In Which I Piss Off My Horse Mightily

Jack and I had a CTJ lesson last week, and I think he has only now forgiven me since the occasion.

In that lesson, we were finally made to come to terms with his frame before the fence. This issue has come up a lot previously, because it’s Jack’s MO to lift his head and go hollow in front of the fence. As long as he approached the fence in a polite and steady manner, we tended to let it pass. But in coming back from his hiatus, Jack has been less predictable those last couple strides before the jump- either slowing down and losing power or racing towards the fence. And really the only thing consistent about it is his inconsistency. See the video below, where I try to keep him packaged but he runs through my aids as we get close to the jump.

It’s not all about where his head is before the fence, not just about how he looks and whether or not we make a pretty picture. It’s about him dropping his back before the fence when his head pops up, and as a result he can’t bascule over the fence as he should and can. If he can keep his back up all the way to take off, he will have a more effective jump and remain rideable through the entire approach. For these reasons, we need to install this basic concept in Jack – but I can tell it’s going to be hard won.

What’s difficult for me is that he is SO big and strong, and so wiggly. When I try to get him between my hand and legs before the fence, he escapes through a shoulder, or uses his neck against me – and no human is going to be strong enough to overpower and horse using their full strength in opposition.

So our lesson moved away from fences for the most part- instead making him stay low and soft over a ground pole, and let me tell you, this kicked off a battle of wills that Jack and I have not yet experiences with each other. We could be overbent but round and go over the pole, but if we were remotely straight the fight to stay soft became a war. He went sideways, he drew back to a jog, he threw his head from side to side, he tried to canter, or he went even more sideways.

When eventually we were able to ride the pole and stay consistent from front to back side of it, Holly let us try a small fence.

And guys, I have NEVER felt that before – he actually stayed soft right up until takeoff, and the bascule I felt under me was enlightening. I promptly dropped my reins and gave him all the pats and praises. And was just as promptly reminded to keep riding.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t repeat that success.

We spent the rest of the lesson riding the above pattern, and it was brutal. The fence was an 18″ crossrail, but you would have thought it was a Puissance fence the way he wanted to approach it. Let me tell you, my triceps were in agony by the end of the ride. We found an OK-ish place to stop and proceeded to have a long chat about next steps, all the while Jack standing with his head looking back at me with the biggest Fuck-you side eye I have ever seen from any horse. Even the carrot I gave him afterwards was eaten in ‘I wish this was your face’ stabbing angry bites. Ouch.

As it turns out, the above bit is our next step in the process. While I don’t like to rely on gadgets, I am simply not strong enough to ride through this. The hope is the gag action will stop him bracing against my hands, but we’ll still have the soft snaffle mouthpiece for all the moments when he’s a good boy.

Our next lesson is this weekend, so we’ll see how it goes!


13 thoughts on “In Which I Piss Off My Horse Mightily

  1. Sometimes you just need a bit more leverage to let you stay soft. I need it with Duke sometimes – I typically ride him in a loose ring French link snaffle, but for jumping we sometimes need a Pelham. He typically comes into a fence fine but then dives and drags me along after. The stronger bit makes him pay a bit more attention, and I end up being able to use my body more than my hands. Hopefully you’ll find the same success with Jack!

  2. Ok wow this was our entire last winter hahaha. Frankie doesn’t have the energy to argue with me as much, but that lack of lift through his back was a real thing and it was real tough to work on. It’s why he jumped like a gigantic llama for so long. Honestly adding a bit of leverage did a world of good for us- I’m able to ride MUCH more softly through my hands and use my seat waaaay more effectively. That, and simple training and strength building until he was strong enough and educated enough to realize that his life became so much easier when he carried himself properly.

      • Originally in a plain full-cheek snaffle, which he was incredibly dull to. Then we tried a slow twist, which was fiiiiine but I thought it backed him off the mouthpiece a bit too much. We tried a gag with plain snaffle mouthpiece and double reins (so I could use mainly snaffle, but engage the gag when needed). My trainer liked him in this but I hated it, I just couldn’t find the balance of how much was too much or too little. Then we moved to the french-link elevator, with my reins on the second ring. I’ve had to be very careful over fences to make sure I’m releasing enough, but it’s made an enormous difference in his willingness to soften and move onto the bit, but still respect my hands instead of hanging. Kinda the right balance of soft but insistent for him.

        • I’ll add- my trainer didn’t let me use the full leverage until I had built up enough leg strength to back it up, because he would looove to just hang out behind my leg and pretend to be working. Transitioning to this was a freakin’ ridiculous workout for a while but worth it hahaha

  3. I bet the leverage will really help you get the message through to Jack. For Niko, last spring he went through a phase of kind of… ignoring me? He was in a HS Duo, so not very much bit, and he could run right through it if he wanted to. So we spent a few months in a two-ring blue alloy copper disc gag that changed. my. life. (single rein on the second ring). I didn’t have to pull hard to get a response to my half halts and when I needed to be soft, I could. Now, I’ve all but ditched the gag bit and ride him in the same mouthpiece, but a D-ring.

    • OK so I definitely had to google that bit! That’s good to hear all these stories of that extra bit of leverage making just enough difference, so I am feeling optimistic it will work for Jack!
      PS you and Niko look like you’re doing great! He is SUCH a handsome pony ❤

  4. Doc loves to get heavy in my hand, pull me off balance and go cavorting around after jumps like it’s the Saddlebred Kentucky Derby so he goes in a french link wonder bit for SJ and XC. The little bit of leverage helps me stay in my seat/leg and rebalance us vs getting pulled forward and into a fight over it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with needing to up your bit a little in order to make life better for everyone!

  5. Pingback: Product Review: Stubben Easy Control Gag | Red on the Right

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