i rode nik today, for the first time in a year, and the first schooling session (although i use the term lightly) in over 2 years. i think it was before my last exalted ride on bo, the one where brian took all the pictures, before he foundered. that was summer '09.
i put the bitless bridle on her just for kicks. nik has no issues with any of her bridles, but jasmine went so well in it that i was curious to see how Psychomare would behave. jasmine loved it, but she was never trained to anything above stop, go and turn before she was lamed. nik has had years of training, and is sensitive, responsive and athletic even in her old age, but also has not lost the explosive factor. so while she has the knowledge to go with less bits of leather and metal hanging about, i was genuinely concerned about a) having brakes and b) having sufficient nuance to be able to get a response to the subtler aids.
it was a success. she started off jiggity and fussy, not surprising in a thoroughbred with too much time off. the bridle surprised and puzzled her, and she naturally wanted to test it. but she's so tuned in, even after all the downtime, to my seat and legs, that i need very little hand to keep her with me and this bridle was plenty enough to give me that. what a pleasant surprise!
my girl has no muscle tone, her topline is completely gone. she muscles up very quickly, but if she's not working regularly and correctly it goes to hell even more quickly, and she's been off for a long time. so it's not surprising that she couldn't stay on the bit for long, but bless her, she gave it to me over and over for several strides at the trot. i wasn't sure if half-halts on the outside rein and little bendy squeezies on the inside rein would go through with no bit, but i'll be damned if she didn't soften her jaw, lift her back and drop softly into my hands, the energy circling in waves through my hands and back into her hind legs, gorgeous and round. and if i let her move from that into a stretchy head-down trot, she didn't resort to her evasive mode, which is head-up and back hollowed. i got that occasionally, but not too often. when you consider her age, her time off, her lack of conditioning and, frankly, that her ma is no lightweight to haul around, i'm thrilled at how little she resisted me.
she generally tests at the beginning of a ride, and with a new piece of equipment it's inevitable. 'am i in charge? if i am, we're going to go fast. so i'll speed up now. how do you like this?' if her rider tenses up, she decides the only safe thing to do is take over, and for her that always means go lickety-split. but if her rider firmly and QUIETLY sets an easy rhythm with soft hands and an authoritative seat, she's happy to come back and comply. but she'll test. today was no different, but you could almost hear her sigh of relief that she didn't have to be the captain.
nik has talent. it's almost a shame that she got stuck with me, as i never progressed far enough to explore all the things she could have done. i bought her to event, but never got good enough (or had the money) to do it. on the other hand, she's so high-strung and dramatic that riders good enough to handle her would probably have chosen to do their thing on a horse with less baggage. so it's not so bad that we ended up together. i'm a lazy rider and would never have pushed myself to improve as much as i have if i had an easy horse. nik hasn't always been fun, but she has forced me to work hard and get good, because you can't ride her if you're not good. i'm not great, but i'm a hell of a lot better than my nature inclines me to be, because i have a horse who won't settle for less. a poor rider would never have kept a fireeater like her, and a great rider wouldn't put up with the histrionics. so i guess we both ended up right where we should be.
i love my sweet considerate jasmine, and had a blast on my scooterpie ponylove. but there is no horse in the world who thrills me like my pickles. she is such a lamborghini, so instantly responsive to my slightest movement, so forward and eager, so fiery and red. i feel completely and utterly at home in her saddle, with that long neck stretched out before me, those elegant ears swiveling to listen to my voice, that ground-eating stride.
the walk was tense and quick at first, but settled down in mostly-good relaxed long strides, not really on the bit but not high and hollow either. the trot was the best today, not super consistent but frequently brilliant. she handled the trot poles quietly and efficiently. i was worried about the canter, as i'm not sure her back end is strong enough to do it any more. it used to be her best gait, and wasn't today, but it wasn't awful either, and best of all, she held up for it (although i kept them very brief.)
i didn't try any lateral work, and i suspect the bitless bridle doesn't have sufficient sensitivity to do much there. she picked up the wrong lead to the right, her 'bad' lead, and i attempted a flying change and didn't get it, but that's not a surprise. even when she's strong, i'm not very good at them and often don't ask her correctly, so it's probably not the bridle's fault that i needed to go to a simple change. a rider with an excellent seat can probably get high school results without a bit, but at my level i probably would need one if i were going to do anything much above training level. but she and i are both old, and i just want to enjoy her. we hacked down the lane and around the boy scout field with our new bridle and it was great. we don't need no steeking half-passes or turns on the haunches.
afterwards i gave her a long bath, and the fact that she adored it underscores how i've been neglecting her. when she was getting hosed off several times a week and bathed a couple of times a month she hated it. now it feels like pampering to her.
she was SO pleased with herself afterwards. so was i.
so why don't i ride more?