Why bareback? Why Not!

Today we had a visit from Julien, the horse dentist.  When he gets the electric drill out and you see the horses’ teeth smoking, I can’t believe how brave they are.  Aly has to have the manual rasp, as he is genuinely fearful of the electric drill, but Pom and the Pie brace themselves stoically.

Julien’s regular visits and diet recommendations have really helped to reduce Aly’s predisposition to colic, and I set great store by his advice.  He travels to Newmarket, the Middle East, America and Australia to see to some very upmarket teeth, so we count ourselves lucky that he is a local boy and is faithful to his local clients. 

My current problem with Pom is that if he gets at all excited he pulls like a train.  I try every which way to keep a light hand and every trick in the book, (circling, shoulder in, half halts, etc.) to steady him, aiming in particular for a steady rhythm in walk. It’s a pace he performs balletically in the field when he thinks no-one’s looking – my dressage judge friend calls him, maybe ironically, Mr. Ballet Shoes – but we just ain’t got rhythm when I’m aboard.

When I bought Pom his previous owner donated the bit she’d been using;  a “Goyo” bit – like a Kimblewick, straight bar with shallow port, some leverage on the poll and curb chain – you see it worn by many Iberian horses.  I worried that it was quite severe, and tried him in a full-cheeked snaffle to be sure of steering.  His vision in one eye is slightly impaired, and I notice I have to choose footing more carefully when riding him on uneven terrain than with other horses.  However, there are times when I feel I’m only going to be safe if I use his old bit.

I thought – perhaps Julien will have pearls of wisdom to offer here!  He was chatting about visiting clients in Spain next week.  So I explained my concerns about using this strong bit and asked if it could be causing damage to the bars where it lies in Pom’s mouth.  What mysteries of Spanish horsemanship would Julien reveal…….? 

“Oh, Spanish horses – they all pull,” was his verdict!

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Forthright opinions are a French speciality.  Coming from an English background inhibited by politeness and avoiding causing offence at all costs (well, mostly!) even after 25 years living in France the direct approach sometimes takes me aback.  Everyone seems to have a strong opinion, and neither lack of expertise, nor even basic knowledge restrain the liberal distribution of unsollicited advice.  At an international level this Olympic degree of opinionatedness makes for a nation supremely confident in its own ways which brooks no argument or watering down by other cultures.   The result of this stubbornness is probably what makes the French way of life so unique and so very enviable!

The French, outside of the big cities (of which there are very few) don’t generally hold with funny foreign food or taking holidays outside the “hexagone” or at a pinch, the DOM-TOMs (overseas departments and territories, ie. ex-colonies).  Apart from pressing reasons of employment or study, few would be mad enough to move outside a country which does mountains, riviera, forests, farmland, coasts and cities, culture, cuisine and terroir like no other.  So the French can’t understand people who move outside their own country for no good reason.  Whilst it’s very flattering;  those of us strangers who come to live in France are never going to know how to do anything properly – the French way!

We genially suffered a fair amount of this when we were doing building work, on our own and other peoples’ houses, but the same applies when it comes to horses.  Just one example of many;  the guy who came to read the electricity meter asked if the crate of apples he saw in the barn was for the horses.  “You must cut them up very carefully, or the horses could get apples stuck in their throats” he warned us seriously. 

                                                                   *******************

So, why bareback?

I reflect upon the conundrum, (to simplify):  Spanish horses pull/typical Spanish bits are lever/curb action affairs.  The wonderful “wound-up spring” of curbed power which Iberian horses present in action is surely a much more subtle matter of training.   However, though I feel pretty secure on Pom when fully equipped with saddle and bridle, it’s obvious he doesn’t feel completely secure with me up top.

Fifteen months into our relationship, we’ve overcome our initial misgivings and my bet on Pom – initially insecure and aggressive – was that almost overpowering him with kindness and security would surprise him into giving back the same.  On the ground, I’ve been lucky;  an instinctive strategy worked.

Now I need him to be confident in me when I ride him.  It’s almost worse than riding a green horse.  It’s evident he’s had very little training, but what he has had seems to have been negative.  I’m no training expert, but I’m learning my horse. And my horse bows to his bit, but he’s neither relaxed nor happy when wearing it.

After the dentist and an afternoon break, Pom was willing enough to be caught and led down to our schooling area, now ideal going after a few warm, dry days.  Kind husband gave me a leg up and, bareback, in just an ordinary headcollar with a long cord attached to either side of the noseband, we just worked our walk and trot, moving the quarters around, bending and circling, stopping and starting;  hopefully making it a pleasure for us both, and finishing before we got bored.  Just getting a closer feel for each other.  And he didn’t get excited and he didn’t attempt to get away ….    It’s a stage on the road to mutual confidence and I hope we can build on that.

