I finally found and got something I have spent decades looking for, a leather fringe brow band.  I was drooling over the Smith Worthington sole-leather treed jumping saddles and started looking at the bridle gear on their web site when I found it!  Luckily my tack store has a relationship with Smith Worthington so I was able to order one.  This week I have introduced all three of the horses I ride to this new piece of gear.  I am happy, happy, happy.  I had sort of made one for my first horse from strips of leather lacing, and I had found one made of string a few decades ago, but this fringe brow band is NICE, much nicer than anything I had seen or tried before.  The horse sized one is big-16” so I will have to order a cob sized one for the Arabs, luckily it fit Merlin just fine.  I just wish I could afford some of their custom made saddles with the leather trees to go with it!

Friday, when I rode Mia, was cool, cloudy and windy.  There had been all sorts of commotion at the stable that morning as a lot of horses and riders went to a show, but everyone was gone and peace reigned when we got there.  Since the weather is warmer and because I am riding Mia only once a week now I had to spend a lot of energy in getting her toes rasped down.  Mia’s hooves grow SO MUCH FASTER when it is warm that it is all I can do to keep her toes short enough.  Mia was not too sure about the leather fringe brow band when I bridled her, when I had tried the string fringe brow band on her she had simply freaked out so I was not too sure about how she would react.  Since the leather fringe is a lot stiffer than the string fringe I hoped it would not irritate her as much.  Mia was not exactly pleased but she decided it was barely acceptable.

With the wind and all the changes that day Mia was not a quiet ride.  She was not sure about the brow band, a lot of her friends were gone, the cows had been moved from the pasture next to the ring, it was almost just too much for this 30 yr. old mare.  Our warm-up walk went well, in between the little starts and stops Mia gradually started reaching for contact.  The more we went on contact the less attention she paid to her surroundings.  I concentrated on keeping my fingers relaxed and following her tongue exactly and Mia willingly picked up contact each time I asked for it with my legs.  She started “chewing” gently on the bit, relaxed, and became even more responsive.

Near to the end of our warm-up the heron reappeared in the pond next to the ring.  The last few weeks there had been upward of 15 cattle in the little paddock that holds the pond and the heron had disappeared.  Now he stood under the trees at the edge of the pond looking anxiously around in case any cows were hiding in the bushes.  I made sure to point him out to Mia, let her stand a minute to make sure she saw him, and then as we went around the ring we would watch him trying to make up his mind.  After a few minutes the heron decided that there were no lurking cows and he took off to cross the pond to his favorite standing place just as we were approaching him.  Mia didn’t even flinch.

Then I tried a trot, and Mia decided that the leather fringe was too much for her, and started slinging her head.  I got her back into a walk softly and she settled down.  After some more walking I tried the trot in the other direction and when she started slinging her head I rode her through it and did not ask for the walk until her head slinging had stopped.  I was tired and decided no more trot, so we went to curving our way around the jumps doing the three speeds of the walk.  It took me a while to get the super slow walk but she finally listened to my hands and slowed down as much as I wanted her to.  She was too stiff to really extend her walk but she did try to give me what I wanted. 

When I had slowed Mia down from her second trot, just as we did the first stride of the walk Mia gave me a quiet little snort, a snort that sounded like she was telling me that I had done the downward transition JUST RIGHT.  She did this snort just after I had released my hand aid, as she reached forward to keep contact.  Mia had been doing these contented snorts more and more often the past few months whenever I used my aids properly, usually after a movement or a transition downward.  I picked up the feelings of contentment, of pride (her pride in doing the movement right), and of approval of whatever I did just before the snort.  Then it struck me, Mia has decided to train me just as I train her, using her snorts as signs of approval, just as I praise her with my voice when she does something well, just like last week she severely chastised me when my hands were not up to her standards.  The only difference is that I give her praise for her obedience to my commands, Mia is rewarding me for riding her properly since she is not allowed to give me commands (opinions-yes, orders-no.)  Her snorts are the equivalent of a clicker, saying “YES, this is the right way to do it,” just as she shows her disapproval by inverting, slinging her head around and prancing.

All my riding life my horses have given me these contented little snorts when they were enjoying being ridden, usually out on the trails.  But this is the first time I’ve noticed a horse I’m riding using these snorts to give me positive feedback when I do my aids right.  I am amazed, finally I have gotten another horse (besides Hat Tricks) to buy into the project of making me a better rider.  And Mia is not doing this from years and years of top training, before she got to Debbie’s it seems like most of her riding was just someone throwing on a Western saddle, hopping on, and going on a trail ride, not the best basis for learning advanced equitation.  But Mia knows what she likes, she knows when she is comfortable, she knows when the aids are easily understandable, and she is always ready to give me her opinions about my riding when I mess up!  Before her reward was obedience to my aids and gently “chewing” on the bit.  Now she is rewarding me vocally when I do things right as well as obeying my aids.  Just a little extra, one I appreciate a lot!

I am so lucky to ride Mia, over the years this ancient Arab mare has changed from a frantic scared horse, to an obedient horse, and now to a horse that dares to give approval to good riding.  There is nothing like the feeling when your horse decides to work WITH you.

I LOVE riding this ancient, crippled mare.  She is a GOOD HORSE!!!!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran          

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Comment by Barbara F. on May 24, 2012 at 9:22pm

Thanks for sharing this, Jackie. Mia sounds like the PERFECT partner fo you - and such a clever mare!

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