Thursday, October 23, 2014

Know Your Equipment

I was in a piss poor mood. K was mad at me, the wind was up, weather was rolling in and I was three horses behind.

I had a client coming in to ride, and she was bringing an out-of-state friend, Pat, with her for a double lesson. Normally I enjoyed working with Elaine. She was a trainer and riding instructor, rode a nice horse and was fun to talk to.

Elaine had gotten her start as a trainer by completing Richard Shrake Resistance Free certification program. When she brought a friend, it was usually one of her fellow graduates. When I had two of them to work with, I usually ended up on the defensive, which was fine most days. Today, I just wasn't up for it.

My mood slid from dour straight to bitch as I watched my new student get ready to ride. She unloaded a decently built cremello 3 or 4-year-old QH gelding. I don't know why, I the majority of cremello owners I've met over the years have an odd, misplaced pride in their horse. I guess I should say in themselves. It's like there's a secret cremello club out there which elevates both horse and rider to a higher level of horsemanship than the rest of us.

Pat was clearly a member of the club.

She took so long to groom the horse's gleaming coat, Elaine had already loped her warm-up circles and was getting down to business before Pat made her entrance in the arena. Her horse was dressed to the nines in his Richrd Shrake pre-signal sweet-spot bit, a Circle Y Richard Shrake equitation saddle, and a conglomeration of rope and pulleys called the Richard Shrake Rhythm Collector. Pat wore a Richard Shrake baseball cap and a Richard Shrake Certified Trainer Jacket.

Elaine and I continued to work as Pat led her gelding around the entire football field sized arena. She showed him every single place he could spook for the rest of the session. Finally, she got on. She rode him along the arena fence. The colt had a good attitude and he obligingly spooked at every place she had showed him. She leaned forward and patted him after every spook, cementing the lesson.

I sighed.

"Elaine, what have you done to me?"

"Give her a chance," Elaine said. "She's actually pretty good."

Finally, Pat decided to join us.

"What can I help you with today?" I asked.

"Oedipus has trouble picking up his left lead."

I slowly went deaf and blind as Pat went into a twenty minute explanation of how he refused to give his rib because of a stiffness in his back and....I don't remember the rest, I was thinking about lunch.

I came to when I felt a long, awkward silence growing to epic proportions."How long have you been riding him?"

"120 days."

"How long have you been loping him?"

"We just started a few weeks ago."

"OK. I'll tell you what. Take all that shit off his head and I'll have you on the left lead in five minutes."

"What do you mean? This is a Rhythm Collector."

"I know what it is and I know that Richard never, ever intended it to be used on a colt that can't lope. While you're at it, lose the drop noseband too."

Pat dove into her theory about why she needed Oedipus' mouth tied shut, poll locked down and a death grip from her hands. I wondered if the diner would still have any French Dip left by the time I got there.

When I came to I stared at her for a few seconds. I had a very brief internal debate on the pros and cons of explaining my training methods.

"Look. I can get you on your left lead. I can only show you the way I do it. I'm assuming you're here because your translation of Shrake isn't working out for you. My way takes a horse wearing nothing but  a ring snaffle, a saddle and a rider. I'm not interested in any other way because it works for me. It's up to you."

I turned my back and started working with Elaine again. Pat sat her horse for another ten minutes, dismounted and took him back to the trailer.

"God Janet, who pissed in your Wheaties?" Elaine asked.

"Richard Shrake. Now, try spinning two turns left, then trot out right, we'll see if she'll re-balance her shoulders."

OK. Here's my disclaimer. I am not, in any way, bashing Richard Shrake. He has some good ideas and has helped many a rider.

Why Pat had me so riled up was her complete lack of understanding of her equipment. She had no idea how her bit worked, what her weight was for or what that sweet little gelding was mature enough to handle.

She chose to address it by adding a piece of equipment she had absolutely no clue how to use. She instinctively knew she could trap him even tighter between her hands with it, which the was polar opposite of how I trained.

Plus, I was in a mood. I mentioned the tussle between me and K, right?

At Elaine's next lesson, she told me she smoothed Pat's ruffled feathers on their trip home. The same afternoon she coaxed her into trying my way to get a horse on its lead. Elaine knew my methods well.

It took her 10 minutes to get the left lead.

I guess this is more along the lines of The Tenets of Mugs, or Mugwumpian Philosophy....or...?

Anyway. Here goes.

