I Return to What Worked Before

I only got to ride once last week, sniff.

Since Cider was so upset over the last Weymouth I tried with her, I decided it would be best for both of us to go back to what definitely worked before. The time for experimentation is over, Cider did best with the former combination of the 125mm Fager Victoria titanium Mullen mouth Weymouth curb and the 120mm Fager Alice titanium double jointed bradoon with a roller. Cider reaches out for contact with the Victoria Weymouth with confidence, and she really seems to appreciate having a roller to play with!

Cider did not fuss at all. While all was not perfect in her world (ouchiness from her arthritis) at least her mouth felt more comfortable and she was willing to “talk” with me through the reins. Her fretfulness disappeared, she no longer yearned to run to Shannon for salvation, and she acted like last week had not occurred. I am so glad that I had not used the Fager Felicia Weymouth to introduce Cider to the double bridle as I would have concluded that Cider did not like double bridles at all. That would have deprived both of us of the benefits of using a double bridle, the conversation between her tongue and my fingers, the increased clarity of my hand aids, and Cider's voluntarily collecting a little bit more which takes some weight off of her painful forelegs.

It was back to a normal ride. Cider still flinched, worse walking down-slope and with turns. Cider was back to giving the dreaded cedar tree a full 6' semi-circle going past it. This did improve over the ride, the semi-circles in passing reduced in size, she still paid attention to the tree but was willing to consider the possibility that for this ride, right now, maybe, just maybe there were no monsters ready to leap out and try to eat her. The fourth time we passed the dread tree she was so much better that I sent her in to Shannon for a well deserved reward and rest.

With her preferred bits in her mouth Cider was more willing to consider walking sort of straight on the uneven ground. The previous week she gave me difficulties if I guided her away from her preferred paths, this week she still grumbled some but obeyed my aids.

Part of her reasons for grumbling probably were rooted in the fact that I was just not able to get up into a true two-point position and I had difficulty with keeping my half-seat steady. This meant that her back muscles did not get warmed up enough so she could use her back muscles to “work” around her flinching front legs. Cider feels like she is so much more comfortable when I can actually stay up in two-point the first five minutes of our ride, and she does not mind telling me that I am being totally unreasonable for not doing this every single ride. Sorry Cider, the heat robs me of my ability to get completely out of the saddle.

Since I only rode once last week I spent a lot of my ride on Cider trying to exercise my riding muscles, trying to stay up in two-point, doing my “rider's push-up to vertical far” exercise, and trying to touch her poll, the point of her shoulder, my foot and as far back as I can, and pretend posting the trot while walking. While doing this I concentrated on keeping my face vertical, I used my teres major muscle to get my shoulder blades down and straighten my back, and I used my rectus femoris muscle to keep my lower leg from going too far back. Each ride on Cider I try to work on my problems that Debbie points out in my lessons, this is why I call them my homework rides! I do sort of feel bad about using the horses as a piece of gym equipment but since we are mostly walking around it should not be too hard on them so long as I work on doing it right.

So the morals from my little tale are several:

  1. Horses do not read advertisements or the descriptive blurbs on-line. A horse could care less if another horse loved a bit, if the bit was developed after much research, if a bit was made of a “miracle” metal, if a bit fulfilled the latest “theories” of the bit makers, or if you, its rider, just absolutely fell in love with the bit. All the horses care about is if the bit feels comfortable in its mouth and everything else is dependent on their rider's hands and how their rider manipulates the reins. Of course this goes for all the tack we use, it just seems to me that the horses take their bits a little bit more personally, and that there are times that little unnecessary irritations from a bit can turn a placid horse into a frothing monster. Carrying a bit in its mouth is a modern invention, horses were not evolved for this, so it is up to us, the riders, to make the bit as pleasant as possible to the horse.

  2. Horses can carry the weight of their rider much more easily if their back muscles are allowed to warm up without the weight of the rider on them. If the rider is not sitting back in the saddle the horse's back muscles have more freedom to contract and extend, which means when the rider finally sits down in the saddle the horse's back is more ready to deal with the rider's weight and starts off performing better.

  3. If the rider LISTENS to all the horse's objections and actively tries to correct whatever the horse finds irritating or painful, the horse will give a much better ride.

  4. If a rider introduces something new and the horse makes it painfully clear that this new piece of tack or method of riding is unacceptable, going back to what the horse found comfortable before is a quick method of getting back on track when training a horse. If you thought the new thing would be a solution to your problems it is time to find another solution because this one just does not work for the horse.

  5. Horses usually get more cooperative if they are rewarded immediately for doing what you want them to do. This reward can be releasing the rein, leg or weight aid immediately, vocal praise, a good scratch, getting to rest for a minute or two, or going to the boss lady in the middle of the ring for well deserved praise and some gooey loving.

I will have to wait another week or two to go back to the lesson stable. School has started, everybody is running around like their heads are cut off, all the germs and illnesses are having a field day, and I just need for things to settle down a little bit so I feel safe at my lesson stable. I WILL be masked there, Covid-19 is just too nasty to ignore.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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