When I was riding Mia on Friday I had a great time. She continued to keep contact with her JP single jointed full cheek snaffle, reaching out confidently and not flinging her head or curling up when I made a mistake with my hands. When I made a mistake with my hands she would start inverting, but when I corrected myself and sent her on she would reach out again and accept the bit. She was quite alert and looked around intently whenever I stopped to rest. We trotted some, I played with just using my seat to keep her at the rail, and since everything was going so well I decided to experiment with the shoulder-in again.
I would ask with one set of aids and I got a wishy-washy response. Fine, I obviously did not do my aids right. After some walking I asked again trying to give aids not by rote but just in response to where her body and legs were. This time I got a half-hearted response which may have barely resembled a shoulder-in if I was trying to fool myself. Mia started to raise her head in the Arab high headed stance, not inverted, neck arched, poll high, and started quietly champing at the bit. Lightening up on the bit some I asked again but after a step or two it was obvious it would not come and it was futile to irritate Mia any more about this matter.
So I went back to meandering around the ring using my seat, thighs, and lower legs to ask her to bend around the jumps. Doing so I thought back to my failed attempts and Mia’s behavior throughout the ride. “Duh, I bet she is in heat.” Since Debbie has no stallions, proud cut geldings, or mules around Mia isn’t showing, just being a bit more irritable. Then in our next turn I noticed how she was not moving her upper shoulder as much as usual and finally realized that Mia has been trying to tell me that she may be willing to give me a shoulder-in but preferably not in that saddle. When she is not in heat she will try to give me what I want, and since I am content with just a step or two it hasn’t been to onerous on her, but she is doing it “around” the limitations of the saddle. I don’t think it is just the front of the saddle that is causing the discomfort, she was giving me really subtle indications from her back that she wanted the saddle to flex with her instead of being static.
Maybe the horrid reputation of mares in heat arise from the discomfort they experience when they try to obey us. Horses can be pretty good about putting up with and adapting to all types of minor discomforts, but a mare in heat is a different type of horse, one that is sensitive, irritable, and sick and tired of which ever discomfort is particularly bad that day. One day it may be the bit, another day the saddle, another day the girth, then there is the way the rider lurches around in the saddle. The possible discomforts can seem endless. But these protesting mares are doing us a favor if we want to ride on the highest level, they are “pointing” to whatever is wrong, and if we listen, correct ourselves, and try to alleviate the discomfort of the tack they can settle down and regroup and go back to being slightly bitchy instead of a mare from hell. Of course if the rider does not respond to the mare matters can escalate and ruin the ride. I bet you a lot of sour mares are made that way because humans don’t listen to them when everything hurts and the hormone swings make the pains inherent in life just that much worse. BUT if the rider listens to the mare, fixes what is wrong with the tack or their riding, and continues to listen to the mare, the rider can set the mare up so she can respond to our aids with pleasure and athleticism. Of course geldings can benefit from their riders listening and correcting the discomforts, but geldings do not suffer from hormone swings and tend to suffer in silence. But with mare, gelding or stallion, discomfort affects their movement, and the more the rider addresses the various discomforts the better movement they will get from the horse.
Which brings me to my lesson on Mick on Wednesday. He had been used in a lesson the day before with an adult re-rider and the poor boy’s back was sore from her loosing her balance and coming down hard to the rear of the saddle. Mick knows I will listen to him, and he was cataloging each discomfort just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. However the best therapy for his aching back is often just getting him into a walk, getting my weight as far forward in the saddle as I can, and encouraging both longer strides and the “swinging” of his back with my alternating legs. Fortunately I had more energy and was able to trot around the ring twice which helped him loosen up more than my usual short trots, muscles that are working produce more heat which makes the Back on Track exercise sheet work better. All through this Mick accepted my contact just fine, his mouth light and responsive to my aids. After around 15-20 minutes of work he even elevated some at the trot when I asked him to.
All of us were becoming sort of warm and Debbie suggested a short trail ride in the woods. Yeah! The paths had been worked on and they were nice and wide. When we got to the patch of grass on the other side of the woods I asked Debbie if I could work on training Mick on grazing while under saddle. She cheerfully agreed and when we got more into the grass I halted Mick and told him “time to eat.” After a minute of looking around his head dove down and he happily started eating the grass. When he got a good mouthful (ten chomps) I said “ENOUGH” before I pulled his head up. Of course Mick tried to eat each batch of grass we came upon after that, I just blocked his head going down and used my legs to keep him going. At one point Mick sort of stood there, obviously thinking of being naughty because I would not let him graze any more, but then remembered that he is a sweet, obedient, responsible and wonderful riding horse and did not give me much more trouble about the grazing.
I’ve always let my horses graze some or grab leaves when I ride. They appreciate the different tastes of grasses and leaves growing in different soils, it gives them something to look forward to on a ride, it serves as a super reward for good behavior, loosens their back, and it lets the horse search out a particular plant if the horse is not feeling quite right. I believe in Dr. Green, and the horses do too! I do insist that they wait for my permission and that they stop grazing when I tell them to. I think that this practice has kept my horses much healthier than they would be otherwise and it is a LOT cheaper than paying big bucks for supplements and vitamins. Horses often know what plant will help them the most, often ignoring juicy grass and fragrant clover to chomp down a weed with every sign of relish.
Today Cider was superb. I had to use my seat a lot less than usual to keep her at the rail. She trotted gaily though she tended to go in, but when I moved my inside seat bone a little bit forward she responded and got back on the rail. To me this is amazing because I was moving my seat bone forward when I was at the top of my post, not when I was in the saddle. She made me get centered before she consented to even think about keeping an even contact on both sides of her mouth at the walk. That is her job, to make me ride as perfectly as possible before giving me what I want. Cider is a good riding teacher. If I ever get up to her standards I will be a MUCH better rider!
Have a great ride!