I must confess that I approached my ride on Bobby today with sort of a hopeless feeling. So I spent the grooming time giving his head a good scratching, hoping that if I made him feel good he might be more cooperative. Bobby is always such a good boy during grooming and tacking up, he puts up with the indignity of the spray bottle, and he is very good during tacking up. Shannon has him trained so she can tighten the girth without having to hold the reins at all, and Bobby stands there, with no one holding, him as Shannon gets the girth tight enough, a process that takes a few minutes. He then cooperates pleasantly as Shannon parks him right next to the mounting block, one step at a time. Today when I mounted I felt the beginnings of a new attitude of cooperation, at least Bobby went through the gate peacefully and did not argue when I turned him to the left.
After riding him mostly on contact for a quarter of the ring I decided, since he was being so pleasant, that I would try walking him one time around the ring off contact. Amazingly Bobby mostly cooperated. I was able to deal with his evasions with light touches of my legs and thighs, only having to use the reins every few steps. Each and every time he responded to my light thigh alternating with lower leg outside leg--GOOD BOY! We made it around the ring without a single major disagreement. When I stopped him I spent a minute scratching the roots of his mane, telling him how wonderful he was to be such a cooperative pony. When we started off again, after an initial mini-bout of “I want to go THERE” Bobby went where I told him to peacefully. I then made sure that I was centered in the saddle and picked up contact. While Bobby still tried to turn himself into a pretzel, today he started responding to my hands (and legs and seat) when I asked him to straighten out. Sometimes I even got three straight strides in a row! GOOD BOY, GOOD BOY, GOOD BOY!!! With that Bobby decided that his ten minutes of cooperation was up for the day.
But even then Bobby did not get too bad. I got him to walk past Shannon several times without him completely pretzeling up. I decided to let Bobby pick his own rate of speed today as long as he was headed where I told him to go, finally figuring out that if I do not get Bobby to obey me when he is doing his normal slow walk I am setting myself up for failure (Bobby--Oh boy, I’m going slow, NOW I can do whatever I want!) Still praising him every time he straightened out, Bobby cooperated somewhat with what I wanted him to do. We also practiced standing with loose reins, the first few times Bobby stood peacefully, then the next few times Bobby was busy looking around with me keeping the reins loose as long as he did not start shifting his body to move his feet. Then, after an unsuccessful experiment with slightly stronger contact, when I stopped him he spent most of our standing still time trying to yank the reins out of my hand. I just kept a light contact, following every move of his head, until Bobby figured out he was wasting him precious energy. Sending him on I passed by Shannon a few more times, stopped him, asked for a turn on the forehand , and after he had offered to first back up and then to turn on his hind-quarters, he finally gave me three steps of the turn on the forehand. With that I stopped for the day, our time was not up but I wanted to stop on a good note and there were no guarantees that I would get any more good notes to stop on!
Shannon remarked when I got off that Bobby had not gone through his full repertoire of evasions today. She had let some girls who had ridden Bobby before Shannon got him ride him a month or so ago, and she thinks that had triggered Bobby’s fear of being forced back into the 3-Day world. Since Bobby had never offered to rear, buck, or kick out while I rode him I think he is just scared, not mean, when he offers his multiple evasions. So with each evasion I first make sure I am centered in the saddle, then I make sure that I apply and release my aids at the proper point in the horse’s stride, recheck that my seat is centered, and then I praise Bobby a lot for any sign of willing (or just slightly grudging) obedience.
And all through my ride Bobby ground the Pee Wee bit between his molars only ONCE!
Mia is also getting happier with me using the Pee Wee bit. I am making sure that I am doing the contact just as she has instructed me to, and she is reaching out for contact at the walk more confidently. I have been able to lighten my rein aids considerably (from around an ounce with the regular Mullen mouth snaffle to a few grams of “pull” with the Pee Wee) as long as I make sure that my seat is centered, my hands pretty close together, and with my hands being even, not with one higher than the other. All the head flinging and yanking of the reins is long gone, as long as I ride up to Mia’s standards. I have more problems at the trot, she starts off inverted and it takes me a while to gently persuade her to put her head down reaching forward. Since it is so hot I am not as steady as I should be, but it does say good things about this bit that the horses allow me to keep contact with it even in this brutal heat. Because of what Mia has taught me about riding with this bit, I am able to keep contact with Mick with his Mullen Mouth in the heat. Normally by August I have switched to bitless riding, but so far this summer the horses seem pretty happy with my hands instead of vehemently insisting that I have no business using a bit as the sweat is pouring off my body. Thank you Mia, I would not be this successful without your patient teaching!
I just got Merlin’s Pee Wee bit in this week, and today I put it on his bridle. He looks SO GORGEOUS in the pasture, I want to ride him again (gee, I must like getting frustrated!) I told Shannon I would ride him again when it got cooler, since heat rises and Merlin is so tall it feels hotter on Merlin than it does on the other horses. That will give him several months off riding, and maybe by then I will be much better riding with my new type of bit (staying centered in the saddle, hands closer together and even.) As always, I live in hope.
Have a great ride!