Know Your Equipment

1. I officially don't care what you ride with. English, Western, or Bohemian Chic, it doesn't matter to me. I don't care if you choose to spend your life leading your horse around.
If you're happy with the relationship you have with your horse then so am I.

2. I can only teach what I know. I can't help you use a piece of equipment I'm either not familiar with or have rejected, because it doesn't fit into my program.

2. I do care if you don't understand how your equipment works. If you want to ride in a mechanical hackamore, go for it. It is your obligation as a responsible horsaii to understand how it works, what it can do and what it can't do.

3. Learn how to use your saddle. Where is your balance point? What is it used for? How does it fit? How long should your stirrups be?

4. Know how to properly use your add-ons.
Please remember, if I say I hate running martingales, it doesn't mean I hate you.
I can tell you why I hate them, what I think happens when they are used, and why they work like a crutch with a wobble.
You may disagree and reject my thinking. I'll still respect you. Unless you don't have a clear mechanical understanding of what the martingale is for and why you want it.

Then, I will mock you. Lots.


  1. Oh geez, the part about the good little horse spooking at all the expecting places was one thing, then you hit me up with OEDIPUS.

    You freaking evil genius.

  2. There is a disturbing lack of understand of what gear does (and how it should be adjusted!). I always had the aim of having my ponies/horses in a caveson and a snaffle for all phases (I was one of the silly english riders that threw themselves and their horses (if they liked it) at obstacles!). I have a thing for you Mugs that you may find interesting - I always rode cross country in a running martingale, even though I rarely ever rode in one at other times (I trained my horses not to chuck their heads). there were two reasons for this - 1) if the shit hit the fan and I got unbalancedand my hands flew up the martingale can help to take the sting out of the upwards jerk the horse would have otherwise had in the mouth. 2) it can, in that holy shit how do we get out of this' moment it can stop the rider collecting a full dose of horse to the face.
    I have used a huge range of bits to retrain horses from going like a steam roller, each bit chosen for the way it fitted the horses mouth, the way it worked on the mouth and head, so that rather than having a stand up fight over what we do, (I didn't have the money to buy nice ponies or horses, so I got to fix other peoples stuff ups) I could work on having the horse learn that it was way more fun to work of light aids and my body aids.

  3. I know a running martingale can interfere with the directional aids but what are the other drawbacks with it's use? Just curious.

  4. The Oedipus name got me laughing too. I tend to obsess about #3.

  5. love love love your no bs attitude/ways. :)

  6. In the past I have used standing, running and German martingales. Essentially they are all different varieties of forcing the horse to keep his head down. I stopped using them when I realized what using them was doing to my horse. She braced against the martigale, she was retroflexed, and she would get behind the bit.

    Then I took the time to figure out WHY she was flinging her head up. So first I retrained ME. I balanced my seat, I softened my hands, I relaxed and gave her my trust. Then I worked on her. We schooled, we strengthened her topline, we did gymnastic exercises until we both had a fluid, balanced movement.

    Now I have a lovely, happy, soft eyed horse who still is keen for the jumps, but we take them together and nicely.

  7. Love this post. I see in Pat a great deal of how I could have turned out had I not had an awesome trainer myself. :)

  8. She showed him every single place he could spook for the rest of the session. Finally, she got on. She rode him along the arena fence. The colt had a good attitude and he obligingly spooked at every place she had showed him. She leaned forward and patted him after every spook, cementing the lesson.

    This made me laugh so much harder than it should have! Rewarding the spook always amuses me..even when I do it myself!

  9. LOVED this post, Mugs, and I can't help but feel it's somewhat of a followup for the SideReinsInFEIDressage post. LOVE it. Very well thought out and I couldn't agree more.

    If you end up having time, or getting to it, would you be willing to do kind of a glossary post on the different gadgets that are out there, english and western, what their intended use is, why they could be good, and why they could be bad? I've got some extra time and I'd even be willing to scour catalog websites for the post and compile the list, marketing description, and pictures for you, so that you can just fill in your thoughts on them. Email me if you're interested! codiethier (at) gmail (dot) com

  10. Codi - I don't know what all the gadgets are. I think I covered it pretty well in point #2.
    I can only tell you how I feel and why, based on my experience.

