It is a magical week this week…the beginning of the World’s Championship Horse Show in Louisville! I personally have never ridden on the green shavings, and although it is a lifelong dream just to ride there, it seems pretty unlikely right now at this stage in my life.
As we know, Slider probably started out with green shavings dreams, but like too many of them, ended up on a paved road. I hope to return him to the shavings of Des Moines Springfest next year. Goals!
This week Slider and I have concluded longlining with just the lines, and have added a technique called the chambon. This is a dressage technique that does not require much more than two thin but strong ropes. You can easily make it yourself with a seven to eight foot thin rope, and a two foot rope that has a ring on one end, and a snap on the other.
I use a training bridle with two rings attached on either side of where the browband meets the crownpiece. The chambron snaps to the backpad girth, runs up between his front legs, and then the long rope goes through the ring at the top of the bridle, down to the bit, and then back to the backpad. The purpose of this device is to teach the horse to carry himself and not pull on, or search for, the bit. He has to carry himself in frame in order to relieve pressure from the bit. If he raises his head to search for the bit, the chambon tightens not only on his mouth, but also on his poll. When he lowers his head and gives to the bit, the pressure is relieved. Once he starts to realize this, and carries himself with the chambon flopping around instead of tight, then I begin to tighten it slowly, in small increments. This way, he learns that even when there is less leniency through the reins, if he gives up the bit and relaxes his poll, there will be no pressure on his mouth.
I don’t want to go into too much detail describing it, but here is an article I found if you want to learn more.
I am starting with a full cheek smooth snaffle. I use the long lines to help teach him to relieve the pressure. If the chambon is tight, then I move the bit back and forth in his mouth until he gives. When he gives to the chambon and it is flopping, then I also leave him alone and don’t use the lines to mess with him. This is so he learns that if he gets off the bit, then I stop bugging him.
We have been long lining with the chambon for about a week and he is slowly starting to understand that he does not need to be heavy through the bit. This will also help him build muscle tone, because he has to utilize back and neck muscles to learn to carry himself. I have not worked him very hard because I still need to see some more weight gain on him. I’m guessing I will probably be chambon-ing for quite a while to get him to lighten up off the bit. Who wants to ride a horse who is heavy and pulling through the bridle? Not me! So I will keep working him like this for a while!
Last Sunday I went out to the barn and taught two lessons, and just wasn’t feeling like working Slider. I have been using the chambon, like I said, for the last week, and the thought of long lining again just made me feel…almost bored…if that makes sense. I have had a crazy, stressful, and strange week, and just have my mind on a billion things it seems. On top of that I have decided to run a half marathon in October and put in eight miles on the treadmill before the barn. So I am stressed, tired, and just a bit burnt out I suppose.
I almost just left him in the stall. But then I got to thinking. This sad horse has been in his stall all day. The least I can do is brush him. Or go outside for grass. Wait a minute…
You know one thing us Saddlebred people don’t do enough of?
Our horses hardly get to just go out and be horses, and have fun. Yes, I know the shoes are expensive and might get pulled off, and that our precious babies might get hurt. But mentally? There is nothing better for them than to go out, stretch their legs, and just be a horse. If I'm having a bad day I can go do something -- go on a bike ride or run or go visit friends. What about the horse? Maybe he wanted to go outside, too, and play and just enjoy life for a bit.
So I took Slider outside. He was snorting with every step. I took him to the pasture, turned him around, unclipped him, and stepped back.
Nothing. He didn’t know how to be a horse. He just stood and looked at me. I tried shoo-ing him away. He walked away and stood in the corner. He did eat some grass, but didn’t run.
How sad is it that a horse goes out, and just stands there? He didn’t know what to do. I am guessing from his past that when he went outside it was just work, work, work, and no fun. I felt like a bad horse owner. Tried to do something nice, and nothing.
Suddenly, his head perked up. In the adjacent pasture were all my lesson horses. Now, they are old quarter horses but they do the job and keep the kids safe. One of them neighed at Slider, and the old horses all walked to the fence. Hesistantly, Slider started walking, and then jogging, and then, realizing maybe for the first time that he could run free, he picked up a huge gallop, ears up, head high and tail flagged! I grabbed my phone for some pictures. He ran several laps in the paddock before settling down and saying hello to his new friends. It was like a lightbulb moment, and I felt lucky to see it. Suddenly that glimpse of absolute freedom, happiness, and pride displayed by my Slider made my day instantly bright.
So I suppose my lesson to be learned was, if I am having a bad day, to watch my horse enjoy his day. Because honestly, even though we Saddlebred people hardly utilize turnout, is there anything more majestic than a horse at liberty? I doubt it. Let yours be a horse and play on his own if you can. The majesty will inspire and delight you, and give him a mental and emotional boost!