Spring has arrived early here in NC. Today it is supposed to get up to 70 F. The horses are shedding like crazy, the trees are pumping out pollen, and the fruit farmers are really worried because the flower buds on their trees are preparing to bloom. Sometime in the next month or two we will probably get another sharp freeze down in the 20's F. Meanwhile I am enjoying the clement weather.
After last week's mini-rebellions by both Mia and Cider I changed the bits on their bridles. I decided that while my hands may be good enough to do the Myler independent-side-movement bits when I am at the top of my form I had to face the reality that with my MS my hands can change without warning. My problem is that I often do not notice that my hands' sensitivity, smoothness, and ability to release promptly have changed until the mares tell me. Luckily neither mare is willing to make any compromises when their delicate and sensitive mouths are at stake. They will put up with my poor and shifting balance and my clumsy legs (as long as the spurs don't touch them) with good grace, but any fault with my hands causes immediate rejection. This is their right.
So I switched Mia back to the Wellep full cheek bit (NOT the lever cheek). The first time I bridled her she noticed the change before I brought the bit up to her lips and did not imitate a giraffe, which she had done the last few times I tried a Myler on her. Mia was happy that she had made her point! She gave me some decent contact, stopped softly, backed up better, and generally showed me that she GREATLY PREFERS the Wellep bit. So much for experimenting. I am just going to have to watch my hands closely so I don't get back into the habit of moving my hands up and down when I am on contact. One of my problems is that the Wellep bit feels different to my hands than the regular bits, I do not get the feeling of a stable point in the horse's mouth. My hands have to relearn where they are when I change to this bit. When I got everything right Mia rewarded me by taking a stronger contact with the bit than she had for months. Ah, progress! At least I have one bit that she will take contact with, a bit with which she will stride forward and confidently reach forward with her mouth.
Though Debbie has been getting after me for my position (it deteriorated due to the cold I had), after the first ten minutes she starts praising it. Keeping my face vertical had done wondrous things for my position. The odd thing is that my face seems to be the only part of my body whose proprioceptive sense still works so I do not have to devote my full attention to my head. Finally, something in my body that works like it is supposed to! I still have to resist an overwhelming temptation to look down at my horse's neck so I can SEE the effects of my hands on her head and neck, plus the very human desire to see where the mares will be putting their feet. Since I am only riding in the ring I really do not have to check every step, the mares are quite capable of taking responsibility for where they put their own feet. I find that keeping my face vertical helps overcome my tendency to micro-manage the mares' movements. I will just have to train my hands back to where they can FEEL what the horse is doing with her head and neck. Another challenge, another chance to truly improve my riding.
With Cider, my immediate reaction to her rebellion with the Myler full cheek triple barrel bit was to think she needed the Wellep bit too. After some thought I decided to try the one Myler bit I have that does not have the independent side movement, a Kimberwicke with a low wide port in a solid curved mouthpiece (MB-15, 89-25155). If I can ride Cider in a bit that gives my hands the feeling of a regular bit then my hands stay much more stable when I ride Mia in the Wellep bit. After Shannon and I got the bit properly placed in her mouth Cider relaxed. Unlike Mia, the curb chain does not seem to bother Cider (Mia had been abused with a curb bit, she hated this bit.) Today Cider strode forth full of confidence, taking full contact. Nothing seemed to bother her about it, nothing at all, so much so that when I tried to slow her down or halt her with light hand aids she completely ignored me. I finally had to fix my hands (looking own so I could time my release properly.) I have noticed with Cider that when something changes I have to sort of retrain her to my aids. It may take me several rides to get her back to her old lightness.
Then Cider and I trotted. The first two times she was NOT acting like her normal Energizer bunny faster, Faster, FASTER self. After the second trot I was telling Shannon that I felt no flinches or any other physical signals of great discomfort but Cider was not moving out, and I suggested that she may want to give Cider some of the MSM supplement that has helped her gelding Mars move comfortably. After we discussed this I asked for another trot, and, all of a sudden, the Energizer bunny was BACK. What a supplement, I only had to talk about it to get immediate improvement! I wish they all worked like that, life would be much cheaper. Cider was much better coming back to my hand at the trot than she had been at the walk. After a few more trots Cider suddenly stopped cooperating, veered to the center of the ring and did her backing up trick again. Using my seat I pushed Cider out too the fence and as we were going around I noticed that the saddle had shifted some. So I went back to Shannon after I had shifted the saddle back to the center and she tightened the girth. Cider improved, and the saddle felt a lot more stable under me. So we practiced walking past Shannon, only a few feet away, and the first two times I had to push her forward with my seat. By the third time I could go back to just using my legs and minimal rein. I find it very tiring to use my seat to push the horse forward which is why I reserve it for when nothing else works. I was very glad when Cider finally started cooperating with me again because I was TIRED by then. I think that Cider has concluded that when she backs up like that she gets my attention after trying and failing to tell me that something is bothering her. Another challenge, learning her first signals that all is not right so I can fix it before she goes into full rebellion. Improving my horsemanship is a never- ending task.
I am using my new anatomical girth with both mares now. I sort of wish that they had made the elastic for the front buckle a little shorter, the girth looks like it gaps a little in the front. I had tried to make the front of the girth a hole shorter, but then it gapped even worse to the rear. This girth has elastic on both ends, and it is so shaped that when one side is tightened the other side has to be tightened just as much to keep the girth centered where it projects forward, at the bottom of the horse's chest. On the plus side this girth seems to keep the saddle centered better when riding. For me, with my atrocious sense of balance, this is a definite plus. Maybe when the mares get used to it enough muscle will develop to fill that gap in the front. As always, I live in hope.
For my new readers, you can see the Wellep bits at www.wellep.com. I am using the full cheek model. I had tried the lever cheek model with both mares but my hands were not good enough to avoid irritating them.
Have a great ride!