September 6, 2017

A Big, Guilty Confession

Real talk time: My lifetime best 1-3 from the rated show last month was not the biggest reason I was thrilled with that show.

August 2017.  Photo by Lisa Brezina

I have a confession to make, something I haven't written much about out of, y'know, guilt and shame: For years, Connor has continued to get his tongue over the bit maybe once a month, usually during lessons when we were applying pressure or trying something new, and often at shows (but only ever in the warmup).

Tension.  May 2015.

The reason why he felt like he needed to put his tongue over the bit started to become clear this summer.  He stopped doing it entirely starting around June, or, around the time I really started to become aware of and fix my pulling elbows and tense thighs.

July 2013, Leg Up HT, the first time he ever got his tongue over the bit.
Also, lol, those braids.
I know getting the tongue over the bit becomes a habit for horses, but Connor was using it to communicate to me that something was wrong, so he stopped when I stopped.  Even after all that time.

He was only doing it to escape from the pressure, so when I took the pressure away, he didn't feel like he needed to do it anymore.  I know I'm lucky it didn't turn into a habit, and I know horses are forgiving, but I honestly don't feel like I deserve that level of forgiveness from him, poor guy.  How did we get so lucky to have creatures this noble in our lives?

My body is like a vice around him here, you can see the tension in my shoulders and hips. May 2015.

He hadn't even thought about putting his tongue over the bit in maybe 6 or 8 weeks by the July 2017 IDS show, when he got his tongue over the bit in warmup there.

Two things hit me like lightning as I got off to put his tongue back.  #1: My riding has been causing the tongue issue all this time, and  #2: Even if I had solved it at home, I was riding him totally differently at shows.  More pressure, more tension, more hands, reverting back to my old habits as I imposed my artificially created mental pressure on him.

Heartland, April 2014

He couldn't know that day was our second level kamikaze run and I was freaked out about going into the ring without him on my aids.  He just wants me to be the same rider no matter what.  Doubly so because he's a big chicken, and he needs a consistent leader to make him feel safe in a big scary show environment.  He likes sameness and predictability.  It's why he didn't want to event.

Aaaaaaaaand everyone's seen this before but it doesn't make this picture any less amazing, our very first Dressage test ever, June 2012.

So at August's rated show, more than anything else, I just wanted to prove to Connor that I could be the same rider for him at shows as I am at home.  And I was.  He's never been that soft or relaxed at a show before.

He even focused on me more, probably because my body wasn't saying "Something is wrong!  Be nervous!"  I felt it, but seeing Lisa's pictures proves it.

Out of all the photos she took, it's hard to find any in which it looks like I'm pulling on him.  It's the most open I've ever seen his throatlatch and the most relaxed I've ever seen his topline - and the most forward I've ever seen my elbows.

August 2017.  Elbows forward.  Photo by Lisa Brezina

We still have such a long way to go, but we weren't going to go anywhere real until we fixed this foundational hole.  We could've faked our way up the levels, but it would have been just that, faking it.  With an unhappy horse.

August 2017.  Rider needs to sit up, haha.  But I'm STILL not pulling even sitting like this.

I am so grateful to this little horse for not chucking my ass a single time over the years as I slowly learned and grew as a rider, and continuing to nicker at me every time he sees me to this day.  I hope I can make it up to him with many more years of much more enjoyable riding for both of us, because I really have internalized these changes and I'm never going back to the way I rode before.  He deserves every Mrs. Pastures cookie he gets and then some!


  1. That is SO exciting and SO satisfying! Well done, you!

  2. It is so so cool that he responds to you like that--if you fix yourself, the behavior goes away. :-) Love it.

  3. It's crazy how much our riding and how we sit on the horse affects them!

  4. Just had a similar realization myself--you give me hope for being able to fix it! Yay for you! and yes we are so blessed to have such forgiving steeds!

  5. I'm so glad you have figured out what causes the problem. As you know, I've also had a bit of this problem.

  6. I love how horses just instantly give us feedback on our riding. Always keeping us humble!

  7. As a fellow rider-who-pulls and has a kind, forgiving horse who somehow hasn't already chucked me in the dirt multiple times, I agree with this post 100%. Totally with you there!

  8. I wish fixing Sydney's tongue over the bit issue was so easy to fix. :(

  9. Very nice! Rosemary has done that with her driving bit, not fun.

  10. I love this post so much. It's been tough for me to figure out how my riding at shows differs from riding at home. At first I don't think I even really knew how much differently I rode and now that I do I'm trying to correct how much extra tension I ride with. For Katai it's getting BTV vs the tongue over the bit. Still a commentary from her on how I'm riding.

  11. So amazing how if we pay attention they tell us all we need to know!