Two Creaky Old Ladies

Yesterday I got to ride Mia. When I got to the stable the stable hands told me the Mia had hung around the barn UNTIL someone asked if I, Jackie, was coming. Mia immediately headed out to the furthest part of the pen she was in, out to the other side of the riding ring. Then they told me she had done the same thing earlier, hanging around the barn until someone mentions my name. Luckily Sam shrugged it off as just one more piece of proof that horses are a lot smarter than we think. Unfortunately Mia started coughing when she came into the barn and kept coughing sporadically until Sam gave her some cough medicine.

Since Mia had “told” me that while she likes the taste of the titanium bits she really did not enjoy the mouthpieces, this week I went back to the Wellep double-jointed snaffle. Unfortunately I forgot to put the leather bit guards on it. Since she had done “okay” with the titanium bits without the bit guards (because the mouthpieces were too thick for my bit guards) I had plain forgotten about putting them on the Wellep bit. Before yesterday I had put the bit guards on the Wellep bit every ride, at first because my first Wellep bit was 5”--1/4” or so too wide for her mouth, and later because I did not think she would like feeling the cheek pieces of the Wellep bit. What followed was an illustration of the fact that with horses “little things” that “should not” bother the horse can have immense effects on their performance, namely that Mia PREFERS the Wellep bit have bit guards on it, thank you very much.

Instead of Mia giving a big sigh of relief she acted like she has with every other type of bit the first time I try it. She was reluctant to establish contact at first, then she accepted contact but kept on reaching out further so my reins slid though my fingers (since she is old and creaky I always let her dictate whichever level of contact she can stand that day.) She did not want to stop and rest, if I had to be on her back she wanted to move—at a very slow walk. So I practiced two-point, rider's push-ups, and worked on retraining my hands to shorten the rein with my fingers while it was in my hand, instead of taking a hand off the rein and altering the length of the other rein. This later skill will be absolutely necessary if I ever get to use a double bridle. I also switched the reins from their usual position under my little finger to between my ring and little fingers because with the double bridle I will be riding with the bradoon rein there so I better get used to it again. I know that this is not the “official” way to hold two reins in my hands but I lack the ability to use the curb rein effectively when it is between my ring and little fingers as in I cannot lengthen it promptly enough as the horse changes the elevation of his head.

All during my ride Mia was “telling” me that she felt old and tired. Well, I was feeling old and tired too after helping to groom her and walking out to the ring. We were well matched as far as ambition was concerned and we just puttered around the ring at a rather slow walk.

My lesson Wednesday on Cinnabar was somewhat better than this, though we also kept to a walk as the ring was pretty sloppy and I was not very energetic. Since Cinnabar had convinced me that he in no way preferred a single-jointed snaffle I switched him to a three piece titanium snaffle with a slightly rotated lozenge in the middle. His contact was MUCH better but I still ran into the simple problem that Cinnabar has never been really trained for contact, so his contact went from “I think this is all right” to “I really do not want to be doing this now.” He did not invert, gape or otherwise show great discomfort, he just did not want to do much contact. Since he is being used for lessons for beginning little girls he is protective of his mouth and I do not blame him at all, but it makes it a lot harder for me to convince him that contact can be sort of enjoyable for the horse if the rider has decent, educated hands.

This is sort of frustrating to me, I want to get back to riding in a double bridle before the weather gets too hot and my hands deteriorate with the heat. But it would be worse than useless for me to introduce the double bridle before he keeps good, reliable contact with a mild snaffle, especially at the walk. Doing that would head to head flinging, ducking back behind the bit(s), a gaping mouth, an anxious tense tongue, and a frazzled horse. I now think that it will take me until next winter to get Cinnabar's contact improved enough so I can even think about introducing the double bridle. The last time I introduced a horse to the double bridle I had been working on him for a year until Debbie and I were content that the double bridle would not cause more problems for him. Taking my time worked with that horse, when we introduced the double bridle that horse seemed to consider it an interesting experiment in equine-human communication instead of an instrument of torture.

Cider, last Sunday, was quite happy with my new double-jointed titanium snaffle with the copper roller. All through the ride I could hear little squeaks from her mouth as she happily played with the roller. Otherwise she was stiffer than usual, the very changeable weather is probably wreaking havoc on her joints though she is still moving better than several months ago. At least Cider kept decent contact with my hands.

I really do not feel good about the idea of using a double bridle on Cider even though she has good contact. Not only is she arthritic, but she has a very short mouth, the corners of her lips do not extend past her curb groove. Even if she was sound I would have to tighten the bradoon hanger a few holes so that the curb (situated vertically above the curb groove) and the bradoon would have enough separation, which would increase the pressure of the bradoon hanger on her poll. I know that most English riders do not agree with me on this, but I think that the increased poll pressure can irritate the horse and make the horse less responsive to light aids with the bit. I HATE seeing two to three wrinkles above the snaffle bit/bradoon, that is a lot of pressure to put on the sensitive poll. I am definitely outside of the mainstream of hunt seat or dressage with this.

Yesterday I saw a long-term weather forecast for the Southeast. Because of El Nino we may get a very wet year down here, though we may be spared from some hurricanes. I just hope I get to ride three times a week though I am not really expecting the weather to cooperate with my plans. I do know that the horses will not mind having a vacation from me riding them.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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Comment by B. G. Hearns on February 21, 2019 at 2:31pm

   I had to laugh at your description of Mia running away. Oakley does the same thing, the day after a good, hard ride. He sees my truck coming up the driveway and he walks behind the tree at the far end of the paddock.
   This winter has been particularly difficult, not that bad, but every other Wednesday, which is one of my riding nights, we have had a major nasty weather, usually freezing rain on top of snow, which kills off my Thursday lesson as well, so we've been taking it easy -- very easy -- these past two months. Sometimes you just have to have a swan day and take it easy.

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