Monday, October 14, 2013

Mouthy Monday - Get Out of My Face!

PaintArab sent me a two-parter... See? I'm not the only one who's fond of cliff hangers.

I can't even remember throwing out this challenge over here on Planet Mugs. I definitely remember tossing it out while I was doing research on troll bile over at that abyss of perdition, FHOTD. It  was my response to the screams of righteous indignation  I received when I wrote I hate martingales and cavessons. I asked the bitches, lunatics, harpies, commenters, who actually rode horses, to try taking time off from correcting my grammar, and ride without head restraints on their horses. 

I do know I firmly believe the way to find a horses natural head set, begin true collection, and get them to get off the bit is to let them go. If I learned anything from Mort, Sonita and the Big K, the only way to slow down a chargy horse is to get off the face, let go, and figure out how to slow down without using the reins. The best way to create one is to hang on. 

PaintArab sent a story along about trying out some of the things she's read around here. I love, love love hearing from people who actually try what I write...especially when it works.

Letting go and trying new things.

Part One
 (written about three years ago)

I did it, and it worked!! I really didn’t think it would, but I tried anyway and it actually worked!!

But first, some background.  Three years ago I considered myself an intermediate rider.  After being given my own  horse,  I consider myself a very good intermediate rider.  I first learned how to ride on big warmbloods and thoroughbreds at a respectable hunter/jumper barn.  I competed in IHSA all through college.  Basically, I can stay on a horse.  I, however, know nothing about training (at least not much).  I was given my very first horse two years ago, but I had been riding her for a year beforehand.  She is the most athletic horse I have ever been on, I just need to figure out how to use it constructively.  Her breeding is completely unknown (she came from a rescue), but she is clearly half Arab and half paint and she comes with all of the Arab stereotypes.  She can teleport 20feet sideways when she spooks, she can go and go and go without stopping until long after I am completely warn out.  She is also FAST and surefooted.   We can travel in and out of deep sand at a full out run without ever skipping a beat.  If there are objects in our way while at a run I simply have to check her with the bit so I know she sees it, then let go and she will sail right over it.  The problem….she can be very, very heavy on the bit while trail riding and she can’t do squat in an arena. 

 For three years I have tried on and off to work with her in the arena and I cannot get her to collect a single gate.  When we canter circles she will either fall in, or out, and is rarely comfortable.  At a trot she will only be slow and collected after we fight a bit. Even then she arches her neck, holds it in place, pins her ears and makes sure I know that she is not doing it because she wants to, but because she is being given no other choice.  I know she is capable of much more because on the trail we have had many moments of wonderful gates.  However, even on the trails she goes in and out of phases (usually a few months at a time) in which she will pick fights with me and start hanging off of the bit.  The only way I can keep her from getting the bit is to do very rapid “check and releases.”  Any time I pull on the reins I have to release as fast as possible so she doesn’t have time to resist.  These arguments will always lead to me gaining control, but I have never been happy with this option and know that fights shouldn’t be necessary.  

Two weeks ago I began reading the Mugwump Chronicles.  I LOVE the writing style and the training tips.  I was intrigued about Mugwump’s methods for dealing with horses who pull too much or aren’t as stable as they should be on there feet.  The idea of dropping the reins and letting them go seemed like it would work…on any horse but mine.  I didn’t think it could possibly ever work for my horse.  My horse thinks running is a reward.  She LOVES running flat out.  If she sees an open stretch of sand or road in front of her she begs and begs to be allowed to run.  It’s her addiction.  She looks and feels so happy while she is running.   After she is done her body is relaxed and her ears are forward.  When out on the trail she is convinced she can run on anything.  Rocks and brush don’t slow her down.  I have to make the decision to slow down when the footing gets rough, she won’t - she will just keep on running (and NEVER fall).   As I said before, she is also an Arab.  She needs to be in endurance competitions.  Even in the arena I didn’t think it would be possible for her to ever slow down before I was completely exhausted.  One trail ride in particular stands out in my mind. She simply wanted to go, go, go.  I set the rules that she could go, but only at a trot and she couldn’t stop until she settled down and relaxed.  It took three miles of fast trotting through deep sand before she would relax.  She then walked half a mile and was ready to try again.  If I dropped the reins, why would she ever stop on her own without me demanding it?  However, after our disastrous ride last weekend (we had many, many arguments) I decided I was willing to try anything. And so I took Mugwump up on her challenge to drop the reins and let my horse figure it out. 

