Thursday, July 3, 2008

Freedom to bolt, at RPF, and my experiences with Champ

Edna over at Red Pony Farm started off wondering why her horse is more curious about Horse Eating Monsters when at liberty than when ridden. Maybe, she thinks, it's because the mare feels like she's free to bolt if she wants to, so she's braver? She mentioned horses who freak out with too much contact, compared with horses who turn into The Black Stallion if they aren't ridden with contact. I've got both types, lucky me.

Champ was my first horse. A really nice down to earth old fellow sold him to me - he'd bought Champ as a yearling, trained him, and kept him for the next 11 years. In that understated old southern guy way, he gave me some advice about Champ. "Just ride him in that bridle that I'm giving you with him. He doesn't need a fancier bit. And don't get up in his mouth, you don't need to do that."

I heard him, but like most of life, I didn't understand him til I'd made my own mistakes.

Back at my ghetto boarding barn, I had a couple of nice days tooling around on a loose rein, like a WP quarter horse. The experts gathered around. "He's a gaited horse. Hold him back or he won't gait! If you're not holding his head up and he trips he'll fall and break his jaw."* It kinda sounded like bullshit to me but I also didn't want my horse to break his jaw, so I started riding with more contact.

*This is actual honest to god advice I received, yall.

My nice horse went away. He got really fractious and was constantly tossing his head or backing up. If I kicked him forward when he was backing up, then made him stand, he'd rear. We almost died when he backed out of the median into the path of a semi. Neither of us were happy.

I thought back to what the nice old fellow had told me. "Don't get all up in his mouth." Was I, in fact, "all up in his mouth"? But I wasn't pulling hard, honestly! It was just light contact! Well, I decided to try to ride him like a QH again. I dropped the reins, to a certain point. He pulled and fussed and tried to get me to let go of them completely, and I told him he had plenty of slack and to quit fussing. He decided that yes, he did have plenty of slack.

My sweet sensible horse came back. He quit rearing (except when I ask him to cross something he doesn't want to cross, and then I just whack him on the neck and tell him to quit clowning and he does what I ask without anymore fuss). He quit backing up - except for when I pick up contact but don't signal with my legs. How about that - he was doing what he'd been trained to do when he tried to kill us on the highway.

I did a LOT of reading about horse psychology and intuitive cues around that time. I learned that the natural cue for a rear is pressure on the reins (don't go forward) plus pressure from your legs (go forward). How about that - I was very clearly "telling" him to rear and then getting mad at him for it. Poor guy.

So Champ is a gelding who demands to be ridden on very light or no contact. Over the years, we've gotten to where I can ride him with the lightest possible contact, when I want him to gait. If I'm letting him rate his own speed, there has got to be slack in the reins or he's fussin. Tossing his head and chomping the bit and turning his head to roll his eyes at me. He's not nearly as emotional and weird as my mares, but he's got just as much personality as any horse I've ever met.

And no, I was never stupid enough to try changing out his bit (medium port unbroken medium shank curb bit). I did try riding him in a Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle, but that was an immediate failure. I suspect the feel of the straps grabbing his head was really annoying / claustrophobic, because he refused to listen and came closer to bolting with that thing on his head than he ever has before.

Anyway, that's Champ, and I'm not sure what relevance it really has to Edna's post. But I can attest that some horses just Do Not Want Contact.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment!