Monday, October 21, 2013

Mouthy Monday - Get Offa My Face!

Letting go and trying new things.
Part Two (recent events)

It has been three years since the day I began teaching Andromeda that it was possible to travel slower than a gallop in an arena.  During those few weeks she also learned that circling means to slow down.  This doesn’t mean that she won’t hold speed at a circle when asked, but if she is ignoring my request to slow down while in the arena or a field I can start a circle and she will slow down.  I have found circles and figure-eights to be great methods of directing her energy in a field when all she really wants to do is gallop across the country side.

We have come a long ways.  In the arena she will walk, trot, and canter on cue (ok, some days she still prefers to not walk).  She circles, serpentines, figure-eights, and even jumps when asked. In the arena she is capable of paying attention to my weight and leg cues so that I barely touch the reins to give directions   She is still mentally a high strung Arab, so there are days we have to trot a little longer than others in order to burn energy and relax, but I have a lot of fun riding her.  We still mostly trail ride.  Some days we walk, others we cover ground at a very fast trot.  Some of our best rides are when I allow her to pick the speed of the ride.  The only rule is that I have power of veto.  Sure she is probably capable of tearing down a narrow trail with sharp turns and not fall over, but I have a fear of fast approaching, low hanging branches and of coming around a blind curve and finding an unsuspecting individual on the other side.  If she ever refuses my power of veto the ride is over and she is required to walk home.  But man, when she is really working our rides are pure dreams.  She becomes focused on reading the trail, deciding when it is safe to trot and gallop (she RARELY chooses to walk and thinks the canter is a transition gait).  We meld into a joined unit in which it is impossible to tell who is giving the cues to shift, slow or speed up.  We both respond to the trail’s rocks, twists, turns and hills as a combined unit.  Minimal movement visible from either of us, and yet speed and direction change as needed.  It is an absolutely amazing feeling when we are this well connected on a ride.  It doesn’t happen all the time, we still have the occasional argument and heaven forbid we try to walk across water.  She isn’t afraid of it, she just doesn’t want to.  All in all, we make a good team and I truly enjoy riding her.

One thing that has always bothered me a little is the fact that I ride Andromeda with a tie-down (standing-martingale).  I have it adjusted very loose.  She can even eat grass with it on, but she can’t get her nose up high enough for the bit to be ineffective.  Her previous owner told me that any time she tried riding without it Andromeda would spend the entire ride with her head up and when she spooked her nose would come up high enough that she couldn’t see, causing further panic.  I never took the chance and always rode with the tie down.  The series of postings by mugwump here and on the fugly blog last year got me thinking about maybe taking off both the tie down and her nose band.  At the time it was outside of my comfort zone, but I never stopped thinking about it.  This year I am boarding at a farm next to large number of trails, but they are all on properties owned by people who hunt.  During deer season the trails are off limits except on Sundays, so we have spent the last six weeks riding a lot in the arena…and becoming board.  So, operation “take off noseband and tie down” began.  I increased my bravery by telling myself that A) the only time I have ever come off of her while riding was when a small tree was stuck between my leg and her side…what horse wouldn’t spook over that surprise, B) she is very good at slowing down when we circle, even if I start the circle with limited control, and C) she is short, I am tall, worst case scenario I could always reach up and physically pull her nose back down (I never actually thought this would happen, it just made me feel better thinking I could). 

The day finally came, I was feeling good and the weather was perfect.  I tacked up Andromeda without her noseband and tie-down (oh yeah, and no flash either) and led her to the arena.  I mounted and let her walk off, wondering what disaster was about to happen.  And you know what, nothing happened!  She walked and trotted as if nothing had changed.  We did turns, circles, serpentines, figure-eights, and downward transitions as if nothing had changed.  Then I asked for a canter, and felt an immediate difference.  I could sit her canter!  When reading Mugwump’s stories, particularly the Sonita stories I was always jealous of the ability to canter for extended periods of time.  Every time I read those portions I always thought “not enough Advil in the world for me to do that.”  Andromeda’s canter just wasn’t very comfortable.  It took a lot of effort to actually sit in the saddle without being bounced out and my back would always protest within 5 minutes.  This was one reason why trail rides were mostly “walk, trot, gallop.” Now here I was, sitting still on my little paint-arab cantering around the arena pain free.  It was amazing. I had felt this canter on very rare occasions before, but had no clue how to get it on command. I ended the ride on cloud nine.  I had finally discovered the secret to a relaxed, comfortable canter!