I set up a few rules for myself.  1. I would never touch the bit except for steering and 2. we would only do this in the arena (because she doesn’t see objects, rocks, or brush as any reason to slow down and I’m too worried about her eventually hurting herself).  This morning I went out early before anyone else would be at the barn.  I thought it would be a good idea to put down trotting poles (I spaced them about 6 feet apart) in hopes that they would force her to slow down in order to navigate over them.  Here is what I envisioned in my head: Once we were in the arena she would start at a walk, feel no resistance, then start to trot.  Again, she would feel no resistance and start to canter.  When she still didn’t feel resistance she would probably break into a hand gallop.  I also envisioned her slowing down every time we went over the poles.  I was also prepared to gallop around for 20-30 minutes before she slowed down.  The complete opposite of everything I envisioned happened.

We entered the arena, turned around, shut the gate.  We turned back around and I dropped the reins.  She TOOK OFF!!!  There was no build up, she went from zero to “oh hell” in two seconds.  Those “trotting” poles I mentioned….not working in the least.  She took one quarter second look at them, paused another quarter of a second, then realized that if she opened up her stride she could clear two poles at a time and keep on running.  After the first two laps she started digging in and gaining speed.  I realized that the rules had to change.  I am used to riding her flat out at top speeds…in straight open spaces.  Our arena however is TINY.  It is about 100 feet by 130 feet.  I might be a good rider, but I ride in an English saddle.  I am a firm believer that anything a western rider can do in a western saddle (except roping, the horn is useful then) can be done in an English saddle…however, I have never actually tried riding a horse at these speeds in such small areas.  I was struggling to stay on when she took turns or leaped sideways around the orange cones I had put up as “corner markers.”  So, the rules had to change.  

I ride in a split phellum bit.  The main rein acts like any other D-ring snaffle bit, the second rein activates the curb chain.  I still vowed to never touch the curb rein,” but I HAD to touch the bit.  Not much, just enough to keep her from trying to find out how fast she could go in the arena.  Around and around we went.  I don’t know what was more amazing, that I stayed on (there was LOTS of grabbing of the mane) or that she never ever lost her balance no matter where I was (there were plenty of moments in the beginning where I was balanced on her neck or suspended in the air next to her).  After the first five minutes, I finally found my balance (or at least more of it). The initial shock began to wear off, and I began to think.  Clearly all of my ideas to slow her down were never going to work.  That was the moment when my brain finally remembered the other part of my job (the part Mugwump emphasizes the most)…steering.  SO, I began to steer.  There were some hairy turns, moments where I was wondering if she should be a cow horse (except that she is scared of cows) or a barrel horse.  But you know what….it started working!!!!  She started slowing down.  After the first “oh hell” ten minutes, she actually began to respond and slow down.  We proceeded through a nice hand gallop speed and then down to fast canter.  I determined that, at these still reasonably quick speeds, circles weren’t going to work.  She would simply make them as big as necessary to maintain her desired speed.  SO, I began to figure eight across the short width of the arena (100feet).  It worked!!!  She continued to slow down and then it happened....she began to give me super comfy collected gates.  We began to trot and canter through circles, turns, figure eights, over the poles…all with her head down, her body relaxed, her ears forward…and only the most subtle of steering ques from me.  She was doing everything I wanted and I was just barely touching her.  We continued trotting for ten minutes.  Every time she broke into a canter I would say the words “trooot, slooow” and sit deep in my seat, then we would circle.  We reached a point where only half a circle was needed to slow down.  I was ECSTATIC.  For the last 9 years she has always told her previous owner and me that turns/circles meant go faster.  Now, all of a sudden, she knew they meant go slower.  

I have been riding this horse for three years.  Every few months I would try tackling the arena and never got anywhere.  In three years I have NEVER had a relaxed, comfortable, collected canter circle in the arena.  In three years I have NEVER had a relaxed, head down, ears forward, super comfortable trot in the arena.  All of this I was able to accomplish within 25minutes by just letting go.

