Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lesson 7/5

I am so glad Trainer is so close and is available in the evenings to come teach. We're definitely in a stretch where I need extra help. That tends to happen when we make a step forward in training- things go well in lesson, I usually break things in the week between lessons, then Trainer cleans it up in lesson. I usually can't go two weeks between lessons at this stage. We have progress though, so it's fine.

Next year, she and I will have been together for 10 years!
I'm glad she finally got me to tuck my elbows in.

She had me describe what was going on. I told her how I basically used the "braille method" (our name for horses that learn to jump via whacking themselves or flatwork that ends up with the rider having to explicitly spell out to the horse what we want), on Monday for my ride. He spent an hour pissing around with me and just not cooperating and I eventually manually flexed him in and tried popping his shoulder to push him out. She had me get rolling by stretching him down and he was walking and trotting better than he was on Monday. She had me mess with moving his haunches and shoulders left and right with the idea of "dribbling a soccer ball" - ie, left for a few steps, right for a few, left again. Basically just changing it up to get him thinking about being flexible again.

Nope. We spent 15-20 min working through changes of bend (attempts at bend) and changes of direction and he was getting worse. She described tracking to the left as needing to be straighter and the right more elastic, but I felt the opposite and told her so. She said it's his legs to the left- they're everywhere except under him and while he's stretching down to the right, he's not actually stretching through his topline. He's faking it. He was varying between running forward off the leg and inverting when I half halted to slow him down. He was leaning heavily over his inside shoulder both directions, so when I put my leg on to lift him he'd run while leaning on the inside shoulder. Half halt, invert. Changes of bend were impossible with him like that. We tried spiral in and out. Nothing.

He felt like this, only tenser and fitter so it felt 20x worse because he was also speeding off.

She had us pull up and asked if I still had Mikey's rubber mouth pelham around. I said yes, she said go get it. He's gotten away with not having to cooperate for the past two weeks, and now we're back on track to getting him working again and he's thinking it's too much work and he'd rather not. He's not screaming no, but he's not cooperating either.

I dug around in my trailer and found that I took that bit home. I took every bit home that this horse could wear at this stage of training, and left Mikey's weymouth instead (HS KK Conrad, unfortunately now illegal because of the tilt). I brought that back and said, this is all I've got. She had me pop that on in place of his snaffle. She wanted some leverage to remind him that he needs to cooperate since he was ignoring his snaffle. We did it with Mikey too at this stage- something about changing the rules makes the Thoroughbred types batty.

Not meant to be used by itself.
Stow your pitchforks, the story ends just fine.

Before any of you burn me at the stake for reverting to a bigger bit, for using a weymouth as a single bit, and on a horse like Penn who isn't ready for a double, just stow your pitchforks, ok? I've used a double before. I know you don't crank on it. I know you can't be heavy handed with it; it's a big bit. We've spent two weeks fixing what I screwed up, and now it's time for Penn to play again. Sometimes a bigger bit helps the job get done faster with less wear and tear on everyone involved. How often have you seen me go this route? Maybe once with Mikey. I also had trainer supervision. There was ZERO pulling him into the contact. There was also a consensus that I'd never be able to use it outside at this point because of how feather light I needed to be with just it in his mouth- I needed the walls of the indoor to confine him to the space.

We spent a few minutes at walk letting Penn and me get used to the bit. I pushed him up to it and he bounced off it a couple times before stretching down. Off to trot and he bounced a couple times before settling beautifully. I never had to put more than a couple ounces of pressure on the reins, a far cry from how we'd been manually flexing him to get him to unlock his neck and jaw. He was suddenly completely agreeable, and working through changes of direction and bend willingly. I finally felt what Trainer meant about the left needing to be straighter because I felt his legs flailing. I could put leg on and half halt with my seat and he was listening.

Needs more self carriage. I still love this pic.

He stretched to the bit in trot beautifully- uphill, neck really stretching out in front, the topline muscles in his neck working evenly on both sides, bigger at the base, face on the vertical or slightly ahead. We did a little shoulder in and it was steady and light (and off the seat!). Self carriage was happening and it was amazing.

Canter was good, nothing like the trot, but it really showcased how much I help him in canter and how much work we have yet to do in the canter. I was able to half halt and put leg on, and then put inside leg on to stand him back up. There was no leaning on the inside shoulder. I could mildly half halt and ask for trot and he'd maintain uphill balance into the trot. There was so much self carriage!

With the weymouth, I could actually ride properly and stop dragging him around (for the record, he stopped dragging me around too). My half halts needed infinitely less strength. I was able to be kinder to him and praise him all the time, which makes him try harder. It let him be his sensitive self, and let me respect his sensitivity with equal sensitivity from my riding. It was incredible! Sometimes he got too deep in the bridle, but that's him looking for me to hold him up. I was able to put leg on and half halt and lift his poll.

