Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Birthday Hackamore

Today I turned 30, and just about the first thing I did was open a box from my husband containing this:

For the curious, it's a 16 plait rawhide bosal with 22' mane hair mecate on a simple leather bosal hanger. This is what followers of the vaquero horesmanship tradition move their horses into after the snaffle but before the half-breed bit that will eventually prepare the horse for the spade.

A month or two ago, I did not think Steen was anywhere near ready to move into a hackamore, but lately we've been making so much progress I began to think that when the weather confines us to the indoor arena for a few months, getting Steen really comfortable in the hackamore could be a worthwhile winter undertaking.

Today, I didn't want to waste the beautiful weather, so decided to log my first hackamore ride on the strip. But even as we headed to the barn I will admit there was a part of me that was afraid the experiment would be disappointing. The thing about the hackamore is although it allows a subtler level of communication than the snaffle, if your horse isn't ready to listen to such sensitive queues, you get a whole lot of nothing. So I've heard the first ride is kind of a moment of truth. Combine the fact that Steen's first ride wearing the hackamore would be my first time using one, and, well, let's just say I was prepared for the worst.

When I went to put the new set-up on, Steen turned his head and opened his mouth, groping around for the bit. I thanked him for his willingness and slipped the bosal around his nose. I had to fiddle with the hanger a bit to get everything in the right place, but he was patient for this. Then I let him stand there and he did shake his head around and try to lip at the knot under his chin, but it was all curiosity, no annoyance or fear.

He led out to the strip on a very light touch indeed. Then I did several minutes of groundwork. At first he wasn't sure about breaking at the poll to pressure on his nose instead of his mouth, but after a few minutes he was moving as nicely off the bosal as he does off a slobber strap.

So I got on and he went right into flexing nicely. In fact here he illustrates what is almost the perfect flex. His weight is evenly distributed between his front feet (though it would be nice if he was standing square), his ears are level with the ground, his forehead is perpendicular to the ground, and his neck is at 90 degrees to his body.

After lots of flexing and disengaging and working on our little cues, I asked Steen to walk. He went just fine and I let him move around without asking much for a while, just so he can get used to how the bosal rocks on his nose. Then I began to do figure eights and stops and backs.

One of my favorite quotes from the clinic: "I know a lot of people who ride a horse in a hackamore just because it looks cool... And, it does look cool."

I was expecting Steen to behave differently in the hackamore, but what I didn't expect was for me to feel different using a hackamore. I have to say it is an experience I can't at all put into words. Everything was different in a way that is not definable. And Steen was with me. He was so with me I can hardly believe it. He was carrying his head with a built in tuck, ready to collect at a touch on the reins. He was noticeably and startlingly better at stopping (so so so sooo much better), backing, yielding the forequarters, and neck-reining. He was about the same on most everything else, except short-serpentines, which he wasn't quite as good at. I think he was a bit confused about what I wanted since the bosal always exerts a bit of pressure on the top of the nose as well as the side in a turn. We worked on it a few times, and each time after he gave me the bend I wanted, I let him stop and rest and then we switched to something else for a while.

All in all, it went far better than I had dared to hope. Of course I know this doesn't mean all Steen's problems have magically solved themselves, and I do think the novelty of the sensation of the bosal was working in my favor and making him pay more attention than usual. I only worked at the walk and trot and didn't push any limits. I have no doubt I'll still use the snaffle at intervals for some time, to revisit the weak points I turn up in the hackamore. But that's half the point of using a hackamore, so it's no big deal to move back and forth for a while. And when I got home and saw the photos Brian was so kind as to take, it was good to see that the ride looked as good as it felt. I can't wait to see how the next one goes.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 93:30

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