Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ol' Ironmouth

Pangea and Gogo could not possibly be two more different animals when it comes to riding. Gogo, with her long and flowing slow stride, blessed with exceptional natural balance and an extreme tendency to be light in the forehand (and often times a little TOO light...), found it very hard after her stint with the abusive lady to take a contact. Too much too early on, and she would bolt or rear. To her dying day, if you took too strong of a restricting contact on her, she'd panic. Putting her on the bit involved a lot of just giving her a certain length of rein and doing simple exercises, mostly at the trot (for up to an hour!) until her back softened and she took the contact herself. You could not make her go out to it, you could not force her into a frame, you couldn't set one for her..... she had to decide it of her own accord, and that was the way it worked. But when she would finally take a contact by herself, she was golden, and everything about the connection in the reins was alive and vibrant. It was heavenly, and won the dressage nearly every time we went out, anywhere. Our best score at an event was a 22.0!! She was also hopelessly ewe-necked, but you wouldn't know from looking at her when she was working.

Pangea is the complete opposite of Gogo. Instead of long, flowing and slow, she likes to zoom along very quick and short. She has every ability to trot along smooth and slow, but she holds all her tension in her back and neck and zooms along to avoid engaging her hindquarters. And she HANGS on the bridle. Absolutely HANGS. Far from Gogo's ewe-neck, Pangea borders on having a swan-neck, ones that makes it a little too easy for her to break at the third vertebra (which, as you know, is exceptionally incorrect). I wouldn't say for sure that she is swan-necked, not in the way that her father was, but it's just a bit too easy for her to curl and evade. And hang. HANG.

Part of this (actually, probably most of this) issue is due to the fact that she has been spoiled from being ridden by beginners. Her last owner was an adult ammy, and up until even last summer she was being used in a dressage lesson program, being ridden by people who I'm sure hung on her face, pulled on the reins, and clutched at her until she grew dead to it all and decided that just hanging on the reins would provide them with what they assumed was a correct contact. She could also completely tune them out and run along at her freight train speed, all her weight on her forehand, letting them hold up her big gigantor head for her. Obviously all of this is incorrect in every way, so it is now my job to reminder her (nonstop) that she has to carry her OWN head, thanks very much. The more muscle she builds, the better she does in her dressage work, and I am achieving some wonderful (if not yet long-lasting) lightness in her, particularly in her canterwork. But it takes a hard ride - and a LOT of transitions and half-halts - to get there. The second you stop paying attention to what you are doing, she is back to pulling your shoulders out of your sockets. I know this will get better with time, correct work, and proper muscling, so I'm not too worried about it. She has just been beginner spoiled, and has figured out an easy way to get away with less work. However, as she discovered last night, this doesn't always work to her advantage.

Yesterday was the first day that I put my jump tack on her so I could get up out of the saddle and do a little conditioning on her. I contacted our local hunt yesterday to see when they start roading hounds for the off-season, and was delighted to learn that they road not only on Tuesdays but also on Saturdays, and that Pangea and I were both welcome to come. I'd like to spend the summer roading regularly with the hunt so I can see if a) get an idea for whether or not she'd be suitable as a hunt horse and b) see if I like this hunt enough to join in the fall! I have to say, Pangea sure does look good in jump tack. Unfortunately ALL my tack is black.... hopefully the hunt will look past that because you could not pry that Prestige out of my cold dead fingers if you wanted to. Texas hunt country is not exactly Virginia hunt country so hopefully a few informalities can be overlooked if everything else is appropriate.

Anyway, I digress. Once we got to working, and in particular cantering, Pangea reached out to her contact and took it hard, and leaned on it. And leaned. And leaned. And leaned. At this point I was up in a half seat attempting to just let her cruise, but was about to sit my butt back down and give her some sharp wake-up transitions. Before I could do this, however, Pangea's hanging-low-nose-to-the-dirt demeanor completely backfired on her when she tripped over a small ditch, one that she could have easily dealt with if 98% of her weight wasn't in the bridle at that moment in time. She stumbled and smashed her nose on the ground, and because she was so heavy in the bridle, I got dragged out of the saddle and almost completely off her back. Thankfully I have a strong core and fast reflexes, and somehow managed to stop myself from tumbling over her neck by putting a hand out on her mane to stop myself. This almost didn't work, seeing as her nose was still on the ground and I literally had nothing in front of me! A tumble like this would surely have gotten any number of people to fall off, so it was by only some sort of miracle that I managed to backpedal back into the tack. She was extremely miffed by the entire ordeal, and after that we spent some time talking about having her carry her own gigantic head so that could actually see where she was going and not trip and almost kill us both. A number of sharp transitions later, and she was cruising around on a light rein without excess speed or fuss. That's my girl!

She's been feeling so good lately that I might - MAYBE - try a jump or two with her soon. If I can find some jumps in the state of Texas.... there must be some SOMEWHERE!

((Pangea's borderline swan neck.))


  1. Oh, the hanging, pulling, "here, hold my head" things sounds SO familiar. Every ride with Bails right now is spent half-halting, transitioning etc. I am basically a beginner (all I have ever really down is backyard trails) and working with a trainer opened my eyes to just how bad I was. We are working on it. Hard.
    Pangea's neck is pretty swan-y, but it is pretty!

  2. Can I say how happy I am that Pangea is just like my horse, Phoenix, with the hanging and getting on the forehand! This makes me excited because now I will see how you fix it, and I can steal some tips! :)

  3. Yikes! Way to stick to your horse!

    I can sympathize with the mega half-halts. My horse was taught to be a freight train on the trail, which is not fun. Thankfully dressage has taught him how to carry himself, so trail riding is a much more pleasurable experience. There is definitely hope for improvement. :)

  4. Ooh, someone else with a horse who is convinced that 'I carry you- you carry my head' is a fair trade!
    I think I've skipped several heart beats in my life riding horses that trip, it always gives me a mini heart attack!

  5. There used to be 3 jumps at the facility you board at, owned by a friend of mine (the jumps, not the barn, assuming you've still got her at the place that your last little video of her cantering was in). But she's since moved on and has her own little piece of land (no arena yet) and took her jumps with her. You came just barely too late, I think.

    You're in pretty much the best place in north texas with a few eventing barns around you - I'm sure you can find somewhere to pop over jumps. Or you can get creative like the rest of us Texans and buy cinderblocks and pvc/fence posts to make crossrails out of :P

  6. Yup that's what I heard too! She moved recently and took her jumps with her. But you're right, there are a number of places around where I can pop over some things, my workplace included if I really want!

  7. I just have to say that I HATE riding horses that hang... Particularly after a nasty fall in which I snapped the tendon in my fourth finger on my left.. It just hurts too much now to riding on anything other than a very light contact.

    Good luck solving that problem.

  8. Well - this is very interesting. I'm afraid that the lesson horse I've been on the last two times is definitely a head-hanger, particularly in the canter, and I really didn't know what to do about it. Guess this is typical lesson horse behavior and makes sense when you describe it in Pangea.

    I mentioned it to the trainer and she said to use half-halts. Easier said than done... I know, in theory, what a half-halt is but struggled to engage in them. This was a private H/J lesson, not dressage, so we didn't really have the time or or situation to belabor the point. Don't know when I'll get back on the girl, either. Such is the life of a very part-time, poor lesson student!

  9. Yikes!! I'm glad you managed to stay on during the trip. Silly girl. Maybe she will watch where she is going. Do you think cavaletti would help her? You could easily build some like someone else suggested with cinder blocks and PVC pipe. Good luck with the head hanging. It's interesting to hear how you retrain her vices. :)