Hi everyone! I hope you’re also enjoying the beauty and comfy temperatures of spring in full swing.
As you may have noticed, my posts have come to feature my boy Shiloh less frequently. He’s been extremely difficult lately, and he humiliates me daily. However, I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope. As we tackle new skills I constantly encounter new issues and holes in his training. Baby horses and equestrian humor are so much more fun than publicly admitting that you feel like you’re failing your horse.
When I first bought Shiloh, he was basically green broke to RUN (this gaited horse running walk business) on trails with a long curb bit to keep him in check. We are still struggling to work on his brakes. My inner mantra while riding him is “forward is good, forward is good…” as I get him back from a fun blast off session. I know it’s safer to ride a horse that wants to go forward than one that gets “sticky” and explodes or rears when you want him to go forward. But it’s still unnerving when he bolts. Several times per ride. This is an issue that I’ve dealt with before on training horses, but it’s a little scarier with Shiloh because he is so clumsy with his legs. He can perform an entirely different gait with an entirely different lead with his front and back legs, and it’s only a matter of strides before he nicks himself or over-strides into a slip and trip maneuver. I’ve ridden him straight to the ground several times when he chose to pull this stunt and it’s not pretty.
Can we start a Hot Horse Anonymous support group? Is it bad that I feel like I need to down some liquid courage before I school the canter?
I’m starting to wonder whether I need a stronger bit. Obviously, it’s a last resort and only a temporary fix until I can get into his brain and rewire the “giraffe mode-race out of control” response. I have my eye on the Baucher (boo- SHAY, BOW-sher, BOW-cher?) Hanging Cheek Snaffle. Because of the gentle leverage design, I’m not sure it it could be considered a snaffle rather than something more like a Kimberwick.
Basically, the small rings are connected to the cheek pieces and the hanging egg butt-like rings connect to the reins so it is supposed to put pressure on the poll to help horses that are inclined to stay in giraffe mode and carry their heads unnecessarily high. The Baucher bit seems to be one of the mildest options for leverage, since it is essentially a cross between an egg butt and a full cheek that sits in a highly stable position in the mouth. I’m hoping for something very forgiving that will help me get over this wretched “yank the reins and run” period in my training.
In general, I prefer to avoid gimmicks and shortcuts in training. I’m not interested in reaching for more fire power when my horse “flunks out” of one bit. I don’t want to get into an arms race. His strength will always beat me out. However, I need to learn how to use new training tools effectively if I want to get us past this phase.
Lately, It’s been raining non-stop and the footing is sketchy so I haven’t been cantering at all, but we’ve been schooling very meticulously at the walk. We circle, serpentine, turn on the forehand, and halt. It’s a bit frustrating when he bobs his head above the bit every time we transition into a new activity, especially in the walk-halt and halt-walk transitions. It’s been a slow process, but the progress is there and I can see improvement on the near horizon.
I had a break through in my last lesson. Basically, my trainer told me to stop worrying about keeping him straight and instead focus on teaching him to always follow my hands. She had me stop him and ask him to flex laterally, taking his nose to one toe, then to the other, keeping a dialogue going with the reins. Buck Branaman explains lateral flexion in this video. The magic of this simple movement was that while he was thinking about softening his shoulder and turning his head, he didn’t pop his nose up. Next she had me keep the lateral flexion up and ask him to walk forward simultaneously, then try it from a walk to a halt. We wobbled and drifted all over the arena like a drunken sailor, but he did keep his nose down.
Eventually we’ll learn to bend and stay on the path, but for now I’m just enjoying watching him stretch his neck down and rest in the contact.
Happy riding! Never loose hope.