BRRR. It is COLD outside, when I woke up it was still in the high 20's F with a brisk wind. Since I no longer have horses I could stay warm this morning. I am so glad not to have to carry feed (I always fed more for the cold), hay, warm water (to wet the feed), and break open the ice on the water trough. With my MS this had gotten REAL challenging. Such a luxury to be able to stay inside. No frozen fingers or toes, and I do not have to feel sorry for the shivering horses.
Since it was threatening to rain Wednesday morning I got to see Debbie train a horse during my lesson. I never mind Debbie doing this because I LOVE seeing Debbie train. From my experiences training I know how hard it can be to get a new idea through to a horse, and there is Debbie making it look sooooo easy. A lady had dropped off her horse for a "refresher" course in training after a 2 year break for (human) medical issues. She had thrown a bridle and saddle on the horse and had gotten back to trail riding, where her horse had scared her by continually flinging her head and by bucking when asked to canter. Debbie was muttering a little about people who just drop off a horse that the owner thinks is too dangerous to ride and expects Debbie to fix everything in a short time. Trainers can get hurt too.
The horse was flinging her head because her owner had put a Tom Thumb Western curb bit in her mouth, the one with the jointed mouthpiece. If there is a bit guaranteed to cause head flinging this is this one. Debbie, of course, had the perfect solution, she put on her Nurtural bitless bridle, and most of the head flinging stopped immediately. It was so cool to see this horse SO HAPPY to have this problem fixed, she was going around the ring at the walk and trot with her head down, her nose forward, her ears pricked and with a nice calm look in her eyes. One problem solved, at least as long as there is no bit in the horse's mouth. The bitless bridles are wonderful solutions to problems like this, the trainer does not have to spend a lot of time getting the horse to accept the bit (something Debbie does quite well), and then the rider does not have to take months of lessons learning how to get their hands good enough to use with a bit (which Debbie is quite good at, most of her riders have exceptionally good hands.)
The canter was another story, however. This mare was NOT happy at the canter, and she showed it with some head flinging, ears pointing back, and small bucks. Debbie was using the owner's Western saddle, and I do not know if this saddle ever fitted this mare but nowadays the front of the saddle tree is TOO TIGHT in front, interfering with the top of the mare's soulders. I suspect that the saddle had never fit the mare right. I got the impression that both the bit and the saddle had "come with the mare", and because they had come with the mare that the owner assumed that both were 1) properly sized for the horse, and 2) what the mare was trained in. This is rarely so, usually what gets sent out with the horse is something that doesn't quite fit but the original trainer just has lying around. My parents had exactly the same experience with the horse they had bought, they got the same type of bit (3/4" too wide to boot), and a Western saddle too narrow for the horse's back. It took me changing the tack and six months of re-training to fix that horse. People, never assume that the tack that comes with the horse fits! In my experience it rarely does.
A horse who is uncomfortable from ill fitting and unsuitable tack is NEVER going to be cooperative with their rider. An uncomfortable horse is never going to obey the rider willingly. The horse's mind will not be on the rider's signals, its attention in going to be on whatever hurts. And if the rider insists that the horse do something that makes it even more uncomfortable the horse will cause problems, often scary problems--bucking, rearing, head flinging, and running away when the pain gets too much to bear. Badly fitting tack can end up being a DANGEROUS SITUATION for both the rider and the horse.
While Debbie was working this horse I was happily going around the ring with Mia. I have done everything I can to make Mia comfortable in her tack. I use a Corrector pad under the saddle even though the saddle almost fits her, and I have gone through three birdles, six bitless systems and 3-4 bits to find the one that Mia is happy with. As a result Mia does not mind me riding her in spite of my physical problems, both because she is comfortable in her tack and because if she shows discomfort I do everything I can to make her happier. Mia will even give me leeway when my physical problems interfere with my riding, all those hours of being comfortable while I ride her really do pay off when I mess up. She knows by now that the discomfort is probably temporary and that all she has to do is tell me that she is not happy. Then I fix whatever is bothering her (after apologizing.)
We could not ride or control the horses without the horse's cooperation. This cooperation is fostered by good training. If the horse is trained in comfortable tack it can be pretty easy to train the horse (usually.) Often problems appear after the horse is sold. The new owners often have NO IDEA that horses come in different sizes. Any bit, any saddle, and if the tack "comes with the horse" it must be OK. Then the problems start.
Debbie was telling me that when the lady comes back Debbie will tell her all she has to do is get a new bridle (bitless), a new saddle and a new saddle pad. Meanwhile Debbie will be going through her saddles to find one that fits the mare, and she does not care if it is Western or English, just so long it fits at the shoulders. I am sure that once the mare is comfortable that Debbie will work her usual magic and when the owner comes back that most of the problems will have disappeared. At least as long as the mare is comfortable. She looked like a really nice horse.
We riders depend of the horse's active consent. We riders will never get the consent of the governed as long as our horses are uncomfortable. The horses may learn that they have no recourse when life just gets too uncomfortable, and these horses will never perform as well as they could if everything fit right and the rider worked the horse humanely. Eventually most spirited horses will rebel. A comfortable horse on the other hand is so much more willing to cooperate with their rider, and is ready and able to learn how to do ever more challenging things. Personally I prefer to have the horse consent to my riding. It is much safer for me, and the movement of a comfortable and cooperative horse is so much more superior than the movement of an uncomfortable horse.
The consent of the governed. Definitely something to aim for when we ride, handle and train our horses.
Have a great ride.