30 Days to Poplar Place: Day 8 (Don’t fear the flash)

Yay sunshine! I get the winter blahs when the sun disappears, even if it’s not cold outside. I need my heliotherapy!
After a morning coffee group discussion, I decided to put the flash back on Johnny’s bridle. I had taken it off because I was worried about it restricting his nostrils (and he needs them as wide open as possible to take in maximum air). However, Andrea & I countered that perhaps he needed the little reminder to keep his mouth shut. I’m not a proponent of cranking their jaws shut, but for horses who open their mouths to evade the bit, I guess I can think of it as more of a correction. I punched a new hole in the flash since it was loose enough to be ineffective. Even with it tightened properly, Johnny didn’t appear to be uncomfortable or distressed, as I feared he might when I removed his ability to open wide.
Almost immediately, Johnny began chewing the bit and producing foam instead of heavy drool. Well, the proof’s in the foam pudding!
I was also happy to see that my new Fleeceworks pad did the trick–the saddle now rested nicely above his withers without pinching. A well-spent investment indeed!
Once in the small arena, I focused on being super-elastic with my arms and elbows and riding him forward with my legs. As we made our warmup loops and serpentines, he seemed fairly relaxed. Then, suddenly, the German came out in Andrea. She strode out to the middle of the arena, and in a very demanding voice said, “Come here!” Yes ma’am! I was afraid I was in serious trouble, and I guess I was. She took my foot out of the stirrup and said, “uh-huh, I thought so!” then promptly began to let out my stirrups one hole. What?! I already felt like I was reaching for the darn things! I’m a jumper by nature, remember? Satisfied they were at a correct length, she then demanded, “now rise up as in posting trot.” I again immediately obeyed, to which she yelled, “no, no!! UPWARDS! With your leeggss, not your shoulders!” Ookaay…try again. “Straight up–keep your upper body upright but don’t use your shoulders to lift your body–use your legs!” After a few attempts, she was satisfied and let me walk on. Immediately, I could feel a huge difference. My stirrups did feel longer, but I felt much deeper in the seat, and I wasn’t fighting to keep my lower legs under me. We attempted a trot, though, and whoops, there went my right stirrup. Andrea provided further instruction, and though my thighs were on fire, I began to get a good feel for the right balance of keeping my lower legs down and using the iron as a base. Such a far cry from my usual instruction. We’ve all been told at some point that we should keep our leathers a little shorter until we feel like we’re no longer reaching for the iron (or at least I have). Turns out, letting them out a hole helped alleviate my tendency to incline my upper body, and suddenly I could use my leg on Johnny without him taking off. He began actually reaching for the bit and we had a happy connection. What?! Where’s my lunatic OTTB who thinks leg means fly faster?? Don’t get me wrong–I still had to half-halt and use my seat to slow his tempo down, but I could apply leg in conjunction with a half-halt and get increased power versus flatter speed. Just goes to show: the rider is 99% of the problem! It’s amazing how a 115 pound girl can impact a 17h, 1400 lb horse just by being too forward–my lack of balance was seriously affecting his ability to shift his balance backwards, causing him to fall (and speed) forwards. This, of course, is very hard to see when you don’t have a helper on the ground watching you or mirrors lining your arena.
We didn’t ride long–mainly because my legs were on fire, and I knew I’d lose effectiveness if I rode much longer. Plus, I wanted to reward Johnny for being good. No sense driving him into the ground when he’s doing what I wanted.
I’m still planning on trying out a few different bits. When I removed the flash, he immediately began opening up his mouth and trying to spit out the bit. I know I can only tighten the flash so much–eventually it becomes a crutch. I want to find a bit that is comfortable for him. Of course, he may not appreciate any bit whatsoever. We might give a hackamore a try for our SJ…
Till tomorrow–happy riding and GO EVENTING!


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