Sam Agrees About my Lower Leg

I just got my lesson in this week since we have been having plentiful rain at times.

Debbie was going off on a trail ride when I got to the stable so Tercel was out in the hall. I went up to say hi to him, and Debbie told me he had turned 20 years old. Apparently, from what Debbie has told me, he has settled down somewhat. Maturity can be a great thing for a horse as long as they remain sound.

Sam gave me my lesson. I like lessons with Sam, it is always nice to have another set of educated eyes evaluating my riding occasionally.

This week I changed my bits on my double bridle again. I went to a 135mm Fager Victoria Weymouth and the 130mm Fager Madeleine double jointed bradoon. MJ went much better, he was much happier in his mouth, and we had a good ride. Sam had nothing to say about MJ and his bits other than he looked happy and content. Whew! Maybe, just maybe, I've gotten to the “magic” combination that works for him. Horses take their bits really personally, and a few millimeters can make all the difference to the horse. MJ, with his mouth conformation, seems to like the wider Weymouth in his mouth, and since it is a Mullen mouth curb I do not have to worry about the corners at the base of the port injuring his delicate bars.

He also showed less doubt about my rein aids with the double jointed Fager bradoon. Part of this is that the double jointed snaffles/bradoons give my fingers a little bit more feedback from the horse's tongue. With the double bridle I never have to worry about getting feedback from the center of the horse's tongue as the horse uses different parts of the center of its tongue under each bit. The double-jointed bradoon give me feedback from the sides of the horse's tongue which gives my hands a little bit more information about what the horse is feeling. I get better results from the Fager double-jointed bits because the center part is not as long as the center parts of the regular double-jointed English bits. From what the Fager bit people write, this is to remove the chance that the horse's bars and the horse's palate will be hurt by the bit. MJ definitely approves of this!

But the best part of my lesson was when I asked Sam how my lower leg was acting. She said my lower leg was MUCH better than the other times she had seen me ride. Hurrah! My lower leg has been one of my more serious weak points in my riding since I started back, and I finally fixed it to the satisfaction of two experienced riding teachers. So I went up to Sam, told her specifically what I was doing, where I got the information from (book, author, author's experience), and I showed her the specific muscle in my thigh I was using to get my improved results (the rectus femoris muscle on the front of my thigh.) I also told her when I thought I had gotten it wrong, a combination of not jumping and galloping any more, playing with the dressage concept of a somewhat limp leg that “hugs” the horse's barrel, combined with my lack of a proprioceptive sense. We discussed how over jumps a rider is more secure if their foot is shoved a little bit forward approaching the fence and over the fence, something that Sam teaches her jumping students (and I told her I wish she had been teaching me when I was trying to learn to jump securely decades ago.) I absolutely love these conversations with my riding teachers about the nitty-gritty details of good riding.

I had never dreamed that THE answer to my lower leg problems originated in the front of my thigh instead of my heels and where I gripped the horse's barrel, which are also important but were definitely not the answer to my specific problem of my lower leg floating off into the ozone layer, ruining my stability in the saddle.

When I call Shannon tonight I am going to ask her if it is alright for me to introduce Cider to the double bridle tomorrow. We had discussed this earlier, but I wanted to see what MJ decided was the best set-up for him since, like Cider, he has a very short “smile” and the bits can get sort of crowded. Since MJ settled on the 135mm Weymouth and 130mm bradoon I am now free to permanently (I hope) switch the Fager titanium 125mm Weymouth and 120mm double-jointed bradoon to Cider's bridle. I also had to get another bradoon rein, I settled on the web reins with colored stops which definitely help me keep my hands even on the reins. The curb reins are not a problem, I have been using my longer notched 1/2” reins on her bridle already. I have a cob sized bradoon strap that I bought a while ago, so I am all set up to have two double bridles, each dedicated to a specific horse. Of course the curb bit already has curb hooks, a curb chain, and a lip strap on it, so I'm all set up!

It is not that I “need” a double bridle on Cider, she has been completely controllable on the snaffle. But Cider is arthritic and all during the ride I get “oh my aching joints”, particularly since our rides are sort of boring and there is nothing to distract her attention. I am hoping with two titanium bits in her mouth that her brain will be somewhat distracted from her aching joints. I had hoped that the Fager Bianca with the roller would be enough to distract her a little, and while she likes the roller and plays with it I still get the aching joints message. The double bridle is not a cure for aching joints, I just hope it is enough of a distraction so that her aching joints, temporarily, are not the center of her world like they are now when I ride her (she gets around the pasture fine.) Cider, being Cider, will definitely tell me by the third ride if the double bridle set-up meets her approval. She does not believe in subtle signals where her mouth is involved, it just takes her a few rides to finally make up her mind about anything related to tack.

While having to manipulate two sets of reins is sort of difficult for me with my MS I have found, yet again, that riding a horse in a double bridle is great fun! The horses appreciated the clear signals from each bit and I enjoy the more relaxed, supple, and happier ride. There was a REASON that advanced riders appreciated riding in the double bridle for centuries, in spite of having to handle two sets of reins.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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