Yesterday I was riding my OTTB , Freedom, after he’d had 10 days off recovering from a ding on his leg. Needless to say he was a hot tamale and had the attention span of a gnat. Even worse, he was pulling like a freight train. My ride gave me the chance to reflect on two things that are very hard for me to remember:
1) Let go, and
2) Do nothing
When your horse is pulling your arms out and raising blisters through your gloves, it’s just not intuitive to release. However, on an ex-race horse, it’s a good idea since on the track, the jockey takes a good hold on his horse’s mouth when he wants it to run. Now, I had compounded my stupidity by riding in a bitless bridle. My other horse respects the bitless bridle and is quite responsive. Freedom, on the other hand, sees it as an opportunity to do whatever he’d like. Today that was to lean on my hands. Periodically refusing to hold him up made him come back and think about carrying himself. It also made me ride better by using my seat and legs to half halt and control his speed.
Doing nothing can also be challenging, especially when your horse is having a temper tantrum. Freedom doesn’t buck or bolt, but he does bounce. He is quite athletic, so he will fling himself into the air with abandon at any speed and in any footing. I know that the best strategy is just to ignore him. It’s a bit like dealing with a 1200 pound toddler. It takes great discipline not to react when a horse misbehaves.
I learned how to do nothing when I bought my Trakehner gelding. I knew he’d had some rough training before I got him, including being ridden extensively in draw reins. He was resistant, he was balky, and he’d also started to rear when asked to do something he considered to be too difficult. I took him to an excellent dressage trainer in the area and she taught me how to wait him out. She explained that he’d been baiting me into a reaction so that he could “change the question” and take control of the situation. He was spoiling for a fight and wanted an excuse. I had fallen into such a pattern riding him that I no longer realized how much I was contributing to the problem. By ignoring his antics and staying quiet his tantrums fizzled out pretty quickly. Today, he rarely shows that side of him.
In the end, my ride on Freedom worked out fine. He relaxed and started to swing through his back and focus his energy on the job at hand. I was pleased to have got him to that state without getting him more excited than he started out.