Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the celtic cow pony?

Yesterday trainer Dave wanted our lesson to be about western riding. It's what he rides, what he teaches, but that wasn't his real motivation with going across the pond, tack wise. Dave always tells me "riding is riding. tack means nothing to a horse" and I believe him. I ride English because it was how I was taught, and because its the culture of riding I come from. It's also the tack I have and what makes me comfortable. I like less saddle and more horse below me. I like the good experiences we have had together, in dressage and at the lesson barn. So I am biased and unapologetic about my love for the English Ride.

Tough shit, said the Universe yesterday. Time to leave that comfort zone behind and try something new and feral. I got a magical trainer and he says its time to git along little doggies. Git, I shall.

Dave had me get my barrel racing saddle I bought at the poultry swap last spring. I have only used it once with Merlin and that didn't go well. It was my second trail ride out ever and Merlin was fussy. I got up on that couch and felt like I had no communication or control, like someone had piled up a leather couch between me and my horse and we were unable to communicate. This is, of course, hogwash but how I felt at the time. It was too new to me, and Merlin was backing up and acting up and I was scared. Patty got me through it, even though my weird English Saddle fetish confused her, and we never went back.

Dave wanted to try a different method of communication and ease with Merlin. So far, Merlin and I have used a tight rein, a D-ring dressage bit, a hovering English seat and a crop. Dave wanted to put on my Easy Rider saddle, and use a minimalist type of bridle called a mecata, with rope reins held loose. His whole method of riding is through feel and mutual respect, using my intention and "feel" and using aids like legs and heels and reins as a last resort. I was a little worried about holding reins loose in one hand and sitting up on that couch again. I didn't understand his "feel" either. But let me tell you something about that first lesson

It was amazing.

A 100% turnaround from last week. I needed a lesson in western saddles and the best way to actually tack him up, but from there on it felt as natural as can be. Merlin was so willing, so good, so happy having his head back and listening to my body. I did not need to use a crop once. I did not need to be rough, or scold or use spurs. Hell, I didn't need to use my heels. In under one hour with Dave at the neighbor's field I could get Merlin up into a working trot from a lazy walk and stop him on a dime using Dave's techniques.

So am I a convert? I think I'm still more comfortable in my English tack, but I think what will work for me and Merlin is going to end up being a combination that suits us both and my goals. I didn't buy that horse to trot in an arena, I bought him to ride out in public, across roads and landscapes. To do that comfortably I think we'll end up combining everything I learned. Don't be surprised if this fall you see a photo of me and Merlin in a mecate headstall with black rope reins over an english endurance saddle with my saddle pad sporting a patch with a celtic circle with two crows in it. We're travelers, us. On the road to a better ride, a better relationship, a better feel.

cowgirl, up!


Blogger Brenda said...

good for you to be willing to go out of your comfort zone, particularly since you now had Merlin in a good place as far as riding. The response to the mecate is what I found with my mares when I switched to Cook's Bitless Bridles. They seemed so much more relaxed and willing, no backing up, no stalling or goofing off. It was easy to turn circles too when my buddy sour(or barn not sure which it is but she does prefer to say home) mare tried to return before I was ready. Like you I have an eclectic approach with tack, whatever works for us and makes me and the mare happy and relaxed. I also have an aussie saddle, it feels OK (trotting is out since I sit so low into the thing, just good for walking, not sure how the Aussie cowboys manage but they must have a totally different riding style)but it weighs much more than my wintec all purpose so out of consideration for the mare (and me when having to tack up with a heavy saddle) I still primarily use my wintec with cair panels. I don't know if the panels help the horse but they sure do feel good under me with my bad back and all. I also have a synthetic western saddle that someone left here a few years ago but I have never been inclined to even try it. Here is sits though in case a guest wants to use it. I have a bareback soft thing also that I will use to get donkey used to having something on her back, when both of us are in the mood for all that. so far we are content to just hang out together, her chasing away anything that tries to come between us; dogs, goats, and pigs included.

July 31, 2012 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Heather Ann said...

