Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To Hackamore, or Not To Hackamore?

A few days ago Robin and I were watching a training video by Mike Bridges.  It was not the most exciting of videos, but it did offer a lot of insightful commentary on bits and the variety of heads and mouths on horses.  At one point he talked about how horses with thicker lips might not be quite as soft to the snaffle bit as horses with thin lips.  But then when you get those horses in another set up, like the hackamore or spade, they can be exceptionally soft.  Hearing that I was pretty sure Bear had thick lips. Not because he isn't soft, but because he is kind of thick everywhere.

And sure enough, he does.  The next day we got out for a ride and I looked at a few other horses in the pasture and closely compared Bear's lips to Steen's.  Bears are quite a bit bigger and thicker.  Interesting.  So I thought, maybe I'll spend a few days in the hackamore and see how things go.  I might just surprise myself.

The start was slow.  He was good when I'd ask for a soft feel, but lateral flexion as I'd come to know it was gone.  It took a few minutes of baby-step flexes to even start to get it back.  We'd walk around easily and not think about our headgear, and then we'd work on stops and backs and flexes.

Thankfully each time I asked for a stop or a flex it got better.  That continued throughout the whole ride.  Also, he stayed good with the soft feel.  I think have the pressure right on the nose makes a lot of sense to them.

After some good warming up I decided to try the lope.  And this is where the old Bear came out.  He could tell something was different, so he tried his hardest to get out of loping.  It is funny that half the time he loves it, but if he thinks he might not have to do it, then he makes it hard on all of us.  For this ride he chose to lope in the teeniest, tiniest circles possible.  I actually didn't even know he could lope circles like that.  I was wishing I had my spurs on so I could more forcefully push him out, but I didn't. So we just continued to lope small circles with me attempting to push him out into larger circles.  He tried to stop a few times, but there was no way I was allowing that.  Finally he got the idea and gave me some nice laps around the arena.  And that was more or less where we ended the ride.

The next day we went out and again I used the hackamore.  The start was slow, but not as slow as the day before.  We were certainly making progress.  Over the course of the ride we did all our normal stuff and even got some pretty nice loping in both directions.

But things weren't all great.  I just couldn't send clear messages all the time.  And the weirdest mix ups would happen.  We'd be doing something like walking along the rail and I would bend him into a circle with maybe a 10 or 15 foot diameter, and halfway around the circle he would just veer in the other direction.  Not like he was pissed and trying to show me where he wanted to go (I know what that feels like), but more like he was just given a strong signal to go that way.

Of course, things like this can only mean that I am not a great hackamore operator. And the only way to get better is to use it.  But wow can it be frustrating.  I don't think I'll use it a ton just yet, but maybe over the next couple of months I'll do some hackamore weeks and see what kind of progress we can make.

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