I have no idea if this is anybody else’s, or expert’s way of training.  I am willing to listen to anyone who has advice to give on being at one with your horse – and the internet is so wonderful in enabling us to access so many experts with so many opinions. A bit like religions, they can’t all be right, so until I find a “live” instructor who is right for us, we’ll have to carry on following our instinct (we’ll be keeping the bareback stuff at home) and a pick-and-mix of all the experts out there – a huge thanks for your generosity! 

I don’t know exactly why, but Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” seems a good theme tonight. 

May the horse be with you,   Cav’a

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About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in '86, blogging - with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation - about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness.........
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7 Responses to Why bareback? Why Not!

  1. ptigris213 says:

    Hello, I am new to word press, but not to blogging. I was surfing today and found your website. I like the title!!
    Um, regarding bareback? I love it. I advocate it wholeheartedly. I recently began leasing “Hank” after a seven year horseless period in my life. Having never had a formal riding lesson in my life, I learned (from a friend) that I ride like a dressage rider does, three point. So I got a book: “The Classical Seat” and because I don’t feel like shopping for a dressage saddle to fit Oh So Round Hank, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to ride bareback in order to: develop my seat, improve my balance, turn laziness (don’t want to clean saddles, just toss my breeches in the wash machine) and indulge myself in enjoying the feel or a horse beneath me. Besides, I just prefer bareback.

    There is no better way, in my humble opinion, to learn how to ‘listen’ to your horse. If I sit correctly, I can drop the rein on Hank and he’ll go walking the arena for hours..which is all to my good. I can even close my eyes and listen to my body and his.
    I also took him out of the big honking curb bit the owner’s daughter rode him in. He’d been trained in “””western”” “Pleasure”, which means….drag his head in the dirt. I took the bit out of his mouth, put him in an English hackamore, and voil a’, his head came up, his ears pricked and he was a lot happier.

    My new blog is “thehorsemaster.wordpress.com If you like, you may comment there……it’s still under construction, as I just began it the other day.
    I have another: http://themasterseye.blogspot.com
    but Google, much as I love the email service, isn’t so reliable in locating their own blogs.

    Anyway, my name is Michelle.

    Like

    • Hi Michelle – glad to know you feel the same way – Hank is a lucky horse to have found you. It’s great to just go with your instinct and the closeness with your horse is such a wonderful reward when it goes right; I think riding a horse has got to be a pleasure for both of you! I look forward to reading your blog……

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      • ptigris213 says:

        I noticed how Pie, your husband’s horse, is shedding out. Wow. Have you ever clipped him? Or used a shedding blade? It doesn’t seem to matter, no matter how much hair you take off of a horse, he still seems to hang on to it. Or half of it ends up in your mouth (pftpftpft..one time my husband finally said, “OK, are you going to cough up that hairball?”) Needless to say, it’s pretty hard to spit out a horse hair.
        Our horses here aren’t shedding just yet. We had snow last week. But today I was scrubbing Hank and found hair loosening, so it’s only a matter of time.

        You will learn to love bareback. At least in my case, my back and hips just naturally fall into line. You may have troubles staying aboard this summer, when your horse is slick as a seal. I found that wearing half chaps helps a lot. But balance is the key.
        There’s an old saying: the closer he is to nature, the happier your horse is. And that is what I’ve found with the horses I ride bareback.

        I like your blog voice. You have a very good way of stating things.

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      • Many thanks for your comment Michelle – and for making my day a second time! (It definitely needed making today as it began with a letter from our insurer refusing to pay in full over a recent claim, which had me spitting feathers.) A couple of things – I’ve been catching up with your blog “the masters eye”. You really know horses, and your posts on subjects from zoos, how to deal with cats and dogs, the whole history of you and Hank, the World Games – so glad you cheered for Fuego – had me riveted (in a good way).

        Re Pie – hairballs, yes! Until the last few years, when they got a bit more fragile, our old horses, Aly and Pie “lived out” all the time, with field shelter. Our winters are fairly kind – apart from the last two. A day or two of snow in winter has been the norm, with temps. dipping just into freezing at night for a couple of months. As our demands on their time and effort were pretty minimal when they were so-called working and as they’re now retired, (Aly short of breath and Pie stiff of hips) I must admit I never thought of clipping them! I agree with the saying
        about being close to nature – hard as it is to adhere to sometimes. Now they have comfy boxes in our old barn at night and blankets when the temp really drops, but the good side of them being in is that if ever there are squabbles over food and pecking order during the day, everyone gets the chance to eat their fill and the rest they need overnight.

