The experiment works!

Tally enjoying a carrot in her Happy Mouth bit and bitless bridle.

Tally enjoying a carrot in her Happy Mouth bit and bitless bridle.

My riding plans for this weekend were almost scuttled.  Nash is currently barefoot, due to a lost shoe that took a good bit of wall with it.  He’s been managing fine, and I normally work him in hoof boots with no issue.  But some silliness earlier this week, when his “grandma” lunged him barefoot, left him a little foot sore and me a little disappointed.  However, I also hoped to finally get back on Tally this weekend, so all was not lost.  Then I pulled her out this morning and discovered swelling on the inside of one front cannon.  Just not sure what Fate has against me!

I had my mother walk Tally in tight circles, to look for any sign of pain.  All looked fine, so I decided to take a chance anyway.  If she lunged sore, I could always put her back.  So, on went the saddle!

Depending upon how long you’ve followed this blog, you may recall that I made the costly mistake of sending Tally away to be started under saddle.  I’ve spent the last two years working on healing the physical and mental damage that was done.  One of the issues she returned with was an iron mouth like nothing I’ve ever encountered – the smallest touch on the reins resulted in the locking of every muscle in her head and neck, resulting in the feeling that the rein was attached to an iron beam.  I was struggling to find an answer, when I embarked on an experiment – retrain her in a bitless bridle, then gradually reintroduce the bit (thank you Angelo Telatin!).

A couple of months ago I reintroduced the bit, a double-jointed Happy Mouth – but just as passive equipment.  I continued to lunge and drive off of the bitless bridle.  After the disaster with the trainer, attempts to bridle Tally were met with her turning her head as far away from me as she could get.  When I first reintroduced the bit, she was more cooperative.  Now, she reaches out and takes the bit on her own!  From the ground, I’ve played with reins attached to the bit, and I thought there was improvement – but today would be the first attempt at using the bit under saddle, since we began this experiment.

Lungeing went well.  She’s finally reached the point at canter that I can affect her balance and speed – all anxiety now just a memory.  She looked very sound in both directions, so it was time to climb aboard.  She was very relaxed as I swung my leg over.  A neck scratch and carrot bit, and we were ready to move forward.  Right turn?  A very soft opening rein yielded a soft responsive turn.  Nice!  Whoa?  A soft but steady pressure and we were standing still – lovely!  Walk-on, left turn from a soft opening rein.  Another halt – this time the slight tension was met by resistance on the other end.  I yielded just enough so my tension was not increased, and within a few strides we were standing still.

My girl, looking relaxed after our ride.

My girl, looking relaxed after our ride.

A bit more walking around, playing with turns and halts, with slight resistance to the latter – but no more than I would expect from any green horse.  Finally, another halt as soft as the first and I vaulted off (17 hands is farther down than I remembered!).  Thinking back to the iron maiden of last year, I could not have been more thrilled with the progress my girl showed today!  My mother, our anchor on the ground, said that Tally’s eye stayed completely soft through the whole session – another huge improvement!  Lots of carrots and scratches for my girl!

I will admit that I never expected to reach a point where I would look forward to my sessions with Tally.  But the more I work with my girl, the more I am overwhelmed with the trust she has given me – and begin to imagine the possibilities ahead.  This week promises to be a blistering one, with near record heat and not much chance to ride – but next weekend is a long one, and I can’t wait to be back in the saddle!

Be good to your horses!

Lia

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