  11. for codi - Janet's link to sustainable dressage has a lot of good info on bits and devices

  12. I live in a house full of ropers. Tie downs are necessary equipment when roping (or are they?) I have known a total of 2 horses out of hundredds that rope without a tie-down - because they keep their head down, out of the way of the rope - on their own and basically flip over backward if you tie their head down. When adjusted properly, and ONLY used when roping, I understand it is a piece of equipment with a purpose. When used in any other form - including taking your rope horse on a 'relaxing' trail ride or farting around the arena without cows - for the love of God, ride him without one. Because fixing one who has learned to stop by bracing on the tie-down (or do anything else by bracing on his nose instead of using his body or has been ridden with one since he was 90-days into being broke to ride because he "is going to be a rope horse") is a long, frustrating, and basically miserable process for human and horse alike. Thank you :-p

  13. Anonymous #1
    Running martingales are often used (in english - I've never ridden western so I cannot comment on the purpose there) to stop the horse throwing its head up - most often in response to the riders terrible hands, or when jumping, because the rider has allowed the horse to learn to rush at the fence so it thinks it needs to charge at the jump with it's head up and unbalanced using speed to gain momentum, rather than approach calmly and collected with the balance and impulsion required for the jump.
    The fix for this is to take off the martingale, work first on the flat work, then spend the time getting the horse calm over jumps.

    As some horses are ready to damn near burst from excitement when pointed at jumps this can take time, and if you've taken martingale off to train, you may want to have a bloody good helmet on! (speaking from experience) It can take a fair while to get a horse that is keen to jump to realise that they get to "play" more if they stay calm in front of and after the fence, and you may get the odd tantrum of frustration (and depending on the horse that can involve a head fling - hence wearing a helmet). I had one green OTTB that I started show jumping in a running martingale - mainly because she would be perfect, jumping like a stag, then get really, really shitty that you would not allow her to jump the arena fence (the tallest thing she could see) and have a tantrum! With more miles she got out of that we habit and turned into a wonderful horse that wore a plain snaffle and very loose drop noseband (so loose that you could fit 3 fingers vertically under it) because for some reason that reminded her that she did have to listen to the rider and not just eye up the closest jump (she did try to jump some jumps backwards when in a caveson!). Oh and being an english 'raised' rider I like the look of the bridle with a caveson noseband - adjusted to the right position and being the right width it can really enhance the face... that said it should be worn loose and not to mess with the jaw.
    Dee - aka Unknown :)

  14. Oh Mugs - as a western rider can you please tell me how a ?bosal is supposed to be worn. (and if I am correct thinking the bosal is the noseband that looks like a rope noseband?) I have seen one locally being used - sometimes with knots in it on the sides of the face, similar to a rope halter. I thought they were supposed to be worn loose, however this one is tight - kinda holding the mouth closed. Talking to (and watching) the rider has me thinking she doesn't know her nose from her neither regions, but I thought I'd like to find out from a proper western person :)

  15. I know this wasn't the point of your blog post, but I am very curious about your methodology of getting a horse on the correct lead. My horse struggles with his left lead as well - he's 12 years old and always has - and we're working on shoulder control so I can help him pick up his left lead. He doesn't bend around a counterclockwise circle, he drifts his shoulders to the outside, and by opening my inside rein and using my outside leg to keep his shoulders in, I have been able to get him to pick up his left lead occasionally. I know it's impossible to accurately help someone online, and I don't expect a blog post about it, but does what I'm doing sound reasonable, and do you have any good advice? I've read your blog for years and really admire you and your methods.

  16. I think at the base of most of the ignorance and over-equipment-use in the world is fear. She was afraid and rather than work on that, she wants to control. Typical human behaivor, which is sad for the many many lovely horses out there. I think if you had taken all that crap of, let her experience a nice lope in a snaffle, it would have been good that day. Great, even. But the next instance she felt scared and out of control she would have loaded all that crap back on. Her fear, even if she wouldn't admit to any, is controlling her and sadly, that little horse. That is the unfair part of being a trainer. I think though, the real success stories, would be pretty rewarding.

  17. WyoFaith - I think you are dead right - it is scary when things re not going right - having seen the poll/face of the horse I was riding fast approaching my face it took a lot of my "I'm 16 so I'm immortal" courage to stick with the program and work through the tantrums rather than go back to sticking on the martingale and and letting the horse rush. (yes she was a chestnut mare with attitude!) It also takes longer to work through these issues, however in the long term you have a horse that becomes so much easier to put the more advanced training on as it learns to stay calm until given the go ahead to act.

  18. Love this. Know your equipment. Crazy you even have to say that. And, you do. Another blog that grabbed me, kept me start to finish.