I also learned something…my horse is even more athletic than I had ever imagined.  I have never been on a horse making turns and circles that fast (remember, I learned to ride on hunters, not western cow horses).  I learned that she can do the most amazing flying lead changes.  Sometime after the “oh hell” moments, but before we had reached a trot, a friend of mine showed up and started watching.  After a series of quick turns she commented that she couldn’t see my horse making lead changes, but she was always on the correct lead.  I hadn’t felt any lead changes (I was just holding on and steering), so I started to pay attention.  Sure enough, on every turn she would time her lead change for the exact right moment and I could barely feel it.  My friend is now jealous; she thought for sure I was telling my horse when to do the changes because they were so perfect.  In reality, we had never progressed far enough in our arena work to even begin teaching her the cues for lead changes.  She was doing everything on her own

When it was all over my cheeks were steaming, my lungs were screaming, and my abs were burning.  But, it was all worth it. In 25minutes I had accomplished the impossible and now my horse was actually standing still (something else she has NEVER done before).  We finished up with a nice walking trail ride (she is an Arab, she may be out of breath and a little out of shape, but she was far from tired).

I did it, and it worked.  I really didn’t think it would, but I tried it anyway, and it actually worked.


Anonymous said...

Well done, I'd have been a sobbing wreck by the end of that (if I'd stayed on until the end!). I was holding my breath reading that! Look forward to part two.

Mugs, just have to point out that in England a cavesson isn't a restraint, it is fitted loosely and doesn't prevent the horse from opening his mouth or interfere with the bit in any way. Very occasionally it can be used to attach a standing martingale but people don't really seem to use them nowadays anyway. More usually it is used in showing to attach a lead-rein to rather than to the bit, in order to demonstrate that the child is controlling the pony independently and the lead is only for emergencies. Also it makes the head look nice, without it my cob looks more carthorse than hunter! Picture:- can you see how it would have no more effect on the horse than a halter?
Not being picky, I agree with most of what you write, I just wonder if you've perhaps got mixed up with a flash noseband or similar?

Anonymous said...

Sorry that was meant to be a link, I might have guessed it wouldn't work!

Anonymous said...

I agree with British Anonymous. On an average hunter horse a noseband is just decoration. And yes, there are exceptions like overbitted hyperflexed dressage horses, but in most cases I've seen they are just tradition. My horse can yawn/eat/drink etc. with his noseband on.

deedee said...

Loved this story. Breathless to the end. Bravo to the writer/rider for making the rules and keeping them. So few of us have the stamina, let alone rebalancing skil, to endure to the accomplishment. Wow!

Lavender and Twill said...

Awesome story! I think you did so well for having the guts to try that when you knew it would be a hard ride, and the skills to stick that ride out!

It so cool how your mare responded, and found her own paces. I think it really shows how horses can do the work when we give 'em a chance and set them up to succeed.

I'll have to try consciously to do this with my Standardbred - that boy LOVES to run! I used to hardly ever canter him because he just zooms around full-pelt; leaning in so hard he looks like a motorbike... :S

We have started doing more canter work - I'm trying out leg yields to get him to think about his feet rather than just running without thinking.

I stay off the reins as much as I can though - he just sets his neck and jaw and powers on otherwise. He'll only stop if you use your seat!

I am not sure what would happen if I tried this out on a trail ride though. I know this sounds really chicken, but I mostly ride an active walk and try to only trot when I know that I can control his pace with my seat, not the bit.

I wouldn't want to set him off at the trot and let him pick the pace though - we'd end up galloping home! It'd be way too fast for me and I'm not confident I can stay on board!!

So my plan is to school his canter in the arena, and improve his canter before doing any cantering out on the trail. I think I'm sort of heading in the right direction with his schooling, but it's slow going because I'm not sure of his ability. He can run, but his balance is terrible - am I interfering with his learning to balance better by trying to slow him down and help him balance himself?

I am doing largish ovals so that he doesn't lean, and leg yields along the long side. Circles don't slow him, but maybe a figure of eight? I don't know - I'd love to improve the quality of his canter. Advice welcomed! :)

bonita of A Riding Habit

mugwump said...

