As much as I hate taking months off my riding due to snow and absolutely foul weather, in some cases, it can be a major advantage in the whole training scheme of things.
I had my second ride on Gabe last night after about a three month hiatus. With him it usually takes 2-3 rides to get his brain back on track and into "work" mode. He was surprisingly wonderful for both rides. Aside from a few "damn I'm feeling GOOD!" moments, he was responsive and eager. I might even venture to say he was happy to be back to work!
And I accidentally discovered something about him that may make moving forward in our training much easier.
I will admit right here (and you'll never hear me admit it again!), that getting back on a horse (especially one as big, powerful and unpredictable as Gabe) that has been out of work for months honestly scares the shit out of me. I get nervous, my stomach turns queasy and I imagine all kinds of things that could go terribly, terribly wrong. That log over there? Pretty sure I'll land on it and break my back. The fence post we're walking by? Although it's capped and we're 10 feet away from it, I'm darn certain my horse is going to spook, chuck me 10 feet through the air and I'll be impaled on it. The slight slope on the other side of the arena? Yup, I just know he's going to spook sideways and we'll trip and ass over ears down it and I'll be crushed irreparably beneath him. Irrational, yes, but that's the way my brain works. Once I get on and get moving, my brain calms down and my stomach settles about 15 minutes into the ride and I just laugh at myself for being such a crazy person.
Anyway...all this irrational crap was running through my head, and, as a result, I had a stronger than usual hold on the reins. Usually I like to handle the reins as if they were delicate, easily-broken threads, I prefer to have a light, soft, giving touch of my horse's mouth.
Something amazing happened.
Gabe seemed to ENJOY the stronger connection, even welcome it. I'm not talking about him leaning on the bit, he wasn't. He took the connection I gave him and he accepted it like a firm, friendly handshake. I'm not talking a death grip on the reins and I'm not talking about pulling back with bulging biceps. I'm simply saying he seemed to welcome a little more weight in my hands than what I've been giving him. He was responsive to the slightest finger wiggle, he gave and relaxed his jaw and poll when I "sponged" the reins and the white foam dripped wonderfully from his amazingly quiet mouth. I've mentioned before that he plays, plays, plays with the bit, sucking it up into his mouth, trying to chew on it, wiggling it, grinding his teeth, etc.
There was none of that, as long as I kept a firm connection with him. As soon as I dropped the reins to go on the buckle, he dropped his whole neck and dove for the bit as if he had dropped something and was trying to find it. His mouth went to work wiggling, wiggling, chewing, chewing, grinding, grinding at the bit. As soon as I took up a firmer connection, the playing stopped.
Is it a comfort thing for him? Does he just prefer "strong" leadership from me in the saddle? Is it a leftover habit from his racetrack days? I don't know, but I'm going to go with it. Eventually, I'd prefer NOT to have such a strong contact, I prefer the "baby bird in your hand" approach, but for now it works and I'll run with it for as long as he needs me to.