Now you need to try an australian saddle! It's like a bulked up english trail saddle, and it truly is the hybrid between english and western. I totally get the comment about feeling a total lack of control in a western. I rode both for a long time and have always loved english - of course nothing beats riding bareback with a halter and lead rope, but you can't exactly show with that :)

July 31, 2012 at 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best horsewomen do what works with the horse and the situation. Screw convention and the best laid plans. Go ride:)

July 31, 2012 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sounds great! Use whatever works best for you and Merlin.
You can still use a snaffle but have him on a loose rein. Try sitting back and relaxing in your english or endurance saddle like you did in the western.
It might be that you were concerned with how you were sitting on the horse and it made you tense and shift your seat. I know some people get nervous and sit too far forward which makes the horse more uncomfortable and I have seen it lead to "crow hopping" (little kick outs in the back).
Sounds like you have great help there - keep it up.

July 31, 2012 at 1:14 PM  
Anonymous janet gordon said...

Good for you - less is more - glad you've ditched the crop - a crop is unnecessary and carrying it is a temptation to use it when your body provides the best and most effective aids. Like you, I rarely rode in a western saddle, only once or twice in all the years I rode. I rode forward seat in a forward seat saddle and found it extremely comfortable even after hours on the trail. My horse was an old harness racer and had been taught to go lugging on the bit - when I gave her her head and managed her by aids and indirect reining she became much more manageable.
I think the mantra here is simplify and communicate. Looking forward to the next installment.

July 31, 2012 at 3:32 PM  
Blogger PattyW said...

Love love love. You and all you do!

July 31, 2012 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

Hee Haw! Rid'em cowgirl!

July 31, 2012 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

Janet: thanks for having a harness retiree, I work hard for rehoming the racing stb. Like you , I found that when I went bitless they relaxed and it occurred to me that a bit meant serious work, so the bitless to them gave a new meaning, "relax" "enjoy", a new concept for working horses. Since this is probably new to Merlin too, Jenna is giving him a new message with the new mecate, "relax,enjoy, follow my lead and work with me and it doesn't hurt, does it"

July 31, 2012 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger deodar said...

I, too, like Cook's bitless bridles. My mare has a really good 'whoa', all I have to do is sit down in the saddle and she stops on a dime. She makes me laugh, when I put it on and take it off she smacks her lips as though she was taking in or releasing a bit. I keep telling her there's nothing there! I also have a couple aussie saddles, used them with my old guy (I lost him to colic a couple years ago). I really loved those saddles, so comfortable. Unfortunately neither of them fit my mare and I always figure it's better the saddle fit the horse than me. It was truly amazing the way she relaxed about everything when I quit using a bit.

July 31, 2012 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Good for you! I'd love to get both of us into riding when Zoe is big enough. We are in Texas, after all!

August 1, 2012 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Rich With Life said...

Sounds like you are doing great! I as well use a hybrid... english reins on my bitless sidepull bridle (I will never go back to using a bit), and I switch from my Western to my English saddle based on what I want to ride that day- whether I want to go jump some logs in the fields or just take a nice easy ride down the road. I learned the basics of English almost a year ago and after the first few lessons of learning how to perch myself on a tiny saddle as opposed to my couch, I learned what your Dave says- riding is riding- especially when you aren't into it for showing or competition, but just for the love of the horse!

August 1, 2012 at 2:55 PM  
Anonymous ruralaspirations said...

I think it's really great for horses to do multi-discipline training. My friend who is a wonderful dressage rider and cleans up in all the shows shocked the DQ's with her "secret": she trains with a Western guy, Western saddle and all. She even shows Western on occasion, just for the fun of it, with her dressage horses. Gasp! ;-) Your trainer is right that it's not about the tack. I myself am with a multi-disciplinary coach and we occasionally do Western (I find it comfy for trail rides especially). While, like you, I'm most comfortable in breeches and an English saddle, I'm looking forward to learning some Western stuff too. I'm really happy for you that you had such a good lesson and have what sounds to be a great trainer in Dave.

August 1, 2012 at 10:07 PM  

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