When the Weather Interferes With My Riding

When the Weather Interferes With My Riding

It has been a frustrating week for me as a horseback rider! I missed out on riding Cider last Sunday because the weather forecasters were predicting rain in the morning, so I called Shannon and we canceled my ride. Sunday morning there was no rain and I was miffed, until later in the afternoon when there were tornadoes to the west of Charlotte, NC. Then I was glad that the rains had not come further east that morning, tornadoes really scare me!

My lesson this week was canceled because of the HORRIBLE humidity, Debbie did not want me to over-exert myself or the horse. I think Tuesday and Wednesday mornings were more humid than most of the mornings during the summer, pure misery for both horse and rider.

Friday it the sky was full of dark, threatening clouds, and when we stopped to get a newspaper on the way to the stable it started raining, hard. I groaned! Luckily my husband decided to go out to the stable anyway and we got out from under the rain to relatively dryness, though we were driving through pretty big puddles. But in less than a mile the puddles disappeared, at the stable the ground was dry and Mia's coat was not wet at all! I was so glad that I had not given up, since Friday was the only day I was able to ride this week.

Right now I am the only person riding Mia, and I do not get to ride her every week. Me and my husband give her a good grooming, and we keep an eye out for thrush in her hooves. Ever since I started using the HandsOn grooming gloves and the Tiger's Tongue horse grooming tool Mia has enjoyed her grooming sessions so much more than she ever did before, plus I can get her coat really shiny! By the time we get all her tack on she is in a pretty good mood, her skin feels good and we effectively scratch all those pesky little itches that can make a horse feel miserable and misunderstood. Plus Mia has this pesky cough (the cough medicine helped some but did not get rid of it, and she started refusing her feed because of the taste), so I ride her to encourage her to cough whatever has built up in her lungs out of them because I worry about pneumonia, not a good thing for a 30+ year old mare.

Since the wind was a little nippy I put on the Amigo Fly Rider sheet and neck covering to cut the wind a little bit. Mia appreciated that! I know that, being directly under a low pressure system, my muscles and joints were aching, and I imagine that Mia's muscles and joints were also bothering her some so I started off slow.

Over the past few months I had been looking at the FreeJump Collar (http://www.freejumpsystem.com/contents/products/232/newslettercolli...), wondering if it could help me avoid “hitting” the horse's mouth during a sudden, explosive move. I finally saved up enough money and ordered one. When I received it I looked and looked at it, went back to the net and looked at the photos and videos, and I realized I might have some problems! Sure enough, when I first put the FreeJump Collar on Mia on Friday it was TIGHT, and up several inches from the base of her neck. Part of my problem was my wonderful Pegasus Butterfly saddle, due to the unusual saddle tree of the Pegasus Butterfly saddle, the front saddle D is an inch to an inch and a half further back than the ones on a saddle with a normal saddle tree. I got the straps attaching the collar to the saddle barely long enough so it was not pressing hard against her windpipe, but the collar was still pretty high up on her windpipe, about 3 inches or so. When I sat down in the saddle the strap that goes to my hands was a little bit short for comfort though it was fine when I was up in two-point. The straps to the rider's hands has this comfortable “T” that the middle fingers grasp, leaving the lower fingers free for hand aids and I had no problems keeping my fingers relaxed on the reins. Considering that Mia is maybe 14 hands high I was surprised that the collar was so tight on her at first.

ALL the pictures and videos on the FreeJump site show the collar several inches up the horse's windpipe, so I conclude that the developers were not worried about this. However I am sort of worried about this, since everything I have read has warned about breast collars pressing against the horse's windpipe interfering with the horse's ability to breathe deeply. I had gotten out one of my longest stirrup leathers hoping it would be long enough to go from the girth to the collar to keep the collar lower, but, alas, the doubled stirrup leather was not long enough (part of the reason is that my string girth is 5 inches wide, with no convenient D's for attaching stuff to the girth.) Mia did not have a particular problem with the collar itself, but I limited how much I was pulling on it with the hand straps. I do worry about Bingo though since his neck is set really low on his chest, and I do all I can to encourage him to carry his neck out and low (NOT deep low) since he has a distressing tendency to invert and become ewe-necked.

Yesterday I took a really close look at the FreeJump collar and decided that it was put together in such a way that I can get really creative with Western curb straps or flash straps, and O-rings to improve it for me. I should be able to get a few more inches so that the attachment of the collar to the D's right below the pommel of the saddle is a little looser. Another pair of Western curb straps and O-rings should get the hand straps long enough so I can sit back in the saddle. I may have some longer stirrup leathers in my old tack collection so I can use one to keep the front of the collar down off of the horse's windpipe, if not I will just have to get creative with one of my running martingales or get another Western curb strap and a bigger O-ring so I can use a doubled stirrup leather. Luckily the collar has an additional piece of leather which serves as a channel for a martingale, so I should be able to work something out to keep the collar off of the horse's windpipe.

When I try a new piece of tack my criteria include being able to ride a true Forward Seat while using it, that the horse be comfortable when I use it, and that it does nothing that encourages the horse to invert! I am confident that I will be able to modify the FreeJump collar so I do not worry about the horse when I use it.

IF I was doing show jumping I would not be too worried about using the FreeJump collar as it is, each round does not take much time, and with all the changes of speed and direction I can see how it could really help a rider to not abuse the horse's mouth. There is no problem with the hand straps being long enough to do a true automatic release, as it is built a rider should be able to follow the horse's head over a 6 foot jump without restraining the horse's head or neck at all so long the rider lets the reins slip through the fingers if necessary. I see no reason why I could not hack out with it without modifications since I would not be doing a lot of galloping and it would give me more security in the saddle when the horse moves suddenly. But I would hesitate to use it for any horse sport that requires really long gallops at a high rate of speed, because I would worry about limiting the amount of air the horse could get through his windpipe if I had to pull back on it a lot. The FreeJump collar is 3 ¾ inches wide where it crosses the horse's wind pipe, and the EVA foam padding on the collar is 3/8” thick, so at the slower speeds where the free passage of air through the windpipe is not quite as critical, the FreeJump collar should serve well as it is constructed. However if I wanted the horse to carry his head particularly low (like over rough ground) it may cause some problems since it ends up a few inches up the windpipe.

Before I bought the FreeJump collar I asked Debbie if she thought she could use it for her riding students, especially ones that have trouble keeping their hands steady and quiet. She said it sounded interesting and that she would consider using it. I am SO GLAD I tested it out before having a lesson because the Debbie would worry about the same things that worry me about it. This way I will hopefully get all the bugs ironed out enough to make it a valued piece of riding equipment for the type of riding I do. I particularly wanted to get the collar for the greatly hoped for time that I get my seat secure enough so that Debbie thinks I can jump. I worry so much that I will inevitably get “left behind” and give the horse's mouth a wallop when I jump!

Debbie should be able to use it to get her student's more aware of their hand position and to get her students to keep their hands quieter. The hand straps are adjustable so the riding teacher can get the hand straps just right for educating the riding student how to use their hands better. Of course it will also help protect the horses from getting walloped in the mouth when their rider's get left behind when they learn how to jump a horse.

In the end I think I will be really glad that I invested in this piece of riding equipment.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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