I know there’s a lot of controversy out there about the use of different tack, “gadgets” or training aids and people can come down really strongly on both sides of the fence. Some people are all for them, others feel that they can be useful as long as they’re in the right hands for the right reason and others seem to really hate them. I’m probably in the middle ground, as long as the training methods aren’t causing the horse physical harm or suffering and the use is justified and reasonable then I’m happy to let people do what works for them. What works for us personally though is usually the minimalist approach. Some may feel this accounts for the slow and steady nature of our progress, but I think Ginge and I are pretty happy overall taking things steady and letting him work things out in his own time.
This post is going to act as a bit of a case study that shows why, for us, simple seems to be best for my boy’s sensitive soul. About six months ago, one of our trainers suggested I try Ginge in a grackle noseband, I was sceptical at first as someone suggested a flash once and the resulting meltdown from him was torture. However, I was assured that they are now BD legal and came out favourably in tests by Centaur Biomechanics in terms of pressure points and affects on performance, so I decided to give it a go. The initial results were favourable, I was getting better head carriage and increased focus and control so I decided to stick with it.
The first sign for me that something wasn’t right with the set up was a new recurring comment from the Dressage Anywhere judges that they didn’t feel he was going forward enough. This might explain why I felt more in control, since we were slower, but not going forward isn’t something that we’d ever struggled with before. If anything the issue was always long frame and bumbling along too quickly on the forehand. To the experienced rider, this may have been enough on its own to hint something needed to change. It’s the head carriage was neater and less on the forehand, but the sudden lack of desire to move forward is probably a classic sign of a gadget fixing a symptom but not doing anything to improve the fundamental cause.
The thing that got me to really consider the fact that the grackle wasn’t working for Ginge was out hacking. For months it had been fine, as far as I recall but maybe I hadn’t been hacking as much as usual. The new problem was pretty hard to ignore: after about 45mins – 1 hour of riding, any walk work resulted in fairly constant and almost violent head shaking. Now, he has always been cheeky and tried to snatch the reins when he decides we’re done – but this was much more extreme. At our new yard we do quite a lot of hacking, so the issue was really beginning to worry me and in the end I decided to ditch the grackle to see if the problem solved itself.
So, here we are back in the plain noseband. I’m not going to pretend it has been a miracle cure. When I first swapped noseband, I was faced with a monster in the school! He spooked in both directions over nothing at all, I’m fairly sure in an attempt to test out my reduced head control. He also careered around the arena massively on the forehand in an out of control steam train impression that I would be embarrassed to present to a judge – although at least he was going forward! However, the head shaking has stopped and he is noticeably less argumentative about being tacked up. He is back to happily presenting his head for the bridle instead of attempting to make a break for it before I can do up the noseband.
Six weeks off from competition and taking the schooling back to basics with transitions and knowing where our brakes are and we’re nearly ready to face the judges again. He is lifting back up off the forehand again and the extra hacking, hillwork and speedwork means he is gaining that all important strength behind to balance and support himself. I am having to learn to gain his co-operation rather than control him with simple tricks like distracting him with lateral work when he starts sulking. I have also taken up PiYo (slightly intense Pilates – Yoga combo) in an effort to strengthen my core to make sure I’m sitting up properly instead of collapsing forwards with him when he drops onto the forehand.
Obviously, I’m hoping that next time we face the judges we get comments that reflect our hardwork and changes. The main thing really though, is that my beautiful boy is happy again and we’re working together rather than under duress!