never, ever given me any reason to feel scared, he has always obeyed my aids, and even when he raises his head as he ignores me he does not go beyond the bounds of my aids. Cinnabar is a good horse, but I think that Cinnabar may be suffering some burn-out.

On Friday I got to work with Mia for the first time in a month. I had asked Debbie how much of Mia's winter coat I should groom out, and Debbie told me to get as much off as I could since they would blanket her if it got cold again. So when my husband and I groomed her the air was full of fine horse hair and lots and lots of dust. Mia had not coughed for a week (that they heard), but as soon as she got near the wash stalls she started coughing, hey everyone has been grooming their horses extra hard (a show is coming up) and there was a lot of dust in the air. As usual Mia loved being groomed, receiving it as her rightful due, as we worked and worked on getting her shedding hair out of her coat.

Since we had a break I thought it was an excellent time to listen to Mia's qualms about the titanium snaffles I've been trying out on her. Mia has indicated that she likes the taste of the titanium bits, but sooner or later she indicates that the mouthpiece is not quite right (single-jointed snaffle, Bomber's Easy Tongue, and double-jointed lozenge snaffle) in that her contact would gradually deteriorate. I put my double-jointed Wellep bit back on her bridle since that has been the best bit for her contact.

Mia was content. She willingly reached for contact and she willingly kept good contact whenever I wanted it. She was sort of stiff from not being ridden for a month (she is 34 and creaky), but she warmed up enough to try to extend her walking stride when I asked her to move on a little. Mia is not lazy, she sees no reason why she should stand still for a minute to rest, she's an enduring Arabian and if I have to rest it is just not her problem, she wants to walk, move, look around, and enjoy herself as much as possible. Standing still is just not fun, even at the gate or when I stop where Debbie stands. So when I need to rest we go around on loose reins as I practice turning with my body, seat, thigh, and lower leg aids, sneaking in a brief halt here and there so I can rest a little bit.

As I rode Mia I thought about my “problems” with Cinnabar. Ever since I started riding again I have ridden quite a few lesson horses, and with all of them I face an initial time of “getting to know you” where I have to convince the horse that though I might feel weird I WILL NOT HURT THEM. After a month or two of weekly half-hour lessons they usually start to relax, and if I keep up my end of the bargain they start looking at me kindly when they see me. I have been riding Cinnabar for three months, with every other horse (that does not have pain) I have always been able to progress by three months, with better contact, more prompt obedience to my aids, and a greater willingness to extend their stride. Even Coach was improving under me before I fell off.

But if Cinnabar is suffering from burn-out this process probably won't happen, he will always view me as extra work and a general pain that he has to put up with because that is life.

So after my ride on Mia I asked Debbie if I could go back to Bingo, her “rebel without a cause” who was coming around to my way of seeing the world. Debbie brightened up, she had been thinking about letting Bingo go as a pasture companion but here I was wanting to ride him again! I KNOW that the first few lessons may be a repeat of when I started riding him originally, with all the evasions, “I don't want to”, “why do I have to do this?”, etc.. I might have to convince him to move forward again. But during several of my rides on Bingo I picked up this feeling of interest in what I was doing. It was like Bingo actually had a deep, hidden desire to become a superior riding horse, and a tentative willingness to learn higher equitation. This surprised me because Bingo is the worst conformed riding horse I have ever ridden, there is no way he could ever get into a pretty “frame” even with correct training. But it should be interesting to see how far we can go in turning Bingo into a superior riding horse within the limits of his conformation.

I am even thinking of talking with Debbie about putting him into a double bridle, according to the measurements of his mouth. I know that I will never get the full effects of the double bridle with Bingo, and that it will be an exploration of how subtle my aids are. The key will be to get the beneficial effects of the curb bit without forcing Bingo into pain from his thick, thick, thick throat-latch, and with me being content with whatever Bingo comes up with to work happily within his limitations.

Cinnabar's conformation as a riding horse is infinitely superior to Bingo's conformation, BUT Bingo has the desire to explore interesting new ideas while Cinnabar considers this as a horrible new burden for an innocent horse. I'd just rather ride a horse who is interested in what I am teaching him.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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