Rebel Without a Cause

This week we are having a heat wave down here in NC, hot and humid, the type of weather where sweat drips off of my face. Today I did not ride Mia because the dew point was 75° F, and it is supposed to get up to 97° F in the shade. All week I had been worrying about it being too hot for me to ride with my MS, then it occurred to me that even if I could handle it, that Mia, over 30 years old and with compromised lungs (her nagging cough), would suffer if I tried to ride her. This is the type of weather where the forecasters recommend that the elderly and people with respiratory problems stay inside and keep cool. So Mia is standing in a stall in front of a fan, chilling out in the shade while I rest in my air-conditioned house.

I did get a lesson in since it was a few degrees cooler Wednesday morning. Bingo's lesson rider, a young boy, had graduated to riding a horse capable of higher performance than Bingo (this is not hard, most horses are capable of higher performance than Bingo.) So Bingo did not have a stiff back from a lesson with a beginner, and I got permission from Debbie to use my BOT exercise sheet on Bingo for the first part of my ride. Bingo started out really well, with a relaxed, swinging back and a free striding walk. I was really pleased with him! He was still “sticky” in some parts of the ring, but he gave in to my requests without much trouble. For the first time in weeks I did not have to stay up in two-point the first 13 minutes of my ride, Bingo was able to move quite well with me sitting down in the saddle.

Debbie decided that she needed to ride her endurance horse, Tercel more, so after she got me mounted and made sure that Bingo would not give me any problems she went back to the barn to tack up her horse. She kept on getting interrupted with minor emergencies and phone calls, but she finally made it out to the ring with her gorgeous horse. THAT is when my problems with Bingo started.

All of a sudden he turned from a mildly cooperative horse to a horse who decided he did not want to do anything I wanted to do. Bingo saw Tercel standing at the gate, and Bingo decided that he DESERVED to go and stand at the gate too! No, Bingo, you have to go where I say you can go, and you are NOT going to stand at the gate with Tercel! With a lot of leg and leading reins I did get Bingo to go where I wanted to, but the whole time his attention was riveted on Tercel standing at the gate. Then Debbie mounted and started riding and Bingo DID NOT LIKE having another horse share his ring. I did get Bingo to listen to me, but any time I let up to rest Bingo obsessed about Tercel.

Then, at the same place in the middle of the ring where I have had problems with Bingo for weeks, Bingo slammed on his brakes and went into a major “I DON'T WANNA GO!” He balked, I gave him the leg aid once and he said “I DON'T WANNA GO!” again. I gave a slightly stronger leg aid and he started backing up (my reins were loose.) After a few strides going backwards he stopped again, I used my legs again and he backed up several more strides. He repeated this every time I asked him to go in that particular direction at that particular place in the ring. Eventually I did get him to go where I wanted him to go each time, but he did so with extreme reluctance. The third time he did this melt down my thirty minutes were up, but I told Bingo that I was going to keep riding him until he obeyed me. Debbie, of course, approved and told Bingo that even though his 30 minutes were up he was just going to have to suck it up until he decided to obey me.

After seven more minutes Bingo finally went where I told him to go without balking, but he was muttering under his breath about HOW UNFAIR it was. Once he gave me what I wanted I went to the middle of the ring and got off. All through these balks Debbie was telling me to spank him, but I just told her that I was very, very sure that Bingo throughout his life had been spanked by experts. I got the impression from Bingo that he EXPECTED to be spanked, thus giving his an excuse to really express his displeasure, with the long term goal of getting me to dismount and never to ride him again. After all this had worked with most of his previous riders. Sorry Bingo, I am tougher than you are, I raised two boys after all. I am used to the sullen disobedience, the protestations of how UNFAIR the universe is, and the sheer determination to NEVER, ever to do what I want. So I just chill out in the saddle, calmly reapply my aids, and at that magic moment that Bingo finally obeys me I just ignore his grumbles and praise him for being such a brave, bold horse.

Bingo is a rebel without a cause. He remembers all those times in which his rebellions succeeded in getting his rider to give up and get off of him! I know that back then Bingo was probably given many reasons to rebel, badly fitting saddles, badly fitted bits, badly fitting bridles, and all around bad riding from the people who rode him. He has shown absolutely no signs of previously being ridden and trained intelligently the whole time I've ridden him. I know he hurts, but unlike his previous riders I am doing all I can to alleviate his pains, he now wears the BOT/ThinLine saddle pad, the BOT exercise sheet, BOT exercise boots on all four feet, the BOT poll cap and the Fenwick mask with ears, and when we put these on him he shows every sign of appreciating them. When I finally could afford a good saddle I made good and sure to get the saddle that reflected his greatly abbreviated flat part of his back and got out of his way where his back rapidly goes up to meet his HIGH croup. We moved his girth back so he has stopped nipping when we tighten it, and I use the non-slip mohair string girth for his comfort. I have done more for Bingo's comfort than I've done for any other horse I've ridden in my entire life. I even finally found a bit that Bingo likes carrying in his mouth, through all these temper tantrums Bingo has not objected to the bit itself, just with me insisting he obey my signals.

Bingo is a dun, and I have never ridden a dun horse before. I am noticing that he does not have the desire to please his rider that Arabs have, he does not have the basic cooperative attitude that most other horses have, and that he holds grudges much, much longer than the other horses I've ridden. It does not help me at all that Bingo EXPECTS abuse for his disobedience, and that in spite of that he is STILL willing to defy his rider with the expectation of being spanked severely. When we got back to the barn one of Debbie's boarders told me that a month or two Bingo had seen, horror of horrors, a loose goat in one of that paddocks, and that ever since he's been resistant in the exact place where he first caught sight of that horrible goat. So Bingo is giving me all these problems because of a ghost of a goat, a ghost that only lives in his mind because the goat has long gone back to its home.

This is the fate of all too many ugly and badly conformed horses. They rarely get good rider working on them, because to good riders working on Bingo is probably a waste of their valuable riding time. There is no way to overcome this super thick throat-latch, and there is little that can be done to overcome his croup high conformation. He will probably never be a show horse because he is such a dumpy ugly little fellow. So, with Bingo at age 24, I am riding a horse lacking good training and unable to give me the graceful responses of a decently conformed horse, and who is set in his ways. My project of turning Bingo into a reliable lesson horse is probably the biggest equitation challenge of my riding career.

But with intelligent riding and training, and by listening to Bingo's complaints of pain, I will eventually prevail. Under all that sullen bravado is a horse who WANTS to be praised and admired, and I am doing everything I can to bring that version of Bingo out to the real world. Hopefully one day he will decide that he no longer has any reason to rebel and will realize that the world can be a kinder place than the one he grew up in.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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