Monday, March 14, 2016

Training & Timing - when to make a change

For about a month (maybe a bit longer?) we've had Windsor working in a German Martingale that has been set to the loosest ring.

The original reasoning was that while he is *very* light in the bridle, he went from soft soft soft to grabbing the bit and having zero mouth in about .2 seconds. 

This was especially true in the lines - where we also weren't exactly eating up the ground (recall in Germany he was almost always on an add stride.. and they were baffled when we said that wouldn't fly in the US..)

Anyway, in an attempt to get him a bit softer, have some communication we fiddled around.

More bit just backed him off and made him super empty in the bridle - so that wasn't a great solution... but the German Martingale (not sure why I keep capitalizing that) had just enough added leverage to get some softness when we wanted it, but then be mostly neutral  when we didn't.

Anyway, so all the while, progress has been made both on getting up the lines, and holding leads, which was great.  One consistent point that we weren't really making progress on was getting Winds to really reach for the bridle.  There is also something weird about how he carries himself, so that when you are on him you think "wow gosh, he's so open and stretched through his topline! this is great"

But from the ground he's still at, or just behind the vertical.  I have literally never ridden a horse where the perceived carriage, and what you feel in your hand is so different from the ground. 

it's sneaky.
heart melt.

So last week, I had been thinking that perhaps the "weight" of the martingale was enough that Winds didn't really want to reach forward, so we took it off. 

And, whaddya know.  He happily stretched his frame a bit more, poked his nose to (or just in front of) the vertical and raised his whole balance a smidge. 

Over fences it was a different horse.

(he was also a bit... excited for the fences that day, but still... different horse)

We didn't drill him much, but every.single.fence. was good.  And he held every lead. And never landed cross once.

So. the German Martingale had gone from being a useful tool - to being inhibitive.

Which sparked a philosophical discussion in the barn as to how you identify that change as soon as possible. 

Obviously it was never my intent to keep him in the GM forever, but when do you assume the gimmick, (or whatever) has done it's job and is no longer needed?

On a horse like Windsor (who wasn't in need of brakes, or any restriction from a safety standpoint) perhaps we could have taken it off once a week.  But we didn't.  mostly because it didn't feel like it was restricting progress..

But it was.

Or rather - it was restricting information.  Because what a few rides without the martingale told us was that Winds was (much) happier and (much) more comfortable when he could pick his own balance and poke his nose a tad. 

When he was being bridled more, he wasn't able to adjust properly and was popping off leads and whatever else...

Vet thought that was a good indication that something was up in his neck (facepalm) so Friday we took a looksee and, sure enough - found some arthritis in a couple spots - most notably C3/4.

After the ensuing rage blackout of "WTF we x-rayed that and it was clean sweet jesus does it ever end" (answer: no. no it doesn't).

I came around to (finally) understanding that the x-rays don't really show any degeneration on the transverse process, so we had to ultrasound (ugh) in order to see the inflammation that indicates it.


Anyway, so buddy boy got another couple injections (on the left side only) - and the more I thought about it, discomfort in his neck makes a lot of sense.

It explains his stiff direction

It explains why he wants to grab the bit and stiffen his neck in the lines

It explains why his RH is a bit tricky to gather up

It explains the rough landings/lead popping


So, from that perspective I guess I'm grateful that we had something straight forward to address that (hopefully) will benefit all of the things we have been chipping away at. 

I should have also taken a picture when he was under sedation because when he is totally relaxed his neck is SCREWED UP.  the muscling is so uneven from left to right it's absurd I couldn't see it before (or while I'm riding and staring at his little neck..). 

But - again, super consistent with the info from the gal who does bodywork said.  tightness indicating discomfort on his left side... tight nuchal ligament, tight pecs and left shoulder...

So I'm left with the residual guilt for a) schooling the tar out of him on some of these things (in which he just smiles and says "ok mom.  I'll try harder") that he really couldn't do anything about.

And also the residual guilt for not pulling the martingale sooner and starting this process more swiftly.

So.  I'll pose the question again - how stagnant is your setup? When's the last time you changed bits/boots/saddles/anything.  Is there anything in your regular tack you assume you still need but might not?

I'll hack him lightly tomorrow to see where we are, then I'm out of town and Trainer takes over for the week, but hopefully I'll squeak in a ride or two next week before he ships to Cali that weekend!


  1. I changed my jumping bit about 6 months ago, but also waited way too long. It was harsher (not bad, just not super mild either) and my horse was doing a lot of complaining about it. We started jumping in our mild flat bit, and everything went away. I felt bad about it for a hot second, until I realizes that Simon doesn't give a shit because now he loves his bit and thinks life is awesome again.

