Be True to Your Schooling
The bit I used on Jammer over the weekend was a shade to narrow. I bought him a new one — a sweet iron and copper egg-butt snaffle broken with a chain in the middle where the third link might be. It was a gentle bit, designed to free the tongue from pressure while maintaining communication with the bars.
Jammer hated it.
He mouthed it when first bitted — exploring, I thought. Experimenting. — then carried it quietly as we set off down the road. We hadn’t gone a quarter mile before he began to ask the standard horse question: Could we go home instead? Seat, legs, rein. No, no, and no.
It took all of two minutes for us both to get the point. To me, the bit felt like a gummy worm, squiggly and inconsistent.
To him, it felt insecure. Unclear. Where was he supposed to go, again? Hello? Leader? He expressed his agitation in a raised back, tossed head, and attempts to pivot toward home.
Hmm…not the reaction I’d come to expect from him. But should I head for home, thereby rewarding his behavior but enabling me to switch bits, or persevere at peril of an unpleasant or possibly dangerous ride?
I decided to head home. I lunged him for a few minutes so arriving home wouldn’t be all fun and games, then switched over to a basic, full-cheek snaffle that I had lying around. Time for another decision: arena work or hit the trail? There’s only so much time in a day and I really wanted those miles…
I mounted up in the round corral. Collected a little. Did some lateral work. Practiced single-rein stops.
Then we headed back out. He felt steadier, more confident, in the stronger bit. Unlike with the gummy worm, I scarcely had to touch his mouth. We passed the “trouble spot” with hardly a batted eyelash, and proceeded to have a fabulous conditioning ride. (Really, it was super fun.)
But you know, I’d have given up that ride for just the arena work. In this particular instance, I think equipment rather than training was to blame, but the point stands: It doesn’t matter how fit your horse is if you can’t control him.
On the trail. Headed home. At the start of a race. When he spooks.
Schooling will pay off.
We endurance riders are infamous for our dislike of the ring. I’m no exception. But I’m coming around. It surely is nice to know, in a dicey situation on the trail, that I have a tool bag full of hindquarters and necks and ribs that respond, without thinking, to well-practiced cues.
In the spirit of this post, I followed Jammer’s ride with 30 minutes in the round corral on Maji. We explored headset, a new concept for her, and carried on with softening, softening, bending, bending, giving up her signature head-toss in favor of responding to direction.
Practice, practice, practice.
You never know when you’ll need it.
Go ahead: Teach to the test.