The Summer Heat

It is now that time of year, hot and muggy even in the morning, and I have to wear my ice vest.

Darn it.

I am grateful that ice vests exist and that I can afford to own one, but having to breathe the hot humid air seems to keep me so hot in spite of the ice vest. I can't think as quickly, my memory is much worse, and my coordination is not very good at all.

At least MJ was not flinching while he walked, Debbie had made sure that his feet, especially under his heel shim pads, were cleaned out thoroughly every day and MJ has responded by getting better. He still did not want to walk very fast and my legs got a work out. He “offered” to trot several times and I understand this, it takes a horse less energy to go to the next faster gait than it does to extend the stride of the slower gait. Besides, the horses “say” I am the only rider who wants them to walk faster and longer, everybody else seems content with the normal school horse shuffling walk accelerating to the normal school horse shuffling trot, which is really much easier for a horse who feels like being lazy. After all they are only going around in circles, why rush to get there?

Debbie had to remind me to keep my lower legs steady and to keep my hands even. MJ did not seem to mind my riding faults too much, but he still did not want to move out even when I got my body working properly.

I am starting to feel out MJ's thinking abilities, and I have to work on not expecting him to be as smart as an Arabian. He can be as sweet as an Arabian and he is pretty cooperative, but I am noticing the same slowness of learning new things that Bingo had. I need to endlessly repeat something new, aid-release-reward every week, and I have to do it multiple times every ride. Yes MJ, I expect you to halt. Yes MJ, I expect you to go a little bit faster than the slowest shuffle you are capable of. Yes MJ, I expect you to turn, flexing your body, while keeping the same speed. Yes MJ, I expect you to listen to my aids and obey them. MJ just does not seem to see any reason for my unreasonable, to him, demands at a walk.

He did finally improve backing up Debbie said. However the improvement backing up did not translate into improving the halt. Going toward the gate I had to repeat my hand aids four times, each time a little bit stronger. Going away from the gate I had to repeat my hand aids two to three times. For some reason MJ has not gotten the message about the relationship of my hand aids to my expectations for obedience. It is like he understands “baby talk” from riders just fine, but he does not understand that we can communicate at a much higher level. I do not think it has ever occurred to MJ that it is possible to communicate at a higher level with his rider.

MJ is teaching me the utmost importance of patience when schooling a horse. The Arabians just spoiled me, now I have to figure out how to be as effective a rider on a horse who does not “get it” readily, a horse who sees no reason for my demands, and a horse who does not get into playing my game of “yes, you need to extend your stride, it will help you”. It isn't like I am asking for much.

Luckily MJ has a nice disposition. There is no meanness in him, none at all.

I went ahead and ordered the next size up in a Fager bradoon, this time a single-jointed one because they had run out of their double-jointed fixed ring 130mm bradoons. I want to get this horse into a double bridle if Debbie will agree, her horse, her rules. I may have to juggle around with the bradoon, MJ's mouth is 5” or so wide where the bradoon goes (125mm), at least I am well supplied with stainless steel bradoons of all sizes. I would prefer to keep both bits titanium, but a well fitting bradoon is important in a double bridle so if I have to use a stainless steel bradoon MJ will just have to get used to it. At a minimum it might reduce confusion between the action of the two bits if they taste differently. I do not need the double bridle to control MJ, I can control him fine even it at times I do not like making my hands hard so he will listen to me. I want MJ to improve like Bingo did, and to do that I have to give MJ the same chance to figure out the difference between the curb and the snaffle bit. If Bingo, as limited in brain power as that horse was, could learn to understand the action of the snaffle bit through me using a double bridle, MJ should not have many problems because MJ definitely has more brain power than Bingo. At least I hope so, and I really hope MJ agrees with me about this.

I do not do this by hauling back with the curb bit or yanking with the curb rein. The curb bit is always on sagging reins and I tweak with both my little fingers after asking for a halt with the bradoon. It is more of a “yes, I really meant that aid with the bradoon to mean something” than a “I will make you hurt more until you obey my aid with the bradoon rein.” I want the horse to learn how to think, to figure out the rein aids himself so I can end this endless repetition of “horse, when I do this I expect you to do that.” With the double bridle I am teaching the horse the aids and I am also teaching the horse how to figure out my signals so my aids stop being just meaningless “noise” that can be safely ignored. After 50 years of riding I have yet to find a superior set up to EXPLAIN to the horse what my hand aids mean than the double bridle.

The last thing I want is for the horse to be afraid of the curb bit. Usually during the first few rides when the horse feels like his mind is in the right place I keep contact with just the curb rein, at first for just a stride or two, gradually working up to contact through the short side of the ring. My contact with the curb bit is LIGHT, my fingers stay loose and relaxed. My goal is for the horse to fearlessly reach out and down with his head full on confidence that the curb bit will not hurt him, which means my fingers have to be loose enough so that my reins can slip through my hand when the horse's head goes down. After we achieve this the horses tend to lose any fear of the curb bit and are prepared for communication with the curb bit.

I really hope Debbie lets me use the double bridle on MJ! If she does not I will just have to cultivate my patience, make sure that my hand aids feel the same all the time, reward quickly by lightening my contact, and hope that one day MJ will become one of those magical horses who are light in hand.

Patience, patience, patience!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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