Mia Gets Through To Me
Last week I was all buzzed up, I had gotten Merlin to move! I sat and thought and thought over what Mia had taught me about the importance of tongue movement. One thing that occurred to me was that maybe I was not giving enough rein to let Mia’s tongue move freely since my fingers on the side of the pushing hind leg were moving maybe a millimeter further than with the other hand, and I decided to try moving my fingers forward a little bit more (like a ¼ inch) to see if she reached out further and lengthened her stride.
It was still nice and cool when my son and I got out to the stable. Debbie was getting ready to give a show-tune-up lesson to two little girls on two REALLY cute ponies. Since it was a lesson for a flat class Debbie used the extra ring without any jumps and let me use the regular ring. We got Mia’s hooves trimmed, groomed, tacked up, put on her new fly spray I had gotten her (she spent most of last week’s ride kicking at flies) and went down to the ring. Since I was ambitious on Friday I was just as glad that I did not have to dodge ponies!
We started off with the normal warm-up walk (15 minutes, half my ride) with me asking for normal contact, Mia cheerfully cooperating, alternating with loose reins, doing big broad curves around the jumps, doing some really slow walk, then some turns on the hindquarters with plenty of stops to just look around at the cows, heron, and the lesson in the next ring. After 15 minutes I asked for a trot and she also did that well. With Mia all warmed up and responsive I decided it was the proper time to try my experiment of giving just a little more forward movement of my fingers while urging with alternating legs.
This is when everything went wrong. Mia was not pleased with me at all. First Mia put her head way down, walking several strides at a time with her nose just above the ground. When that did not cause me to change my ways she picked her head up and started shaking her head like there was a gnat in her ear (she had her ear bonnet on), shaking her head any time she considered my hands too rude. Mia was getting more upset with me every stride. I tried moderating the movement of my fingers but that was not enough for Mia, she finally got her head up, started chomping at the bit, prancing a little in place, and then “telling” me that if I did not stop she was going to go bananas. That finally got through to me, I gave her a completely loose rein, she calmed down and went back to her free striding walk. I decided that Mia did not like my little experiment at all, I apologized to her, and the next time I took up contact it was my normal contact with relaxed fingers and Mia settled right down, all was forgiven so long I kept to my normal contact. The rest of my ride I concentrated on THINKING my finger a little more forward rather than consciously moving it when I wanted a longer striding walk and Mia responded to that, reaching forward a little and extending her stride a little.
At first I thought that trying this extra extension of my fingers was irritating Mia because I was using a Mullen mouth snaffle that moves as one piece in the mouth. But then I remembered back when I was doing the Dr. Bristol bit and the horses did not seem to like the extra forward movement of one hand’s fingers when I did it with that bit either. The odd thing is that I would go through all of the fall and winter getting the horse to the point that I felt like I could ask for something more, especially with the extended walk. Since it was usually getting hot at that time I thought my problems with the horse was because the heat was making my hands worse. Maybe I was wrong, maybe my normal contact was just fine but I had irritated the horses by trying to alternately extend one finger out a little bit more trying for just a little longer stride.
Mia was telling me that my normal contact with the bit was just fine, moving my hands the normal amount to keep a constant contact with her moving head, and keeping my fingers slightly open and relaxed. She was telling me that as long as I keep my fingers relaxed her tongue has no problem reaching forward enough in response to the pushing hind leg, that yes, her tongue only moves a millimeter or so forward, that her tongue was strong enough to get enough room from my relaxed fingers, and that basically she was HAPPY with my normal contact. All I have to do is follow the movement of her head, time my hand aids properly, and I do not have to be pro-active in giving her tongue more room so long as my fingers are nice and relaxed.
Horses are our best teachers. It is only the horse who can tell us when we are doing things right. When we do things wrong the horses try to tell us by resisting and “acting up”, and the horses will continue with these resistances and “acting ups” until we get our act together and ride properly. Unfortunately many riding teachers and coaches completely discount the horses’ opinions and insist that the rider get the horse to “behave” and stop resisting and acting up even though the rider has not improved. This is short-sighted. It sours the horse when his opinions of his rider are ignored, and the rider misses a golden opportunity to learn from a master of horsemanship (their horse). A lot of time is wasted in trying to “break down” resistances, the proper cure for any resistance is to back off, go back to the basics, and learn to ride better. Tightly cranked nosebands, draw-reins, harsher bits, abusive contact, punitive spurring and cracks of the whip will not cure resistances, all they do is “paper over” the RIDER’S (and trainer’s) deficiencies. Of course, since the rider never learns to improve the problems continue, and the instructors and trainers can tell the student that all that is needed is special tack, more riding lessons, more training sessions, a “better” horse, and how hopeless the rider would be without all these expensive professionals to “guide“ them.
Each and every time we mount a horse the horse is trying to get us to ride better. Horses resist our bad riding because that is the only way they have to tell us that we are not riding well. I have found nothing more humbling than working over and over on something with no progress at all, and when I finally do it RIGHT the horse immediately giving me a perfect figure, a perfect gait, a perfect movement, with perfect obedience. even though the horse had never been trained to do it under a rider. Horses can’t sit us down and tell us what we are doing wrong verbally. They are not smart enough (usually) to set up things so that we automatically do it right. All they can do is resist and act up until, hopefully, we get the message and start riding better.
LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE, then listen to you horse some more, then listen to your horse even more, and if you listen to your horse enough and mend your ways your HORSE will make you a good rider even if you can‘t afford expensive lessons. It happened to me, it can happen to you.
Have a great ride!