This was a wonderful week in that I got to ride three times.
However the spirit of revolution that started in Tunisia three weeks ago has finally reached both mares I ride, both Mia and Cider said no more to my most recent experiment using the Myler bits. Of course the cold I had was quite bad and very weakening, and it really messed up my physical abilities. Last Wednesday Mia told me first to take off my spurs (I obeyed) since I could no longer keep control over my lower legs, and then this Wednesday she told me no more Myler bits even though she had previously accepted the one I had modified for her. So I switched Mia back to the Wellep bit on Friday, and with both changes she started to cooperate with me again. Not perfect cooperation by any means, but that is probably my fault, due to my inability to time my aids right. At least Mia consented to good contact several times with the Wellep bit, much better contact, nice, calm, soft contact, moving forward into the bit. She was also back to cheerful obedience to my very lightest rein aids. But every time I made a rein aid stronger her resistances came back. So now the only acceptable rein aid is lighter than stroking the back of a butterfly. Now I have to be so light so I could stroke the back of a butterfly without the butterfly even noticing my touch.
After two and a half months of not getting to ride Cider due to the weather (a string of Sundays with snow or lows in the low 20's F) and me being sick, I was really looking forward to riding Cider today. Everything started off fine, I used the triple barrel Myler bit and Cider took good contact willingly and strode forward at the walk. The trot was another matter though, she was not quite right. I quickly decided that I would only walk and I started doing broad curves, and then my troubles started. Cider quickly went back into her old habit of imitating a pretzel and would go straight for only one or two strides until she went back to being a pretzel. Even with ever lighter rein aids she screwed up her body more and more. So I went to Shannon and we tried adjusting the bit, and the next three strides at a walk would be fine, then the pretzelling came back. The third time this happened Cider added a new move, all of a sudden she refused to go forward, and when I insisted she started backing up and when I asked for a turn she would do a turn on the forehand while backing up. Cider was most definitely not happy.
Finally, in desperation, I started using my seat to get Cider to go forward. Combined with a really low opening rein she finally consented to walk away from Shannon, but would rebel whenever I tried to get contact back. She sort of would dive back toward Shannon, do exactly the same resistances, and would only consent to move forward with the same seat action and the same low leading rein. The third time I got her to consent to walk away from Shannon I had completely given up using the bit for anything except keeping her at the fence and I finally got her to go around the ring by praising her for being a good horsie each and every step while I rubbed her neck, using my outside rein just enough to keep her at the fence. She finally relaxed, straightened out, and put her head down, and I ended my ride when we successfully went around the ring once.
Before Cider had given me GREAT contact with this Myler bit, and she had even started straightening out both along the fence and when I did straight lines away from the fence. But today Cider told me that the Myler bit was no longer acceptable. Now I am back to having to switch my Wellep bit back and forth between each mare's bridle. So much for my bright ideas about acceptable bits for my hands, the horses have spoken and I have to listen to them.
There was an additional complication for my rides. All of a sudden a few months ago I had started getting messages, really subtle messages, from the mares that they were no longer completely happy with the regular girths. When I read a review about anatomical girth I decided to try one. So I saved my spending money, ordered one through my local tack shop, and after three weeks it finally came. These girths look odd, the girth goes down straight for a few inches, then curves back to give the horse's elbows more room, and then it curves forward at the bottom so that the center of the girth rests only on the horse's sternum. There is also elastic on both ends of the girth. The first time I used it on Mia I noticed that she was relaxing the muscles under my leg much more than ever before. Could I have been getting so much more resistance from the mares because the discomfort of the regular girths around their elbows had been distracting them from the bit and my hands? I have noticed this phenomenom before, when I get the horse comfortable one way all of a sudden I am faced with sudden demands to improve the rest of my riding. Only when I correct everything in my riding am I rewarded with the positive results that come with more horsie comfort. Then, until the next time something changes in my body, I am allowed the illusion that I am a competent rider.
Right now the way I see my rides this week is that, by changing the type of girth, I removed a significant irritation that had been hampering the mares' movements. With the removal of this constant discomfort both mares were free to notice everything else that was irritating them, my balance, my legs, and in particular, my hands and the bits I was using. Both mares are willing to put up with an occasional imbalance and awkward unspurred leg, but neither is willing to put up with any harshness with the bit. This is their priviledge, the bit is in THEIR mouths, and I want them to tell me if anything is wrong so I know I have to improve my riding. I do not view resistances as something to overcome or as something I have to train the horse out of. I rest secure in the knowledge that if the horses I ride resist me it means that AT THAT MOMENT my riding sucks. Badly. And you know something? The mares are always right, I am good enough so it may look like I am riding well, but the horses always know the truth and the mares, thankfully, are ever ready to tell me when I go wrong.
So both mares are back to using the Wellep bit, they like this bit more than ANY other. When they want to they can play with the mouthpiece which relaxes their tongues, jaws, necks, and backs. When I take regular contact this bit stiffens into a good type of Mullen mouth, and when I relax my contact the mouthpiece releases totally, and the mares flex their jaws and happily relax all through their toplines. Maybe by the time I recover fully from this awful cold the mares will be happy enough with their tack so I can get some really good riding in. Good, relaxed forward striding walks, and relaxed trots that extend easily. Prompt soft halts from just a twitch or two of my little fingers, and nice smooth curves with good contact and properly swinging legs. A girl can dream. Sometimes it actually happens. I live with hope, I know I will get there when I finally do EVERYTING right.
You want to become a really good rider? Ride a sensitive mare. She will tell you about everything you do wrong in excrutiating detail. Listen to her, listen to every objection, do everything you can to get her willing consent to your aids. Don't try to wear her down so she will shut up. Don't keep nagging until she gives up in despair (or vigorously revolts.) Accept a sensitive mare as your best possible teacher, the teacher that will finally teach you how to do everything RIGHT. When a sensitive mare willingly strides forth with good contact with her nose in front of vertical, cheerfully obeying every aid promptly and correctly, then you know, for at least that moment, you are a good rider. You can trust her when she says that you are good, because the moment you do anything wrong she will tell you.
And she is always right.
Have a great ride!