Last Sunday, when I was talking to Shannon about my latest problems with riding Tercel, I asked her if she had seen racing blinker hoods for sale nearby. She hadn’t, but then she remembered that she had an old “made up” driving bridle with blinkers that she had used for training ground driving with a horse she had sold many years ago. Shannon dug it out of her tack room, telling me the cheek pieces with the blinkers was supposed to be part of an old custom made fancy harness, the cheek pieces have a fancy carved sleeve to tuck the end of the straps into and patent leather on the outside of the blinkers. So I took this home, soaped and larded the non-patent leather parts of it, and I was glad that I had a temporary solution. On Tuesday I went by the local Dover Saddlery and ordered the Dy’on blinkers which are a good bit smaller than the blinkers on the driving bridle, and that can be strapped on the cheek pieces of a regular bridle. Until these come in I am using the old driving bridle with the BIG blinkers. The cheek pieces of this driving bridle are so old that the blinkers tend to settle at a 90° angle to the side of the horse’s head.
I had called Debbie with this bit of good news (the bridle with the blinkers) before my lesson on Wednesday so she would be prepared when I showed up with a new piece of tack. I had to put a bit on the bridle and I selected my center copper-roller egg butt snaffle, figuring it would give Tercel something to play with in his mouth if he got distressed by the blinkers. I did not put reins on, we put the blinkered bridle over his Spirit bitless bridle. It was very cloudy, warmish, and the wind was not blowing too badly so there was not the trigger of bright sunlight or strong winds. When we put the new bridle on we noticed how floppy the blinkers were and decided just to walk. I asked Debbie to ride him for a few minutes before I got on so we could see if he would freak out about the blinkers.
An amusing thing happened on or walk to the ring, usually Tercel tries to charge ahead and has to be sharply admonished before he will walk properly by his person. With the blinkers on Tercel could no longer see Debbie when he charged ahead, so he dropped back to where he could see her and acted like a proper horse. After we walked out to the riding ring Debbie told me the only worry she had was if Tercel heard something behind him, and then suddenly saw it when it got past the blinkers.
And guess what, when Debbie mounted and started walking on Tercel her boxer, Bart, came running up from behind, and when Tercel suddenly saw the dog pop up out of nowhere, he startled. Then he settled down, and this is the only time during our rides that Tercel startled. He calmly walked around adjusting to the blinkers cutting off all his sight to the rear, and to them flopping a little when he shook his head. He walked past the judge’s stand without too much trouble, he kept his head mostly down, and he calmly strode forth at a walk ignoring Bart completely.
So I got on Tercel and walked him around the ring. At no time did Tercel startle. However Tercel started taking great offense with my contact with the Spirit bridle. Tercel started flinging his head with short sharp jerks, and he started grinding his bit with his molars (remember, no reins, no contact with the bit. ) Even when I made my contact as soft as possible he would start jerking and flinging his head after a few minutes. Despairing of coming to a good stopping point with the contact I asked Debbie to stand in the middle of a 20 meter circle and we started to walk around her. After a few times around I established a really nice, soft and supple contact with his nose and I decided to get one full circle out of him and then stop. That was my plan at least. Tercel gave me a wonderful circle, but the step before we finished the full circle, head jerk. So I reversed direction and settled for two or three strides on good contact, got it, and I stopped him and got off.
Since his full 30 minutes was not up yet Debbie got back up on him and rode him around the ring, mostly on a sort of loose rein. She had the same problems with head flinging at contact, but she also stopped riding him on a good note.
What I think happened is that Tercel had been so vigilant about what could be coming up behind him that he had never been clear in telling us that the noseband of the Spirit bridle was up too high, possibly over a spot where a facial nerve comes out. Debbie could not ride Tercel on Friday since it was raining, so next week I am going to lengthen the cheek pieces of his Spirit bridle a hole or two and see what happens. Since he had been gnashing at the copper-roller egg butt snaffle I am changing the bit on the blinkered bridle to the much more stable Mullen mouth egg butt snaffle. The blinker bridle will be used until my Dy’on blinkers get here, then I will stop using the blinkered driving bridle and bit and go back temporarily to using just the Spirit bitless bridle with the Dy’on blinkers, and wait a little while to reintroduce the bit again.
This has happened to me before, I finally figure out what is bothering the horse, fix it, and another problem, almost as important to the horse, appears. On some horses I feel like the horse has a list, and until I figure out and correct everything that the horse’s list I will continue to have problems. The good news is that when I fix everything the horse is displeased with (this can take months and a bit of money) there is a transformation and both the horse and I can settle down to truly effective training and physical conditioning. Until that magic moment all I can do is the basics, calm, forward, sort of straight, and work on the horse bending properly on the curves, using whichever combination of hand, leg and seat that the horse is willing to obey calmly and with suppleness. Like with Cider, the saddles were bothering her even with the Corrector pad, since they did not really “sit down” on her back. When I got Cider the EZ-Fit treeless that fixed the uncomfortable saddle problem, but then Cider concentrated on my seat being off center. When she finally got my seat corrected Cider went to being a cooperative calm pony mare, most of the time. Now the only time she gets restive is when my 30 minutes us up, then I become a tyrant as far as she is concerned (“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, save me!”)
Have a great ride!