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Awkward Llama

Good Rides

After feeling ‘blah’ for several weeks, I think I’ve finally turned a corner and am getting my mojo back. After writing down all the things I’m not happy with, I’ve put a few into practice and am already feeling better. So far I’ve really focused on two things: getting the horses moving forward off my leg, and increasing Miles’ topline musculature. I’ve tried a few different approaches, and I feel like I have a good plan in place now for both issues.

Forward and In Front of the Leg

To get Miles to respect my leg aids, I combined Jane Savoie’s Test strategy with the time old leg, spur, stick technique. I’m constantly experimenting with different spurs and sticks with Miles, because he quickly gets either dead to them, or decides he hates them and throws a fit. For this exercise, I found a long dressage whip and a pair of Stubben Rubber Covered Soft Touch Spurs to be most effective. Miles really respects the long dressage whip, and these spurs have become my favorite as of late.

Brushing Miles

I started this exercise at the walk, as soon as I got on. I wanted a forward, marching walk and I repeated at each gait, asking for a medium, working pace and going to an extended pace. It didn’t take long for Miles to figure out what was going on, and he started to get a little jiggy and anticipatory. I dropped the whip, and while he wasn’t quite as responsive, he was still much improved. Each ride since then, I’ve done the same exercise, just sans dressage whip. I’ve added in collected gaits as well, so we can go from collected walk, to medium walk, to extended walk, without nagging. So far, the exercise has stuck!

I also spoke at length on this issue with trainer in our last lesson, and she too made me feel much better. She mentioned that the trick with Miles is to keep his brain engaged with new and interesting exercises. He tunes out and gets grumpy when he’s bored. So I need to constantly make an effort to change things up, and get out of the ring. Some days Miles needs to not work hard, so he learns not every ride will be difficult and full of things he doesn’t really love to do. Unfortunately it’s been pouring buckets here ever since this conversation, so I haven’t really had a chance to get out of the ring. But I have done two things: one ride I cooled out bareback the other day, and let Miles pretty much wander wherever he wanted to and after another ride, we walked around the barns to get out of the ring.

Canter Forward

Improving the Topline

I take a lot of pride in how my horse looks, and right now Miles’ topline really sucks. It’s not as bad as when he first came, but it’s not good either. It’s definitely all my fault, as I’ve been neglecting it in favor of working on forward and jumping… but the topline is so, incredibly important for everything we ask our horses to do. So I tried some regular horse size bungees… and that was a total bust. Miles would barely walk forward in them. So then I tried some oversize bungees, and while those worked better, they were almost too big and I just didn’t quite love them. So I thought back to when Miles had an awesome topline and realized the only thing that’s changed since then is his bit.

Awkward Llama

I know Miles loved the single-joined Happy Mouth D-Ring… it just wasn’t enough for those few moments over fences that I really needed more. And when I needed more, if I didn’t have it, I ended up in the dirt. So I feel pretty justified in switching to the Waterford. But I also know Miles just doesn’t relax down in that bit nearly as well as he does in the Happy Mouth. So I figured, why not? and threw the Happy Mouth back on. And BAM, within 10 minutes of trot work, Miles was stretching way down. For now, I’m going to flat in this bit, so that I can really work on stretching down, and increasing the muscles in Miles’s topline. I’ll have to be a little bit mindful of Miles’s mood, because he can get sassy on the flat too, so if I find myself with that horse underneath me, and we’re in the Happy Mouth, I need to back off and not get us into a bad situation. But I think this is the right choice for now.


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

8 thoughts on “Good Rides

  1. Sounds like a solid plan you’re working on! Most of my horses over the years had a different bit for jumping than they do for flatting, and I think you’re seeing that with Miles. Thanks for the reminder about the leg, spur, stick exercise… I think I need to get back to that with my OTTB. Isn’t if funny how these race horses can be so pokey?

  2. it makes a LOT of sense to use different bits for flatting vs jumping – most event horses go in one bit for dressage and something entirely different for stadium and xc (and there are even plenty that have separate bits for the two jumping phases too haha). it’s awesome that you have a bit you know he’ll stretch and push into, and another that is guaranteed to work when things get dicey over fences!

  3. Well done noticing that bit correlation! I definitely think different bits for flatting and jumping are smart ideas for horses who get a bit too strong over fences.

  4. I know a lot of people take issue with them, but I’ve found that when Val is really getting stuck, throwing on draw reins for one or two rides makes all of the difference. I have to make sure our go button is installed well before I really hold any contact in them, but as long as he never feels behind my leg they work really well to help him understand exactly what I’m asking for. I never actually get them very snug, but they still get the job done and then we can have some really nice rides after as well. I pull them out maybe once a month. If you’ve not used them before I’d suggest working with your trainer to figure out where they work best, because they function slightly differently based on where they’re attached.

    It’s entirely possible you know all of this and choose not to use draw reins and that’s cool too. Just thought I’d pass along what has worked for us, since Val has a similarly weak topline naturally.

  5. I do the exact same thing with my bits—and they’re basically the same ones as yours! Ax loves my french-link Happy Mouth for flatting but he just gets too spunky over fences in it, especially at shows. My waterford is reserved for showing, strong days, and jumping. I find that horses who don’t need the waterford for a constant leaning on the bit problem have a hard time stretching into contact in it since it is so flexible. There isn’t much to stretch into.

  6. For topline def do hill work. We are lucky to have some great hills and it makes all the difference to do trot sets up and down them (trot not canter as trotting is more of a challenge). I give Ember a looser rein to encourage her to really use her back and stretch. It works like a charm.

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