Sunday, November 03, 2013

First Ride in the Two-Rein

Today (after an excellent ride on Laredo) I rode Steen in the two-rein for the first time. It was definitely interesting. Steen took the spade willingly enough, but once he had it in his mouth he spit it out. I gave him a moment and put it in again, holding it in place gently with my hands while he explored it, then slipping the headstall on when he didn't try to jettison it again. I let him stand there for a while. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of those first few minutes. He was making some funny faces, though he was clearly not upset, scared, or in any discomfort.

After a little while, he settled down and started rolling the cricket and looking more like his usual self. Hearing the cricket made me happy, because that's a sign the horse is relaxed enough to work their mouth, and is at least on the right track towards accepting the bit.

After he seemed relaxed standing there wearing the bit, I took him to the indoor arena. I walked him around for a while, and he was rolling the cricket and showing no signs of any sort of agitation. So I hopped on.

The extra reins felt awkward at first, but since I was keeping the romal reins longer and only engaging the mecate, it wasn't all that different from what I'm used to. Still, in the early part of the ride all the work I've done on leg-only steering payed off. We started with circles and figure-eights and I didn't use my hands at all. Steen was even more relaxed walking than standing, and soon we were walking and trotting circles and figure eights while I experimented with different hand positions and he got used to the feel of the bit in his mouth.

And really, Steen did well. He stayed pretty ok with everything. He played with the cricket on and off throughout the ride, and was salivating a lot. At times he had a kind of funny expression on his face, but overall his demeanor was relaxed. Even though I wasn't using it, the bit did cause some changes in the way he moved. He was overall lighter on the front end, particularly with regards to how he moved his shoulder through turns.

After a  thorough warm up, we progressed to loping on the rail, followed by some simple lead changes. Never through any of it did Steen start to seem agitated or perturbed (and with Steen you know if something is bugging him). A couple of times when we were standing I gently engaged the spade, and he gave to it laterally and vertically without any confusion or fuss.

So, overall I'm pretty pleased with how the ride went. I had a slight worry the bit would not fit Steen, or wouldn't work for him. You read a lot about different horses having different needs in terms of what bit will work,  and I don't exactly have a dozen bridle bits for Steen to choose from. Fortunately, all signs seem to point to go. Brian took some photos and video, and even at higher speeds and in more complex maneuvers, Steen never braces or gets upset.

It's also interesting to feel how a horse moves wearing a spade. It's something I've heard about and read about and seen, but it's kind of impossible to quantify, now that I've felt it. Even one ride in, it's caused some small adjustments in the way I think about balance, particularly while turning, and I have a number of little things I'll be thinking about and feeling for the next time I ride Steen in the hackamore. My plan from here is to use the two-rein at intervals, and in between the two-rein rides, continue to refine and advance what we're getting done in the hackamore.

The first time I saw Buck in person, he talked about the bridle horse progression on the last day of the clinic. His words made an impression on me, mostly because I could tell how deeply he felt about this tradition, and this way of training horses. He said something along these lines:
"You might start teaching a horse these things in the snaffle, and you might think 'You know, this is good enough for me.' And maybe it will be. But then you might put a hackamore on that horse, and you're going to feel something different, and you're going to think, 'Wow, this is pretty great.' And then you're going to ride in the hackamore for a while, and one day you might wonder about the two-rein. And then you'll ride in the two-rein, and you'll feel something you never felt in the hackamore. And then maybe you'll work the two-rein until you're straight up in the bridle, and you're going to end up somewhere you couldn't have imagined when you started out. And then, when you're in the bridle and that's working for you, you're going to see all the things you could have done better in the snaffle, so you're going to want to start all over again."
I have to admit, when I heard him say this I had already 'decided' I was never going to be interested in progressing past the hackamore. Riding in two reins sounded complicated, and spades looked evil.

But Buck was right. When you ride this way, you train the horse to hunt a feel. What you don't realize at first is you're teaching yourself the exact same thing.

Ride Time: 1:05
Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback Hours YTD: 168:50


  1. Beautiful blog renovation. Beautiful spade (I chickened out and got a half-breed for Jake). And I've heard Buck say those words and I remember thinking I never would...

    Keep riding with that feel. It's therapeutic :)

  2. Thanks Suzanne. Yeah, we went back and forth on the half-breed/spade question. It was Steen's age and previous experience with bits that eventually decided us on a spade for him. I really wasn't sure how it would go, but so far so good.

    I can't wait to hear how things go for you as you get back to your horses. :)


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