To be honest, he was more through and connected to the weymouth than Mikey ever was in his double. I remember from one of Austen's posts about Janet Foy: "You need a lot of power from behind to use the double." Penn has so much more power than Mikey ever had. Sorry my pretty red head :-( Another fun tip from that same post, "The double is used is so you use less aid to get same result. Smaller movements to get reaction." I finally had that feeling while riding Penn in just the weymouth. Again, sorry to my gorgeous red head.

More power needed.

We only worked for 15-20 min with the big bit- it really did the job. I'll bring the pelham to the barn so we'll never have to put the weymouth in again until Penn is ready for a double. After the last few weeks of him becoming completely uncooperative with finding collection and self carriage (and then any kind of connection), I wasn't sure he'd go well in a double ever. Not if increased collection made him want to sit and rear. When he's ready, he's going to be incredible in a double. The increased sensitivity that can exist between us is incredible and exactly the kind of thing I'd want to encourage.

He wore out really quickly with the increased self carriage. It's not something I would have him do more than twice a week, and for no longer than 20 min or so. I do want him to be happy riding and working! We're going to use the pelham for 2-3 rides in the next week to cement the self carriage feeling, then go back to the snaffle. He doesn't need a lot of reminder about being cooperative since he's such a willing horse. This is just the first "This is hard!" moment we've had, I'm sure it won't be the last.

I was so super pleased with Penn, and you could tell he was proud of himself too. He tends to just have this face of, "I was a good boy!" He'll have it easy with trail riding or hacking until this weekend when we revisit self carriage and collection on Saturday or Sunday. He missed his Wednesday trail ride because I ended up working 2.5 hrs of OT after normal quitting time. Oh well, he worked hard Tuesday night, I'm sure his muscles, and brain, could use the rest!


  1. I'm so glad that you guys could get back on the same page. Hopefully the touch up caused a lightbulb moment that sticks. :)

    1. I think it will stick! Penn is such a fast learner, and he does want to please. I think he learned he didn't have to do what we want- I basically allowed him to invert for two weeks. When I asked him to work hard again he was like, "I thought not working hard was what we were doing?" Just a bit of help getting him going in the right direction!

  2. No need to defend yourself haha. Training tools are training tools and you're a very considerate rider with a great Instructor. Glad the tune-up helped out.

    1. Well you know the internet trolls! Haha. Exactly, we used it as a brief training tool to get him back on track. I wouldn't have felt the need to defend myself if I actually had the pelham a the barn, but who knows what people will think about using just the weymouth! The tune up really helped, I'm actually excited to ride him again!

  3. So glad that you guys are on the same page again :-) I completely agree that it makes sense to use the right tool at the right time and this was clearly that!

  4. I've had to use a pelham in basically that same situation (not on Pig, but another horse rather similar to Penn, actually). Must've been super tough to ride in just the curb. I can't imagine!

    Fun fact, dressage was developed with only the curb bit. The snaffle wasn't added to create the double until the 1700s!

    1. The curb is just so much bit on Penn, it really made me think about every single action I took with my hands. I'd catch myself wanting to give/take the inside rein for no reason at all- and since the curb is so solid, I knew the minute I applied one sided pressure to it. Penn seemed to appreciate the very quiet hands (except in canter when he was like, "You always help me! What gives?!"). I look forward to riding in the pelham a couple times- Penn should be a little less sensitive in it, and I can practice doing less.

      You know, I thought about it, and how different is a weymouth from a standard western curb bit with port? I don't think it's actually that different... which then made me think about the lower levels of western dressage where they can use curb bits, where you don't think twice about it.

      And that's an interesting fact that totally makes sense.

  5. I hope no one gives you grief about the use of the bit. First of all, It's no one else's business. In my opinion, we use the tools that we have at hand, and we use them as knowledgeably and thoughtfully as we can. ANYTHING can be used too harshly, even a plain old snaffle. It's the user who makes a tool too harsh or abusive.

    Carry on! It sounds like you used that bit in a productive and effective manner. :0)

    1. I haven't had any grief, thank goodness! I think part of the reason of going to this one (or one with leverage) was that I was getting really heavy handed with the snaffle trying to get him flexible again. The weymouth needed a very light touch only, so I think it was actually kinder to him.

      It was so effective! I'm looking forward to our next working ride. The weather might not hold out today for the hack around the property that I wanted to do, so it might be tonight.

  6. Personally I'm a big believer in using tools to get the desired reaction (within reason and code of ethics etc) and then using that as education to get the horse there without the tool later. If changing bits helps a horse to more easily understand what is being asked of it, and therefore learn how to respond appropriately next time, then have at it.