More Arena Schooling

Today, we took a step back and worked on slow, quiet arena work.  With a bit.  “Horrors!” says Mimi.  I found one of my Myler bits that does fit her properly — a Western Dee Ring snaffle with Triple Mullen Barrel mouthpiece.  Of all the bits I own, she’s the least fussy in this one, so that’s what we’ll use.

Today, I spent the entire session with her at a walk and slow trot, and we put the emphasis on her carrying herself naturally collected and not leaning on the bit.  Today went much better than Friday.  I do know what I’m doing, at least to some degree.  All of the books and magazine articles have sunk it somewhat.  And it’s amazing what happens when you slow down and just work through one thing at a time.

Well, mostly one thing.  I’m a firm believer in the principle of “what the rider is doing has a direct correlation on what the horse does.”  So you can work all you want on one particular aspect of the horse, but if what they’re doing is as a result of something you’re doing, you might not get very far.

For example: Like I mentioned, today’s task was to get Mimi to stop leaning on the bit and work on her self-carriage.  That’s going going to happen unless I make sure that my hands are light, and I’m not leaning forward and clamping down on her.  I tend to be a very forward rider, so I consciously focused on using my core, keeping my shoulder back, and not clamping with my legs or grabbing at the reins, especialyl when she tried to speed up.

Equus had a great article this month on the use of snaffle bits, and it reiterated a few things I always manage to forget.  Use gentle pressure to hold the reins until the horse gives.  You’re not going to get a horse that’s soft in the face by pulling them into position — which was how I was always taught to “collect” a horse.  So now, I’m going back and attempting to re-teach Mimi the principle that it’s up to her to hold the bit and carry it, or she’s going to be less comfortable.

She is getting it.  Baby steps, but she’s getting there.  Today, there were times were I got half a loop around the arena where she was carrying herself well, wasn’t leaning on the bit, and had some semblance of self-collection going.  We’ll take it.  :)

I’m still going to stick with bit in the arena/s-hack on trail.  In the arena, she can soften and be light in the face because she’s focused on me and what needs doing.  Out on trail, she just wants to “get on with it” so much that she tunes out the light bit cues, and I have to get much stronger with it than I prefer.  Much more responsive to a hackamore out on trail.  My hope is I can get her in the habit of going along in a more self-collected manner in arena work, and once she figures out how much easier that is, it’ll be easier to get that from her consistently out on trail.

What I do like about arena schooling in the bit is that she is very light, and it forces me to concentrate of keeping soft hands and not pulling her around.  Soft, steady hands…tighten from the fingers to pick up the slack, then loosen when she relaxes.  Big change from “take up on the reins and hold her head in place…wrestle her nose to her chest if you have to.”

But…it was all I knew at the time. 

I’m just thankful that horses are creatures of immense forgiveness, and that I have a chance to do it right this time.  Horses are the truest example of second chances, and it not being too late to try to make something right. 

A few other random notes from the weekend:

– Lining the Grffin’s short boots with moleskin on the seam area made a huge difference — no rubbing or ruffled hairs at all.  Easy fix, and moleskin tends to stay on for a few weeks at a time.

– Knee socks or half chaps.  Don’t do both.  I figured this one out last fall after Man Against Horse…too many layers of fabric and too-short of stirrups caused a major pressure point on my shin.  Dropping the stirrups helped.  So did switching to ankle-high socks under half chaps.  But for this time of year, and for arena schooling, tall knee socks work very well in lieu of half chaps.  Cotton breathes.  Suede doesn’t.

– A cheap fix to inject new life into a pair of six- or seven-year-old Terrains: Insoles!  My beloved Terrains were making a slow migration to the trash can, but I wasn’t quite ready to resign myself to throwing away one of my favorite pairs of shoes.  A trip to Walgreens, and $9 later, I have my shoes back again.  :)  Tried them while riding this morning, and they felt great!  They’re still the most comfortable shoes I own for riding, even if they’re not the absolute best for hiking.  Tread’s a little worn. 

– Still fiddling with my saddle bag setup and finding the balance between “carrying everything I need” and the “streamlined, not-a-pack-pony” look.  At the moment, I’m favoring using the Snugpax cantle bag all the time.  Of the two rear bags, it bounces the least.  I love the clean lines of not having anything up front, especially for arena schooling, but I know from past experience that never works come ride-time.  If I have to reach around to the cantle bag for anything — water, snacks, electrolytes, chapstick — it won’t happen.  But the pommel pack is also very easy to take off/put back on, so I suspect that’s what I’ll end up doing for longer training rides/competitions.  (Plus side, using both packs meants I don’t have to carry my Camelbak.)

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