This is not what thought you’d hear today.
I thought I’d hit Three Ride Monday and crawl away feeling like The Worst Rider Ever. (I have a cold, been preparing for memorial service, very little sleep, big storm moving in.) I figured you’d all be hearing the test siren wail for Jane’s I Can’t Ride Emergency Broadcasting System.
You remember that…it broke a few eardrums? And made Daisy poke her eye out in frustration?
I can RIDE.
I put Pops up first. Maybe I could squeeze him in before the storm hit, and the rain curtains wafted. He wasn’t very…pleasant…during our last ride.
I had given him a gentle squeeze to trot on, and he tried to bite me. I checked. No soreness, everything fit: he was cranky. (I’m a minion, he doesn’t have to remember me, so what if he bites?) I could imagine what a howling storm might induce.
His owner left me his new ergonomic bridle: interesting zigs and zags, great padding, clips in strange places, and extra buckles that adjusted…something? There was a picture of how it was supposed to fit, along with a DVD of how it was supposed to work. Her note said “use trainer’s bridle instead, if this isn’t clear”. I behaved. I made the attempt. Pops practically growled at me. He set his teeth against the bit and no amount of tickling his tongue was going to make him open his mouth. I swiped my thumb across a molasses bottle, got everything in place, and swiped the molasses on his tongue. Surprise. Bit in place.
Now I’m a minion he despises. He’ll remember me. Oh yeah.
New bridle: uh…cavesson too low, it’s on his airway. I can’t figure out how to raise the cavesson without raising the bit. If I actually buckled the flash, he’d get rubbed raw against the happy mouth. This needs to be fitted by someone who knows this kind of bridle. Maybe I didn’t hear her right, I thought she said she rode him in this yesterday? I momentarily lose all sense of reality and contemplate riding a strong ex-racehorse on a blustery day with what amounts to no cavesson or flash and a bit he can easily brace against.
Translation for the non-horsey: I am contemplating allowing the car to drive itself at high speeds on wet mountain roads with no brakes or steering. Even I don’t lack THAT much common sense. I’ll lunge him.
Wait. The note!
I find the bridle/bit Katherine uses on Pops. Uh-oh. It’s adjusted for a different horse, with a bunch of training stuff attached, also adjusted. Even if I drew diagrams, I couldn’t put it back together correctly.
Pops’ owner worries a regular eggbutt snaffle is too harsh for him: she’s not wrong. In some people’s hands, it is. Thus the (hated) mullein mouth. I did say I hated it, right?
Gears turn. My working bridle has a wonderful Sprenger bit: a lovely, ergonomic, medium weight loose ring snaffle with lozenge; beloved by most horses I’ve tried it on. Gentler than Katherine’s. (I have to hide it from Hudson: he instantly opens his mouth as wide as possible when he sees my bridle, making it difficult to remove his halter.) It has Bella-the-Bit-Expert’s stamp of approval. I switch out to a wider brow band, and voila: a bridle I know both of us can work in, Katherine would approve, and it will not go against his owner’s prime directive.
Pops is pretty miffed. He’s not used to a lot of adjusting, staring, and irritating standing in the cross ties.
We go through his whole cinch anxiety. This is real PTSD. Whoever cinched him on the track just hauled it up as tight as possible, as quick as possible. But that’s another story.
I’m up, prepared for potential bite attempts. Pops mouths the bit, drops his head, and sighs. I open the reins, and push him from behind until we have a soft contact. Pops lights up. This is fantastic! Clearly, even if the mullein mouth is good for his owner and him, it’s not good for US. I pick him up. Let’s make sure he doesn’t feel the bit is so gentle that he ‘forgets’ how to halt. Walk. Halt. Walk Halt. Trot Walk. Trot Halt. Didn’t touch his mouth. Good to go!
We have the most amazing ride I’ve had in a year. I might be projecting, but the feeling I had from Pops was “I know this! I know what to do with this! Let’s do MORE!”
I am holding a light mouth, he’s uphill and easy, and he volunteers his back: here, take it, you’ll need it. I nearly fell off (my standard useful response to good news from a horse). I think he would have swung his butt around to catch me: nooo! this is great, stay with me! I had to keep checking…could Pops really be THIS light on the bit? I gave with the reins. No change in frame, no change of pace, no change in lift, just puzzlement and slight searching for the bit. Wow. He’s on the bit. This is FUN. The barn owner smiles at my obvious delight. The manager props against the rail for a stay. When Pops gets to go through his paces happily, he’s a sight. I get to use less of everything. Less aid, less muscle, less brain. The last ride felt like I was shouting instructions at him over a backhoe. This one? I’m whispering gently in his ear.
We float in a beautiful, suspended, sit-table trot. We extend into a solid working trot (I post. Remember? I’m not a great dressage rider.) and rhythmically eat up the ground. I use my seat to ask him to come back in the corner. Beautiful. Same soft rhythm, more collection.
What the heck, how about a canter in a 20 M? Nice transition…not perfect, but his owner rarely canters: he isn’t sure I mean it. Soft, up, round, collected, good bend, easily completes the circle in perfect stride. I canter across the diagonal, make a simple change at X, and come around the short side, and canter half pass the other direction. Hey, I don’t officially know how to half pass! COOL.
Pops is building steam inside himself. Outwardly, nothing has changed. This will come out as style, not bombing forward. How fun is THAT? I drop him back down into a stunning trot with so much lift and drive I nearly lose my balance on the first “up” of my rising trot. Abs! Now! Okay. Whew. His hooves’s snap out, he wants to GO, he wants to show off!
Gee. What else don’t I know how to do?
Oops, I shift accidentally. Darn it all. (It pays to audit all those FEI clinics.) Nice canter pirouette. What a gas! Now canter shoulder fore? Sigh. I’m in love. I bring him back to regular position on the short end. I can feel him eyeing the open rail on the long side. Uh, no. I’d have a blast, I’m sure he’d come back (he has love for this bit), but I’m under strict orders from Katherine: after an unforeseen accident, she had to change the “How I Want Jane to Ride Pops” instructions. He’s not a schoolmaster by any stretch. No one does canter extensions until his owner is comfortable with his regular canter. Totally right.
Hmm. How about a canter on the 15 M? How about the 10? He condenses and lifts. I’m using my body, very little rein. We spiral out, drop into a sitting trot and do a nice shoulder-in down the long side. Amend that…nice for my level of ability.
Do I have to get off? Ever? Pops is asking the same question. Two more rides after Pops. Yup, I do. I cool out doing walk figures and half steps (half steps!!!) and then on the buckle.
You know, his bit works well for him and his owner, and I’m sure Katherine could connect excellently with him in it. But we couldn’t understand each other.
I always think I’m the problem. I Can’t Ride. Not really.
If we’re splitting hairs, I could still see it like this: I can’t ride in that bit. But I don’t see any hairs. Do you? What hairs? Not today.
I can ride!