Cheryl and Kahlua - photo by Shana Newman

Cheryl and Kahlua – photo by Shana Newman

I have always been taught that the act of a horse “coming up on the bit” was a gift. It only happens when your legs, seat, hands and balance are just perfect and the horse responds with this wonderful gift.

Perfection is what we dressage riders are always trying to achieve and to me having a horse come on to the bit is a sign of great accomplishment.

In all my years of training it was always conveyed that only the “GOOD” riders knew how to get a horse on the bit, that it should never be forced

With my old dressage warm blood, Dodger, if you put on some old real hardcore rock music, he would trot away from the mounting block roll up on to the bit and stay there until the song ended. We were schooling second level. I had it going on as a rider, I knew I was finally a “GOOD” rider or so I allowed myself to believe.

Then came Twister, completely green, his build is very baroque, so right from the start you could set his head, although his back would hollow out I let myself believe he was “on the bit”. As a person wanting to be a “GOOD” rider I’d give myself a pat on the back because his head look so good and I closed my mind to his back. Fortunately I wised up quick and worked to develop his back and hind, to develop true collection.

Then along came the Mare…Asking for even the slightest form of contact will send her into a hissy fit. Take up the reins and she begins to twist her ears, she will stomp her feet, snort, rip the reins out of your hand and toss her head straight in the air. I suck as a rider!!

I ended up with a slight tear in my rotator cuff and to protect it and give it a chance to heal I began using a martingale to help keep from her pulling on my arm. Things were going along great, she was getting softer and I healed. I don’t know who was more addicted to this training device me or her but when it came time to take the martingale off neither of us could ride without it.

I think the same trainer that told me only “GOOD” riders can ride on the bit also told me ‘if a horse gets above the bit it can kill you’. So every time the Mare tossed her head in the air I knew I was a split second away from dying and panic would strike.

Just short of a year ago I came to the new barn and new trainer. My goal was to be able to ride without the martingale; that was it. I had given up on everything else; I gave up on precision, perfection and enjoyment. I sucked as a rider. I could not let my husband or anyone know that I was a complete and total failure as a rider so I plugged along without any confidence.

It’s been a long road of rebuilding, not the horse but me the rider. I’m sure our trainer had no clue I was such a mess when I came to her. I don’t suck any more, well there are brief moments that I don’t. We are able to ride without the martingale and are on the road to new goals and enjoyment.


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