Sorry anon and anon...I'm challenging you on this. You see, I spent a very healthy portion of my life taking instruction from a highly competent individual on cross country jumping basics and basic English equitation. I rode with appropriate equipment,my trusty Stubben all purpose, a good quality bridle( a Jimmy's)including a "real" cavesson.I was loaned the Jimmy's because the cavesson wouldn't stretch out like it had on mine.
I was on Mort, God help me, we were still in a simple broken mouth O-ring and he was a yawing idiot.
The fix? The cavesson was cranked down.
It worked. As in his mouth stayed shut. With the cavesson. Where did I learn the term "cranked down?"
From my fellow cross country folk, who said "Crank that damn cavesson down!" as Mort tore past, head in the air and mouth agape. They also suggested a martingale, which I also used.
It was only adjusted "to keep him from flipping his head."
Because of my cavesson crank down, and the addition of a martingale, resulted in control of Mort's head, which I desperately needed.
A flash was also suggested, but I didn't need it. Tightening down my cavesson worked just fine.

At this point in my life I am of the firm conviction that yes, those tools work, but that if a rider learns to ride by shaping the horse's body, not it's head -- no matter what the discipline -- these tools aren't needed.

You may feel free to argue my methods, but please understand, I do not and will not ever make a statement about equipment use if I don't understand the equipment.

mugwump said...

Wait! There's more! When Mike Craig began helping me control Mort using Monte Foreman training methods (1970's folks!) my standard equipment was the Monte Foreman Pelham bit, a running martingale and a cavesson -- appropriately fitted to keep his mouth shut. This was all western riding.I rode this way for 20 years.
I left parts of the method and got rid of the tie-downs and martingales when I met Ray Hunt. Now I ride in a full spade and feel absolutely no conflict.
Riding without tie-downs or any kind of mouth shutting device is what prepared me to understand the spade.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but my horse's cavesson is nowhere near his mouth, I couldn't use it to keep his mouth shut if I tried. Here is a pic of him wearing it so I'm mystified about 'cranking down' and how I would actually achieve that! What do you mean by a 'real' cavesson? Is that something different?

Anonymous said...

Sorry try this

Helen said...

Yes, Anon's photo is what we would call a Cavesson in Australia. It was mainly for cosmetic purposes as it was too far up the head to affect the mouth. If we wanted to keep the horse's mouth shut we'd use a drop noseband, which goes in front of a snaffle and is accordingly much further down the face.

Perhaps in the US the meaning of "cavesson" is different to Australia and the UK?

Anonymous said...

Cavesson might not keep his mouth shut like a flash, but it still restricts the jaw and if it was cranked up tight enough, the horse still can't properly open his mouth.
Jaw action from X-rays:

and this

I don't think a normally adjusted cavesson bothers the horse, but a tight one would be like pushing your thumbs at the end of your jaw bone and trying to open your mouth.

mugwump said...

THANK YOU LAST ANON. I swear, people.
Learn about your own equipment before you start lecturing.
I can loosen a drop nose band so it won't work either.I can drop my bit so low my horse can spit it out every time it feels rein pressure. On the flip side, I can rub a horse bloody with a halter or a Dr.Cook's bitless bridle and cause permanent nerve damage while I'm at it.
It's all equipment.
The damage is caused by how it's used.
If you have your cavesson on your horse so loose it only operates as decoration, but you still ride with dead, uneducated hands,then you are still a dumb ass.If you haven't seen them used to keep a horse from gaping, then you don't pay much attention.
The bosalito, which for clarity's sake I will call a little tiny, skinny bosal,is used for the first year or two a horse carries a spade.
Although the intent is to transition the horse to the bit, by going back and forth between the bosalito and the bit, and not to keep the horse's mouth shut, it still does -- if the rider is miss-using the spade and forcing the horse to open it's mouth.
If one of you called me on it, I would explain it's use and it's intent. I would never, ever say that because I personally didn't use it to keep my horse's mouth shut, it made it a fact that it couldn't be done.
Mort didn't need a drop nose band. The tightened cavesson was enough.
As I improved as a rider, I found the best way for me to find out if I was helping or hindering my horse was to get rid of all equipment that forced the horse into position, and learn to actually teach my horse to balance and carry himself.I got rid of the martingale first, then the drop nose band. You see, I was told the drop noseband was the "western" way to do things. But once I got rid of everthing but the snaffle, I decided I wanted to ride not western, not English, but right.
Quibble about equipment all you want, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the point paintarab was trying to make.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that someone who rides with a spade bit has picked the hill of nosebands to die on. You seem like quite a competent trainer and I'm sure, when using your spade bit, that you ride your educated horse with a feather light touch. In the same way, would it kill you to admit that not all nosebands are restrictive and painful? The people who read your blog have a fair amount of horse knowledge and I'm not quite sure that it is fair to call them blind dumb-asses for disagreeing with you.

