I just got to ride once this week, this morning. I missed some glorious low humidity and cooler riding weather this week because Debbie had her camp. Now the heat and humidity are back. At least my ice vest helps.
As usual when I cannot ride I drowned my sorrows by reading a horse book. This time it was "Equitation Science" by Greely & McLean, a book about the science behind riding. I got bogged down in the three chapters about learning theory because the writters use a lot of specialized terms, words that are not regular horsie words or in my dictionaries at home, so I have been using the web dictionary and trying to figure things out. It will probably take me three or four more times reading these chapters before I am content that I understand them. Maybe I will need to find a specialized dictionary for learning theory to really get the message. Luckily the rest of the book is a lot more understandable and there is a good discussion on Ethical Equitation. I was relieved that reading this book did not make me feel guilty about all the things I do with the horses, by following the old master horsemen and women and cavalry men I have been acting pretty ethically toward my horses all my riding life.
One thing that amazed me about this book is that the authors NEVER mention Caprilli and the Forward Seat, even when they discuss jumping. This seems odd to me because Caprilli is the first horseman who basically asked his horse (a mare, Sfacciato?) about what she thought about his experiments. I never get the impression from other schools of riding that they asked the horse's opinions on what was being done to them. In the 1930's Littauer and Kournakoff, as reported in their book "The Defense of the Forward Seat" (VERY rare, just 300 copies) did one of the first scientific experiments to determine how a rider's seat affected the horse over jumps, and their results proved that riders who sit back over the jumps cause the horse to drag its hindlegs while clearing the jump. Yes, in the 1930's the technology was primitive compared to today, but by glueing little lights on the shoulder and croup of the horse, using a dark indoor arena, and a camera with its lens aperture left open, they managed to get photographs of the horse's bascule over the jump. The results were so definitive that both Littauer and Kournakoff, who were at the time developing one of the early "balanced seats" (dressage plus jumping), both switched immediately and completely to the Forward Seat (somewhat to the dismay of their students!) and quoted their study extensively in their subsequent books. They both noted that if the rider stays (or comes back into the saddle) over the jump that the horse HAS to jump higher to clear the jump with their hind legs, and because they have to jump higher the angle of landing is steeper which means the landing is harder on the horse's front legs. A decade or so later Count Toptani, in Argentina, did a study of horses jumping using movie cameras that proved the same thing. Since the authors of "Equitation Science" are Australian they may have not heard about Littauer, Kournakoff, and Toptani, but how they managed to remain in ignorance about Caprilli and his somewhat scientifically developed Forward Seat is beyond me. Caprilli merely changed the way EVERYONE jumps their horses and he changed the way a many riders perform on the flat and he changed how people relate to their horses. Sort of like ignoring Isaac Newton when writting a physics text book. Rant over.
Today, when we tacked up Cider, Shannon and I discussed whether we should use the running martingle with the Spirit Bridle. The other times we had used it was when I was trying out the anatomic girth, and during those rides Cider became nappy, refusing to move forward to leg aids and backing up FAST when the disagreement degraded into an argument. We decided that since I'm back to using my old girth, if we made sure that the lower part of the martingle was not tight against her breast it would be safe to experiment with it again. We also had to change the pad since the English Corrector pad had not dried from being washed, so we used the Western Corrector pad under my dressage saddle. It does not position the saddle quite as well but the point of using the Correctors is to protect the horse's back. So, with a different pad, with the saddle feeling different because of the different pad, and with the running martingle back on--I had absolutely no problems. Cider had been going on strike over the anatomic girth, not the running martingle or my riding.
We had a good ride, Cider and I, with Cider promptly obeying all my leg aids and responding correctly to my hand aids. The only reason the ride was not perfect was because I was pretty klutzy physically and I had trouble coordinating my aids properly. The only problem I had was keeping Cider in a halt on loose reins, but after a few gentle discussions she finally gave me what I wanted, a relaxed halt on completely loose reins. Instead of diving toward Shannon Cider just gave me little indications that she wanted her mommy. Shannon told me that Cider had been ridden by a complete beginner using just a bareback pad and a Nurtural cross-under bitless bridle, and that Cider had managed to figure out everything that the young lady wanted! I felt proud. I know that to professional horsemen who show, train and teach high level horses and riders this might seem like a truly minor achievement, but I figure that there are A LOT more chances for a horse to have a beginner on his back than an advanced rider. I like it when a sensitive and unhappy horse I ride gradually turns into a calm cooperative horse that even a beginner can safely ride, while still giving me an advanced ride when I get up on his/her back! No, these horses do not win shows or anything like that, but they do teach people how to ride no matter how klutzy the beginner rider is. Face it, a safe beginner's horse often has a job for life. I don't succeed with every horse, but that is just the way things go, not every horse can stand beginners even if I can ride them safely.
I ALWAYS listen to the horses I ride! I notice every resistance, every evasion, and I do everything I can to defuse these resistances and evasions. Often all I have to do is change the tack/bit/bitless system to one the horse feels comfortable in. Other times I have to change the way I ride. The horses I've ridden the past decade have indicated that they want light hands, so my hands have become lighter. They have also told me that they want my aids to be more understandable, therefore I have learned how to coordinate my aids with the horse's stride better. When the horses react negatively to anything I do I do not just say to myself "blasted horse, why doesn't he/she obey me?" like I used to in my youth, I know there is a reason, and I work on myself (and the tack) until the horse is happy with my riding and cheerfully cooperates with me. What horses want is easy, they want to feel comfortable just like we do. When the horses are uncomfortable they try to tell their riders! All to often what the horse gets is the blasted horse response, the rider does not change their ways (or tack), and if the horse is spirited it often is ruined, and if the horse is quieter it eventually gives up ever ending the torture and ends up so much less than it could of been under a decent rider. By listening to the horses I am following the path of Caprilli and all the other great Forward Seat horsemen/women who developed a riding system that put more emphasis on the horse's comfort than any that came before it, and they developed this system by asking the horse, not by following any supposedly "scientific" ivory tower theories of how a horse "should" move. So I can read a discussion about ethics in a book about Equitation Science and not feel horrible about abusing my horse, these old Forward Seat horsemen/horsewomen, through their books and their students who taught me, taught me well. I suspect that when I finally translate and understand the learning theory chapters of "Equitation Science" that I will learn some new things, but I also suspect that a lot of what they say has been already covered, with different words, by horsemen long ago. (Horsemen from all schools of riding, not just FS.)
Have a great ride!