        Re bareback: these days I dread getting injured (borderline osteoporosis – how prehistoric does that make me sound?!) and wouldn’t ride bareback outside of home (don’t know if you saw earlier posts about my bareback-riding friend Patrick?) but you got me thinking about how, as a teenager on my first pony, riding out with my friend, we loved to go up to a forestry area which had wide sand firebreak “roads”; perfect for galloping, bareback and probably bareheaded – can you imagine kids being allowed to do that today? That’s really inspired me to think about the past a bit for my next post!

        The dapple grey on your header for the wordpress blog is a dead ringer for my Pom – not Hank, not Jordan….? Regards, Stella (if I can work out how, I will transfer this comment, or make another to your wordpress blog comment site).

        Like

  2. ptigris213 says:

    Hi, Stella,

    No, Hank is a chestnut and Jordan was a fleabit grey Arabian. No, I am ashamed to say, I lifted that picture of a grazing grey off the internet. If I ever find it again, I shall credit the photographer.
    BOY don’t I know about osteoporosis, and no, if I have it at 56, you aren’t any more a dinosaur than I am. I’m taking Boniva for it. It’s caused some problems but I do NOT want to end up with a humped back, all twisted, and break my hips like my grandmother did.

    And after that Olympian dressage rider, Kourtney (?) had her head injury, no way do I ever get horseback without a helmet on. I can see it now…”woman decapitated in fall from horse…but head was perfectly intact because it had a helmet on.” 😉

    The nice thing about riding older, broken horses…so to speak…is they aren’t so inclined to rub you off against a tree and then gallop home. That being said, I am not comfortable enough with Hank yet to go out on him bareback. Jordan was…….well, he was Arabian. So he had at least one spook a day in him. But he was short, and I’ve learned…it’s far easier on my bones to fall off a 14.3 horse than a 16.3 horse.

    And no way am I going to use the owners monster western saddle. It weighs almost as much as I do. And it’s western. I mean, I guess western is okay, but I prefer bareback, and if I must have a saddle, then it’s a dressage or english saddle.

    Clipping is..well, it’s an art. The first time I ever clipped a horse, it was with a tiny ‘finishing clipper” on Jordan. Oh my god. I botched the job so badly that Jordanwouldn’t come out of his shed for three days. I also burned out the clipper. But, being that he had Cushings, I had to clip him four times a summer, so I learned. I got a sheep shearing machine and after three or four bouts, I could have him out of his winter jammies in about an hour. And it looked neat. My best advice for clipping is: give him a good bath about a week BEFORE you clip him. Stand him downwind of you so that you don’t end up with all that hair. Don’t ever clip a muddy (or wet)horse…it is like mowing a muddy lawn, and the blades on the machine are NOT cheap. Put the hair out for the birds, and you will find your bird boxes full of it, making soft little nests for babies.

    The other thing you could use to get Pie out of his fur coat is a shedding blade. Do they have that in Europe? It’s basically a foot long (sorry, but we Yanks refuse to do metrics) piece of aluminum that has serrations on one edge. Leather handles on each end make it into a sweat scraper like deal, but it removes hair, not sweat. And you can tie the two leather handled ends together to form a curry comb.

    I’m still learning my way around Word Press, too, so not to worry.

    Like

    • Michelle, you are wonderfully fast! I agree with you in almost everything, ….I take on board what you’re saying about clipping, but am content to let our boys shed at their own pace – with a bit of curry comb help (lazily perhaps), because the warmer weather is so come-and-go and we are not demanding much of them, I find the horses are better than me at deciding how much they want to shed!!

      Forgive me if I’m brief; it’s bedtime for me now and I’m getting too dozy to make sense, but just to say I’m 56 too….. and really appreciating your feedback.

      Hank is gorgeous, you are obviously under the spell. Do put him on your header.

      Stella X

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  3. ptigris213 says:

    Hi, Stella,

    Never thought of putting Hank up there. That’s not a bad idea. I think I’ll have Dennis (my husband) take another picture of him. This time in the ‘altogether”…

    I don’t blame you for letting your horses shed out on their own. Honestly, the only reason I clipped Jordan was because he WOULDN’T shed out. He had Cushing’s Disease. I purchased him in March, and by June we realized he just wasn’t going to shed. Holy cow, just as you learned with Pie, Jordan lost about a hundred pounds just being clipped. In fact, that was when I learned he was fleabit, not normal grey.

    One of the women who boards her horse, a Lipizzan, at the barn is asking me to both clip Siglavi as well as teach her. This will be fun. He’s absolutely lovely. He’s snow white and has that lovely baroque look about him. I love greys, but oh gosh…after losing Jordan to Cushing’s, and trying to keep him clean..I give up on greys.

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