That would be me, riding in a Western saddle.
I will have pictures soon, as soon as there’s someone at the farm while I’m riding who I can con into helping. Maybe even video. But I have to warn you all, it’s not really pretty.
Mikey couldn’t care less about the western saddle – my own horse would be all “What the HECK?!? For serious?” but Mikey, who has only been ridden a few times in the last few years, was pretty ho-hum about it when I first saddled him up.
He’s now been ridden three times since coming in from lazy acres – once bareback and twice with the western saddle, which I’m insisting upon simply because I think he looks adorable in that tack. Of course we’re using a regular english snaffle bridle, with a happy mouth full cheek, which looks sort of strange when you think about the whole picture, but it seems to be what fits him best, so we’ll go with it.
Riding Mikey is sort of an interesting thing. When I first get on, he tends to be very fussy with his head, and angry about the bridle. He tries various different ways to rid himself of it (and this is with no contact at all from me), he will toss his head, jerk his head down, wiggle it from side to side, and twist his head both ways. The first time I experienced this, I actually had doubts about what to do next. I was worried he might get really pissed if I asked him to do anything but walk, but I finally put some leg on and put him to work anyway. What I find is the more he’s doing, and the more I ask him to think about, the better he is with his head, so for now the basic plan is to just worry about starting, stopping, and steering, and let the rest sort itself out. I try to focus on simply keeping my hands perfectly still and rein length consistent, but as this is one of my constant issues, it takes a LOT of focus.
Actually, the whole picture takes a LOT of focus. I always try, in my out-of-shape and weak sort of way, to ride correctly, so I almost always have this ongoing commentary in my head: “heels down, straighten the back, relax the lower back, lower leg back, pull your head back, relax the elbows, still hands, lower legs back again, elbows at your sides, wrists straight, close your fingers!” Seriously, you wouldn’t know it looking at me but this kind of thing is running through my head at all times. In the western tack, it’s a little worse. I know I am essentially riding English in the wrong saddle, so the commentary has all this other stuff added to it, trying to get me to sit properly in the saddle.
And of course Mikey doesn’t have power steering, or even consistent gaits, so the running set of instructions in my head is impossibly long, and contains way too much stuff for me to focus on everything at once. The end result is that I start flopping. I just can’t keep my leg still and seat still and hands still and get good steering and keep the trot from revving up and then suddenly dying. And when I look in the mirror – the sight is just so bizarre I start to laugh. It’s not bad – for sure I don’t look nearly as uncoordinated as I feel- but to my eye, there’s no escaping the fact that I’m a huntseat rider and will look like one till the end of time, no matter what I’m trying to do and what tack I’m in. Mikey is wonderfully tolerant 🙂
In any case, the big thing we’re working on right now is my hands staying still, and letting him find his happy place with the bridle and bit. And really, it works out pretty well, in two real rides he’s definitely starting to learn that if he doesn’t pull, I won’t, and that if he doesn’t resist, it’s just generally much more pleasant. He’s also learning how to follow an opening rein and sometimes when he’s really focused, neck reining seems to make sense to him.
He’s not as automatically quiet as a horse like Archie. He looks at things more, and is more suspicious about things, but he doesn’t act out. Last night we rode in all three rings on the farm, riding up the hill in between them. He handled the stallion charging the fence very well, and though he looked and snorted at the tarps and random stuff on the ground, he didn’t get too freaked by anything (except for the shamu jump standards. Those he thought were out to eat him, for sure). When we got to the indoor I found he actually focuses quite well in there, as there’s much less to distract him. We worked on a few serpentines and figure eights and he was doing great. He also seems to prefer the footing in there to the other rings. The pigeons though, he’s not so sure about.
After we were done last night I thought for sure he’d be happy to be rid of me – after all, I’m asking him to do work, and making him sweaty. But Mikey is still Mikey, and attention is his number one priority. I was super pleased to find that even after all that, he didn’t want to go back to the field. Once I had him in, he didn’t go walking or running away from me, and just stood with me wanting to play. We had a little game of follow the leader, and a good snuggle, and that was that for the evening. I love this horse, he’s just so funny, and so cute – he’s like a silly little kid in a horse body. I’m so glad I get to spend more time with him, because he cracks me up like pretty much no other horse in the world.