Sunday, July 8, 2012


Ok, deep breath time. To jump to the end of the story first, I had a ride on Ringo today that was so wonderful that it made me realize the extent to which things had been going off the tracks before that. It was a great ride, in other words, but also a revealing one.

In retrospect, I feel like this post has been a long time coming, and so it's a little embarrassing for me to admit how long it's taken me to put all the pieces together. In short, I've been having some nagging issues with Ringo on the flat all year. I know I got all riled up about how unfair the judging was at the show I took him to this spring (and it mostly was), but I was watching a tape of us going second level last September, and it was a sobering moment to realize that he looked in general better then than he does now. What had gone wrong?

For the past few months, I've been having the following concerns: Ringo had been feeling progressively behind my leg, somewhat sour, very stiff (especially to the left), and progressively more dead and difficult in the bridle. I originally linked all the last three symptoms to the first, thinking that the being behind the leg was causing everything else. This is why, after the Hossmoor disaster in May, I took a step back and hacked out, rode in jump tack, and rode in the hackamore for an entire month with the focus of thinking FORWARD and leaving the confines of the dressage arena. He went beautifully in the hackamore, which I felt confirmed my diagnosis, and so I avoided the double bridle because I was sure it would lead down the path of backwards sourness again.

At the end of the month, he felt better... a little. But not very. I admit this was a little disheartening. I was so busy with graduation at the same time that I didn't allow myself a lot of time to think about it, and used my spotty riding schedule as a convenient excuse for his continued lackluster performances (which certainly, the schedule wasn't helping!).

Finally when I got to Virginia, I decided to try the double out again just for funsies. Why not? I was getting a pretty disheartening vibe in the snaffle, and so maybe the double would be a good change of pace. And dangit, it WAS. Ringo was amazing when I rode him in the double: relaxed, confident into the bridle without being strong, supple, FORWARD, and even-sided. Excellent! We'd gotten our groove back!

(lookin studly in his double again)

At first, I assumed this change was because I had started riding with a focus again that I hadn't had since before IDA Nationals. This is certainly true, and definitely wasn't hurting, but as I was to discover on Friday, it was not the biggest piece of the puzzle. You see, on Friday, I decided to ride in the snaffle again for the first time in five or six days to give him a nice light and fluffy ride before he got Saturday off.

(I also wanted to ride him in the snaffle to give him a break from the hard work of the MEGAHEAT we've been dealing with for the past week - temps over a hundred every day and humidity like woah - Ringo and I have both been sweating up a storm)

And he. was. AWFUL. He was so stiff that I literally felt like I was fighting his head down every single step of the way, and he was so stiff to the left that I actually feared being able to turn readily enough to keep him in the arena. Every 20m circle to the left was an exercise in pure torture. In the fight to get him on the bit, I realized I was slowing him further and further down, forcing him behind my leg in my heavy-handed attempts to get him softer to the bridle. For the first time, I realized with a sudden and terrible clarity that the 'behind the leg' feeling I'd been worrying over for so long was 100% my own fault, created because I was bottling him up in an attempt to get him on the bit. NOT ACCEPTABLE THIRD LEVEL DRESSAGE HORSE/RIDER BEHAVIOR.

(On the upside, this is what it looked like during said horrid ride. Shabby, right? Oh Virginia, you so purdy)

About 20 minutes in, I wanted to scream in pure frustration. What the hell was going on???! Was I such a bad rider that I depended on the double to do the work for me? Could I really not ride my horse properly without it? But no, that really couldn't be true: when I ride in the double, I mainly ride 100% on the snaffle rein, with the curb rein literally held on the buckle in one hand just to keep it from flopping around--it is entirely inactive.

Suddenly, the lightbulb went off. The bit. The bridoon in my double is essentially a normal loose ring (there's nothing fancy about it, and the ring is very big for a bridoon). The bit on my snaffle bridle is a D ring. I chose the D ring a year ago, when I was having a really hard time getting him to go out into the contact at all. What if the stiffness in the bridle was the result of the D ring, and the behind the legness was the result of being stiff in the bridle? All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and seemed very, very clear all of a sudden. I quit the ride as soon as I could reach a somewhat passible point, got off, and promptly searched the trailer for the first nice heavy loose ring snaffle I could find.

So this evening I returned, armed with Dually's old German-gold KK french link loose ring. And god lord, it was magical. Every single problem I've been struggling with for the past six months essentially vanished immediately, or was drastically, drastically reduced. He was forward, supple, and happily chewing the bit pretty much from start to finish. I was able to ride more flexibly in my elbows than I can remember doing in a long time, because I wasn't locked with worry of 'keeping him on the bit.'

I feel pretty stupid for having let this go on so long, but elated that a small tack change could yield such a massive result. I'm excited to see what the next week of work will bring!


Deered said...

You have worked out what it was. Well done. It always seems obvious once you know what the problem was.

Nicku said...

I've had some similar struggles with my guy too...not that we're in a double, but that in trying so darn hard to put him together, I was really causing him to brace and fall apart. Glad you guys had a breakthrough!

Katherine Erickson said...

thanks guys! Especially since I don't really ride with a trainer regularly, sometimes these revelations take a loooooong time to figure out. But better late than never, right?

Jen said...

Nice to have a revelation like that! I went through the exact same thing a couple of weeks ago: . I usually worked in a KK french link loose ring, switched to a single-jointed D for a couple of lessons, and almost immediately went back to the KK. It's like the D was so rigid, it didn't give him the opportunity to even attempt to carry it himself. He went from soft in the KK, to hard-mouthed and stiff in the D. I swear by the KK's, they are well worth the investment.

Katherine Erickson said...

Yeah I was amazed at what a difference it made. I've never been much of a bit fetishist, but now I'm going to pay a lot closer attention!

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