    1. true. every day is a new, good day in Gelding land. Whereas Pia is still pissed I used a different girth one day in 2011...

    2. Sigh. Why did I get a mare again? Totally on point there with tack changes on mares.😜

  2. I swap things around on the days I hack because I can. Like when I stopped schooling with any sort of attachment to my horses bridles on Thursdays and then when we weren't allowed to have them my trainer was so surprised he was good, and I was like yeah I just use breastplate all the time lady, you just aren't here.

    1. Most folks at my barn don't actively ride in their martingales, (a few ponies and Windsor being exceptions). but it is really nice to deliberating change something when you can and see if there's any affect at all...

  3. I've made some subtle tweaks here and there over the past year (changed his girth, changed his bit) and found that they've made a big difference. As for gadgets, I find with my horse he's got about a two week maximum before he figures out how to get around them or torture me with them. But since we're all dressag-y now we just go in a loose ring and so he's too wild I pray a lot. LOL.

    1. LOL. Winds is in a loose ring at the moment too, but I do sorta love the purist approach that if they are crazy one day you just deal with it...

  4. That's a super good question, but I don't have a great answer.

    My setup is fairly stagnant. However, I do hack western from time to time so I guess if she went really differently then I'd know that something was up with my dressage saddle, bridle or bit.

    I think it's tough with green horses or new horse/rider pairings, because if things haven't reached a consistent point, it's hard to know if any variation is due to equipment or just due to how the horse is acting that day.

    1. you make a good point about new pairings since we don't actually have a "normal" yet. It's hard to know what's him feeling "stuck" vs stiff vs naughty... trial and error seems to be the only real method at this point... sigh.

  5. Really interesting observations!

    I ride in a french-link eggbutt snaffle, plain cavesson. And that's it. No martingales, other bits, attachments, etc. So... really there isn't much that's prohibiting the pony's performance or could be changed. I did get him a new saddle and girth last year, though!

    1. interesting. I know some people who would argue against staying in a French link, though for me, if the horse is quiet and relaxed in the mouth, I doubt i'd be motivated to swap bits around ever...

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I'd never heard that about not wanting to stay in a French link... what's the thinking behind that? Dino really doesn't care one way or the other what's in his mouth.. he pretty much goes the same in a single-joint as he does in a french-link, as he does in a low-port western curb... well he maybe salivates more in the french-link but that's the only change I've seen!

  6. I literally change my bit almost every ride. i have about three that I keep in constant rotation and two different bridles. I don't really use a martingale only because the section where the two leather pieces go through one another, where the donut is, hits her right where her sarcoidosis scar is.

    I use draw reins sometimes and used to use a German martingale on and off but then my reins went missing and I haven't been able to find any to replace them.

  7. I don't change a ton around although my favorite experiment is with saddle pads. Fawkes was so sensitive in the back, finding the right shock absorbing pad made a huge difference. With Odin, we have played with the bits a little (happy mouth, regular french link) but haven't changed much else. So I guess I am pretty stagnant. And honestly, changing gear is usually the last thing I think of, for better or worse. There are so many other things that seem to pop in my brain first!

    Sorry that it literally never ends with horses and health and bleeding money, but hopefully it remains straight forward and is easily resolved.

  8. I got stuck in a loose ring kk (knock off) last year and didn't think to change for the longest time, then I swapped into a full check single joint for jumping, what a difference! After I about got drug around the show ring warmup when prisoner hooked the full cheek in my number string I swapped to a d bit. I'm still fiddling with bits. Also all last year I jumped in a running martingale, and he certainly hit it during some over his antics and I was thinking it was helping prevent worse terrors, but so far this year I have left it off and I think he is much more confident without the perceived restriction.

  9. You touched on this in your post, but what I find that's important to remember is that training is a process -- and that while we'd like to catch issues as quickly as possible to squash them, we also want to fix things and make them better. It's such a fine line!

    I do believe though that horses (in their own way, of course) tell us how they feel. We might not realize it until after the fact (cue guilt!) but they do tell us.

  10. Last time I changed bits... yesterday? Haha. We tweak all the things all the time. Not sure if it's making me happy or him, but overall, things are trending upward I think.

  11. I ride in the same thing everytime unless I need a reminder ride. As in, flat work in the waterford because asshole and throw on a standing martingale> then I take it off after that ride. Usually only needs to happen once a month, but it happens

  12. i honestly try not to feel too guilty about discovering issues like that (tho obvi it's hard) just bc at least i discovered them eventually and made the appropriate changes, and next time maybe i'll see the problems sooner? glad you got him sorted!

  13. I always feel guilty! But good change is good. I don't switch much because I'm boring and lazy. I don't really notice quite that much difference however


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