mugwump said...

Anon:"As I improved as a rider, I found the best way for me to find out if I was helping or hindering my horse was to get rid of all equipment that forced the horse into position, and learn to actually teach my horse to balance and carry himself."

"It's all equipment.
The damage is caused by how it's used."

..and finally

... "but you still ride with dead, uneducated hands,then you are still a dumb ass."

Those are the points I was making. Do you see the words noseband in there even once?

I stand by my assessment of a dumbass BTW.I have met them riding with nosebands, spades, and Dr. Cooks. Again, it's not the equipment. If you don't get that yet, then I will be labeling you troll.

Anonymous said...

Don't stress too much Mugs. They don't teach reading comprehension much in school anymore.

mugwump said...

I'm not stressing, promise. Sometimes, the perverse, pissy side of me wakes up and I just wind up.
As long as the majority can actually hear me, I'm good.
I do hate seeing the conversation pulled away from paintarab and her awesome ride though.

Mo said...

getting back to the really is great she found the sweet spot with the reins. one good experience helps build the confidence to keep trying with a hot horse. i took my big spooky TB to a mountain trail clinic, and we were taught to give the horse their full head and neck to inspect the obstacle and balance to take the obstacle slowly. i was initially terrified my jumper would leap down steep hills and up ditches and run away if i let the reins go. i kept saying inside my head "he's a horse first and a TB second - do what the instructor says and have faith". it really worked, all slow careful walking steps and an aura of calm. sometimes you need to feel it to believe it and get out of a co-dependent relationship with tight reins and you/horse leaning on them. it also takes lots of thought to unclench all your body muscles to communicate calm and not stress.

paintarab said...

I was a bit amused that the focus of the discussion for part 1 became nose bands when I was still riding with a LOT of tack at this point in time (nose band, tie down, jointed pelham bit with curb chain). I've been thinking to myself "oh, you guys just wait for part 2..."

Anonymous said...

Ok confused now, you are the one that put the blame on a certain piece of equipment " I wrote I hate martingales and cavessons." You didn't say you hated PEOPLE who MISUSED martingales and cavessons but that's what you are saying now. I'm not the one who has ever misused my cavesson, it's never been so tight I couldn't get my whole hand under it. My horse has never in his life had his mouth cranked shut. I'm sure you could put on any piece of tack so tightly that it was painful if you tried hard enough (including whatever it is you use) but I've never done that so I don't know why you are being so nasty. Of course any piece of equipment can be harmful in the wrong hands I've never disputed that! It's the fact that you chose to pick on a cavesson noseband, possibly the least offensive thing you could put on a horse that seems strange. I'd have understood if you'd chosen a flash or grackle because they are designed solely to keep the mouth shut and I don't like those at all. Ok I'm willing to concede that my horse's noseband could have some effect if fastened tightly enough (especially if dropped down nearer to his nose), but then it would no longer be correctly fitted so there's no argument. I've only been talking about CORRECTLY FITTED cavessons (because that's what it sounded like you were talking about at the beginning) which I'm sure you will agree are completely harmless? If you'd said "I hate cavessons that are being used incorrectly by idiots" I wouldn't have bothered to mention it so really we are agreeing aren't we. Are we still friends? :)

I've never been called a troll before, do I get a badge or something?

Becky said...

Cavesson, cavesson, something, tight, something, not tight, cavesson....LAST WORD!! WOOT! I WIN! I got the last word!

Where's my prize, Mugs?

I love this story so much...and I'm in awe that she wasn't choking on fear, blasting that fast around a tight, tiny arena. My heroine!

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