I sit here writing, nursing a sore leg, with a mug of coffee and a rather big slice of humble pie!
The words of my own trainer replay in my mind, "horses are great levellers - once you're up, they will be sure to bring you right back down!"
For you to understand I shall replay my week to date...
This week began with reintroducing Thor to a bit for the first time in quite a while! We used a Fulmer Snaffle to help keep the head straight as he turns. This is the closest thing to our bitless bridle!
There are many reasons for riding with the bit. For me it was to soften and refine movements we have learnt with the bitless bridle. It is my honest opinion that riding with a bit is not the rider's right, but a gift from the horse. You will know if your horse agrees to the bit; there will be no force and they shall pick it up from your hand. When ridden correctly, the rider can feel the horse's lips, every movement. The horse will self carry and the bit will have no part to play in "bringing the horse into an outline". My eyes were (once again!) truly opened to the softness that is possible with your horse. The bit opened an exaggerated line of communication with my horse, which allows for much softer questions and answers; a much clearer conversation. It pains me to know that it is common practise to pull and demand with the reins attached to a bit. It is evident that many do not know, understand or realise softness as it was taught by the Masters.
I believe it is also important, being a trainer myself, to be able to teach with and without a bit. It is my own preference to work bitless or bridle-less.
Next, was some bridle-less work. Thor loves playing without a bridle!
Never one to turn down "a first" - we had a go at jumping bridle-less...
It went relatively well...although here lies my first warning!
This horse regularly has his bridle off...and has never taken off with me. Some days are heavier than others, but he is generally pretty reliable.
This day, however, he decided to run to the other end of the field! Nothing terrifying...just a longer canter than I had anticipated.
This is our 5th ever time jumping. It turns out that Thor rather enjoys a good jump!
Bareback, bitless and a little excitable... but nothing wrong, right?
I had successfully worked him on the ground calmly, he was beautiful when I got his back - nice and slow, calm and with me.
This is one horse who has lost his mind! I will not deny, I am always learning. I miss things, I get frustrated, I make mistakes. It is being human.
In this instance, I had been allowing him to run away with me, over a period of weeks, even months! It was overlooked by me and will often be missed by others, that a step more than asked, a few strides quicker than anticipated, translates to your horse as "go ahead! I'm allowing you to go!" I had been allowing Thor to move an extra step or speed up in my simple daily exercises - all in walk! It was so subtle, that I hardly noticed, therefore didn't correct it. It was an easy mistake to make due to my horse "anticipating" and carrying out a well rehearsed movement a little bit quicker than I would have liked.
Now, I introduced some jumps... something which really pleased Thor! I had also taken him out for a nice run to loosen his legs following some stiffness from an old injury.
NEVER GALLOP YOUR HORSE! Unless you are in danger or are on the gallops!
I had given my horse a taste for speed, permission to go a little faster and to carry on a little longer. As a consequence, he took off with me - completely out of character - and he began to panic when he charged towards fences and obstacles. We were heading straight for a poo box and I decided to hop off!
Thankfully, being bareback, it was a simple slide and jump! (Note to self - you are not a stuntwoman!) Trying to land on your feet from a speed hurts a little! Torn calf muscle kind of hurt!
But more importantly, a lesson to myself, to all of my students and anyone reading this.
Horses have their own minds. Some days you will be part of their plans, others, you will not be on their agenda! Mistakes happen so we can learn. We are human, we are not perfect. Being a good horseman is a lifetime of learning. Going back to basics, right back to the beginning should be practised regularly for a safe and happy partnership with your horse.
Needless to say, Thor and I are returning back to slow play! We will remain bitless and bridle-less for a while to remember where it all began. This Throwback Thursday is just what we need!
Stay safe and have fun!