I WILL WALK FOR PRAISE
When I got to ride Merlin today I did not have big hopes since he “got away” with standing for 15 minutes last week. As usual I waited for Merlin to sigh, and then I did my escalation of my driving aids, WALK, light squeeze with both legs, then a light touch of my spurs. To my utter surprise Merlin started walking after making me wait only one minute. Merlin even allowed me to steer him AWAY from Shannon for a few steps before I told him he could go back to her. When he stopped both Shannon and I heaped praise upon him! She also gave him a good ear rub since the gnats were horrible again this morning.
After a few minutes of rest Merlin sighed again and I asked him to walk. Since he obviously did not want to give me a swelled head he did not respond. After a few minutes he decided he made me wait long enough and the next time I said walk he walked toward Shannon. On the way I coaxed him to the fence and we actually walked all the way around the ring! Of course I was praising him every foot of the way, telling him what a GOOD BOY he was, how patient with me, how noble, how brave, and how he was simply WONDERFUL for consenting to walk around the ring. He was not striding out, but at least he was moving, mostly in the direction I wanted. After one walk around the ring he was READY to go back to Shannon for more praise from both of us.
The next time he consented to obeying my driving aids I got him back to the fence and I praised him aloud for around a quarter of the ring where I went silent. After a stride Merlin started to lose whatever impulse he had but he did obey light touches of my legs, both for going forward and for turning (when I wanted him to keep at the fence instead of going in to the center.) Then Merlin sort of sucked back, started making hints of rebellion, and he did not move smoothly forward until I started praising him every step of the way. This time we went around the ring TWO times before I told him to go to Shannon.
He might as well have carried a sign saying “I will walk for praise.” No praise, no walk, as simple as that!
So our next time around the ring I praised him mightily and I got another walk around the ring before I ended the ride.
On Wednesday I asked Debbie if I could try my new Show Pelham on Mick. I had it all set up already, two sets of reins, an elastic curb strap with a gel curb chain cover, a lip strap, and a brandoon slip to keep the loose snaffle rings from flapping around. We got it all adjusted so Mick was comfortable and walked out to the ring. When we started our ride I made a mistake, I had forgotten that I had put a wide rein on the curb and the thinner rein on the snaffle because that was the only way I could get two reins of equivalent length since the curb rein had to be a little bit longer since the bit has a 7” shank. So I kept contact with the wider (curb) rein at first and of course Mick went behind the vertical, “breaking” his neck at the third vertebrae. After a few somewhat sharp words from Debbie I finally got my reins sorted out and I started to keep contact with the snaffle rein and Mick strode forward confidently.
Debbie had been sort of worried about how Mick would react to the ported mouthpiece since he had obviously not like being ridden in a Kimberwick in one of the lessons. I was not too worried since my Show Pelham has a wonderful wide ported mouthpiece with no sharp turns with corners to dig into his sensitive tongue. Mick really seemed to like this mouthpiece, reaching his nose forward to establish contact and willingly keeping good contact though he did carry his head a little higher at the trot. It took several minutes to warm Mick up, he always moves stiffly at first. When he started moving smoothly we started working at the trot, trying to extend and then collect his stride. Mick pleased Debbie a lot, he was striding out like a TB (no knee action), and when we slowed down he was starting to flex at the poll.
As we trotted around the ring I carried my reins with my curb reins under my little fingers and my snaffle reins between my ring and little fingers, I know that this is not the “approved” way but this is the only way I can keep the actions of the snaffle and curb reins separate. I also kept my curb reins sagging a little bit. Keeping normal contact with the snaffle rein I experimented with tweaking the sagging curb reins by closing my little fingers maybe ¼” and then immediately returning my little fingers to their normal position. Mick responded marvelously, after a few strides of the trot I started tweaking the curb reins and I could feel Mick’s weight shifting toward the rear. The sound of his forefeet footfalls changed. I experimented some with the strength of my leg aids and hand aids until I found what worked best, and then Debbie asked me to extend his trot. She LOVED what Mick gave me, told me to keep doing it, and as we continued Mick started flexing his poll and carrying his face more vertical. Since I was pretty tired at that point we went back to the walk since I only had a few minutes left in my lesson. Just for your information, when posting I use my legs when I sit and I tweak my curb rein just as I am coming up to the top of my posting movement with immediate release.
Afterwards I thought about my ride. At no time when riding with just a snaffle had Mick offered this particular head carriage, flexed at the poll with his face approaching vertical. Neither had the other Arab gelding, Glow, Ihad ridden for Debbie. Both horses, Glow with a double bridle (minus the curb chain for the curb) and now Mick with the Show Pelham, did offer me this head carriage when I added the curb and used it properly. I thought of the dressage teachers claiming that a rider should be able to duplicate the action of a double bridle while riding just with a snaffle. I thought of all those dropped or flash nose-bands used to replicate the feel of a curb chain, and I thought of all the horrible head carriages these snaffle bitted horses come up with, faces behind the vertical, necks “broken” at the third vertebrae, and with their weight on the forehand. And then there is me, a relatively decent handicapped rider, nowhere as skilled as a good dressage rider, and I can get the desired head carriage with just a LIGHT use of the curb. So long as my curb rein is light enough the horses do not go behind vertical, so long my curb rein is light enough I do not have to use a stronger leg, and so long as my curb rein is light enough the horses do not seem to mind me using a curb at all.
Might it not be easier to teach a horse collection if we just used the type of bit that was developed to bring the horse into collection if used properly? Are people trying for collection with just the snaffle (plus those horribly tight nosebands) causing their horses unnecessary pain and confusion? Were the old-time dressage riders correct in their insistence of riding just with the curb for collection?
If I ever get hooked on collection I am going to make sure that there is a curb bit in the horse’s mouth when I ask for it.
Have a great ride!