The next ride was on a Sunday and I was ready to take her out on the trail.  The weather was perfect again and I was excited.  I tacked up and headed down the road.  For some reason I choose to turn right down a dirt road towards some nice, wide, well maintained trails.  This may sound like a good idea, but it was my first mistake because she also likes to gallop this area.  We started at a walk, and when she asked to trot I let her.  She traveled nice and easy, looking around perfectly relaxed. As we started to run out of road and head into the woods she picked up a canter and I didn’t stop her (mistake number two).  When we turned left and entered the woods she started to increase speed.  I tugged on the reins and verbally asked her to slow.  She instantly popped up her head and speed off.  The more I asked her to slow down, the harder she protested. Finally she figured out that when her nose was even with her ears, the bit did absolutely nothing.  This all happened in about ten strides.  Three strides later I second guessed our ability to circle in a small clearing (third mistake) and was heading deeper into the forest with no control.  She was making a clear point of saying “hell no, I don’t want to slow down and clearly you can’t do anything about it.”  As I have said before Andromeda is good at following a trail and very good at staying up right.  But I didn’t her ability to see well enough to keep from bashing us into a tree while her nose was even with her ears and all of her energy was focused on ignoring me.  I resorted to doing what I never thought I would actually have to do.  At a choppy, energy filled, tense gallop I held the reins short in one hand, leaned forward, and with my other hand grabbed the bit and pulled her head around and down.  This got her attention.  Once her nose was down I had control again.  She wasn’t happy about me having control again, but I was able to hold her at a tense walk until we reached another clearing.  Then I moved her into a trot.  We circled at a trot, changing direction often and weaving in and out of trees until I felt her begin to relax.  We kept trotting until she was changing direction off of weight and leg aids with the reins as a guide only.    She asked to stop, I told her no.  We kept trotting until I could move her towards home without her speed increasing. Finally I felt my muscles start to tire and my seat start to become sloppy and I asked her to walk.  We walked out of the field and I took her back down the same road she had just pitched her temper tantrum on.  We walked past the spot she asked to canter, the spot she threw her head up, and the spot she took control.  I made her walk quietly all the way back home.  She only threw one minor hissy fit.  Some well-timed zig-zagging and a minor discussion ended our disagreement.  She walked all the way back home.  But my bubble had been burst.  Sure, in hindsight I hadn’t set the ride up as well as I should have, but riding without a tie-down and nose-band clearly wasn’t going to be as easy as it had initially seemed.

A few days later I took her back to the arena without the extra tack.  The well behaved dream horse was still there.  We cantered and cantered and cantered.  We even completed figure-eights at a canter with correct lead changes.  I discovered that when I relaxed into the canter (I hadn’t even realized I had been bracing against it) I could regulate her canter speed with my weight just like I could at a trot.  I once again finished pain free and grinning.

Now there is snow and ice on the ground.  I have lost my nerve.  I don’t want to risk a fight out on the trail while the footing is bad.  The noseband and tie down are back on.  But, I won’t give up.  The arena work has proven she is capable.  I have a few ideas on how to proceed.  Once everything is melted I’ll keep working at it.  She turns 17 this year and she is my forever horse.  We have plenty of time.  Maybe by the time she is 30 we will even be able to walk across water…but that is a whole different story.

Mugs here, net week, I'll come in and give Paintarab a few tools tohelp her out in this quest to get rid of her extra tack. In the mean time, I'm 100% behind keeping the martingale on while out of the arena. Survival first! 


  1. Couple of things I just realized I left out in the story: At the point of part 2 I had been riding in a D-ring snaffle bit instead of a phelham for at least two years. After the trail riding "adventure" presented in this story I never put the flash back on for trails. I also have been experimenting with a running martingale instead of a standing martingale. In the arena I continued to ride without the martingale and nose band.

    I look forward to you input next week Mugs!!

  2. You're a brave lady! Enjoy the ride!

  3. Well done. I appreciated your story a lot as it reminded me of my old horse. I wish I knew some of the things I know now back then. Best of luck with future adventures!

  4. I wonder if she's gullible enough to behave with the tie down on but loose enough to allow for the smooth ride that you are seeking. Then again I'm not familiar with tie downs and don't know if that would work. I tricked my cantankerous old pony into behaving by putting a running martingale on him that was intentionally adjusted to be so loose that if I actually wanted to use it I needed to lift my hand up above the middle of his neck. When I got him I was told that he was a nightmare on the trail unless he had a martingale and if they could they would have permanently attached it to him. And he was. I had to fake one with bailing twine and a rein keeper borrowed from the school tack shed at one point because I was careless with my tack and the new puppy chewed my martingal. It worked great and I was patting myself on the back until after a trail ride the boss came up and said why does he have bailing twine hanging loose under him? It was like that when you left but you were gone before I could get out here to tell you. It had come apart while warming up in the ring but he still heard the rings jingling and felt the strap so he was good to go. Well, if you consider good to go meaning either pointing his head toward home while walking down the trail or pointing his head down the trail while pointing his shoulder towards home. It took another year before he would point them both in the same direction and relax and enjoy the ride. (I don't know if rein keepers are real things but where I was working they were leather straps that went around the horses neck with a ring hanging on each side, the boss used (and I suspect made) them for kids that often dropped reins, they kept them out from under the horses feet and within reach for the kids to get them back easier enough. I've not seen them since I moved and left that stable and a super quick cursory search online didn't turn up anything similar)

  5. I really admire you for seeking a better understanding with her. I wish I had your riding skills!

  6. Great story, keep working with her (with safety first!)

    And Garand Gal, I think you are meaning an Irish martingale?