I approached today’s ride on Bobby much more optimistically than I did last week. I wasted an optimistic mood.
We seemed to start off all right, at least until the first corner. From there on Bobby decided to pull every evasion out of his bag of tricks. First, he took exception to the bit, curling up under whenever he wanted to disobey my aids. After a minute or so I went in to Shannon and she tightened his cheek pieces a hole to see if that would improve matters. This made Bobby slightly less irritated with the bit but did nothing for Bobby’s irritation over me insisting that he go where I wanted him to. Every time we changed directions (pretty frequently since it is a small ring) I had to “win” another argument about which direction we were going. Today Bobby specialized in dropping the bit, curling up behind the vertical, putting his weight on his forehand, then curling his head and neck to the opposite flexion of where we were going, and then trying to sneak in a quick turn and bee-line towards Shannon in the center of the ring with his head and neck still curled to the outside of his turn. This had obviously worked for him before and he got pretty miffed that it did not work with me, which lead to even more discussions about where we were going in the ring. With a lot of leg, thigh alternating with my calf/spur, I succeeded in straightening him out for a few steps each time. During these particular discussions I basically left the reins alone except for an occasional pull to the side. Briefly I was tempted to try Rollkur since that was the way he was carrying himself, with his neck super curled up, chin toward his breast even when I was riding him off contact. But I just couldn’t, Rollkur is against my horsy moral code, besides that would mean that Bobby had gotten away with his evasions, his evasions to both my legs telling him to reach out an take up decent contact. In his mind HE WOULD HAVE WON.
Then Bobby decided to stop wasting his energy for a minute or two and took up decent contact with the bit, contact with his head in a calm place with his nose definitely in front of vertical. I still had to use my outside leg a lot so he would not run my leg into the arena fence, but he did keep contact and he let me straighten out his contact when he tried to drop it on his outside rein. GOOD BOY, GOOD BOY, GOOD BOY.
Then I rode him some at his poky pony preferred speed. Of course all the evasions came back and we had even more discussions. Yes Bobby, you have to obey me even if a three-toed sloth could beat you in a race around the ring. More legs, this time I had to use both of them, because when my outside leg would not let him run into the fence he would then try to go in towards Shannon. Then Bobby decided to try balking, just refusing to answer my driving leg signals, so I had to use my seat to send him onwards. After a few minutes of such discussions Bobby decided, again, to stop wasting his energy and let me send him forward on light contact, still in his poky pony rate of speed. Then I started practicing standing still at the halt on loose reins, and every time we started walking again we would have the same discussions, most of them based on Bobby’s deep, deep belief that a true pony should never, ever, EVER obey his rider in regard to the direction his rider wants to go.
This week and last week Bobby and I also had to deal with another horse in the ring, Shannon’s mother was riding Cider. Maybe Bobby was super bratty today because he did not want to lose his reputation as a bad, bad pony with another horse. I can sort of see this, Bobby is the boss of the pasture even though only one pony is smaller than he is. Bobby even bosses Merlin around, and Merlin is almost 5 hands taller than Bobby! It can be difficult for a little guy to keep on impressing the bigger guys enough to keep control over the herd. Does Bobby think that if he obeys his rider that he will lose face and his position as the head man?
Bobby was not totally bad today, I got one circle around the ring on mostly sagging reins with me having to use my legs a lot less to keep him from trying to run me into the fence. I got a half-way decent turn on the hindquarters. I even got SIX strides in a row at a walk with Bobby holding his body mostly straight (up from four strides last week) on three separate occasions.
If I had a bigger ring with long straight sides I probably would have an easier time with Bobby, at least there would be a lot fewer turns. I am very leery of trotting Bobby right now, he is so fat that I worry that he would founder if I trot him a lot before he loses some of his rolls of fat. The crest of his neck is no longer rock hard, the most reliable symptom I know of for a horse on the verge of founder from having too much good food. I can sink the tips of my fingers into his crest a little bit now, but I would like him to lose at least another 50 pounds before I try trotting him enough to get him over his bit evasions quicker. Until then I am stuck with two speeds of the walk, his poky pony walk and his normal speed walk with me urging with my legs every step. I am afraid that a bitless bridle would not help right now, especially since Bobby invented his best evasions while being ridden in a cross-under bitless bridle. I would have exactly the same problems without having the communication possibilities of a bit.
Even though there were times that I despaired in being able to get Bobby going where I wanted him to go, Bobby did not go all the way to full rebellion, he did not kick, rear, or explode, and he did threaten to explode a few times. One time I had to lightly swat his bulging neck with my riding crop, and once I gave a side-ways jerk with the bit, with relaxed fingers of course. That was the first time Bobby had run into the downward projections of the Pee Wee bit. He was not too sure about those projections and I made sure that the light jerk was the only time he ran into them.
After our ride I asked Shannon how badly I did, and she said she had no problems with me riding Bobby my way, that Bobby is still much, much better than under his last rider. I then gave Bobby a little talk, I told Bobby that it is not an insult to his basic ponydom if he obeys his rider, and that ponies can be little angels while still having the full dignity and pride of being a pony.
I hope he listened.
Have a great ride!