I’ve spent more time in the last week with my hands on the wheel than with my hands on the reins. I traveled to give an an intensive, multi-day private clinic in a neighboring state…then drove east for a client who’s moved to a new barn just a little further away than I normally travel…and then drove south for a new client, who was willing to cover my extra mileage in order to have a new set of eyes on the ground.
The rewards of my travels are great, and far outweigh the monotony of sitting in a car rather than on a horse. That’s because I love to teach. I live for the smile on a rider’s face, the look of enlightenment on a horse’s face, the happiness that comes from a partnership that’s deepened in interest and understanding.
My rewards this week included finding the right bit for a horse that was bracing, in large part because he didn’t really love his bit. I followed the advice in this post, and instinct, and the first bit we tried was one the horse embraced. With flexions in hand, mobilization of the jaw came quickly and continued under saddle.
The horse clearly demonstrated that mobilization of the jaw leads to flexion of the poll leads to release of the back. Now that the horse isn’t bracing, the suppling work will be far more effective. With a bit that he loves, the horse can also accept more subtle actions from the rider’s hand.
I was able to help another rider “connect the dots” in terms of regulating the tempo. As we worked on maintaining a consistent tempo, she revealed that she knew when her horse was going to slow down or speed up his tempo, but she didn’t want to correct him then, and have him overreact. Instead, she waited to correct because she felt it was more fair to him and would be more effective.
I suggested that her strong-minded mount might be resenting the correction of what appeared at first to be acceptance. The rider was able to put the theory to the test. Once she began correcting when she first felt her horse think about changing the tempo, she was able to maintain a consistent trot, with greater relaxation and expression from her horse.
Another rider, schooling Second Level, was able to subtly alter her horse’s balance with the use of the demi-arret. She was able to experience her horse taking on an entirely different carriage, which enabled a greater range of motion in his shoulders, to their mutual delight.
I was able to help a rider forge a new relationship with her hot mare, whom she started late (only because the mare came to her late) and who is still green. I encouraged her to ask for more in lots of little ways but in no big or confrontational ways. She simply asked that her mare put her feet in a certain place and keep them there until she was asked to put them somewhere else, on the ground and in the saddle. If her mare wanted to lock her eyes on something in the distance, the rider simply asked for bend and forward motion.
This new dialog restored the mare’s focus on the rider, and the rider’s focus on the requests she was going to make rather than on what her mare might do when she became distracted. Once focus was restored, multiple walk/halt transitions, with quiet relaxation and release at the halt, allowed both horse and rider to find a new center of calm and through that, a rebirth of trust.
Usually, the rewards I have as a teacher are less dramatic than these, but they always give me pleasure and satisfaction. Nothing beats seeing a horse happily mouthing the bit and discovering a new connection and conversation with his rider. Unless it’s the smile on a rider’s face when they feel a new freedom underneath them and a new connection and conversation with their horse.