There is a lot of discussion about balance when it comes to horses, usually in reference to us as riders. We are always looking for a way to better position our bodies, create better harmony and sometimes, for ways to just not fall off of our horses.

But there is another kind of balance, how do you marry two disparate disciplines to find what will work for both and leave your conscious clear. Confused? Hold tight, let me explain.

If you are a new reader or a (very) faithful longtime reader, you will know that I am interested in a few horse related things:
1. Parelli/Natural Horsemanship
2. Dressage
3. Trail Obsticales
AND to be able to do them all with gaited and non-gaited horses. Talk about a perplexing set of interests. Here are some of the examples conflicts:

1. Unless you teach your gaited horses to trot, you can't officially pass some of the level Parelli 3 and 4 skills.
2. It is believed you cannot compete in USDF or USAE Dressage competitions with a gaited horse.
3. Can't pull a log in a trail obsticle course with a dressage saddle.

Not to mention that "purists" in many of the disciplines say that they can't be mixed. Crap, does that mean I have to pick one? Does that mean I can only be so 'savvy' with a gaited horse? Or never do dressage with a Paso Fino? Or not ride in a trail obsticle course with my dressage saddle?

No, my friends, it is all a matter of balance. I have spent much of the last few years finding that balance and developing the confidence to make the decisions that are best for my goals. It is imperative to be willing to take in new information, but you don't always have to choose to use it.

I will be taking lessons from someone who may suggest I use a flash on my horse, or perhaps even a tie down. These are things I have done, but I no longer wish to do. I am happy to take the suggestion, but ultimately, I am in charge. As I told Santana's owner when she took him home: You will get a lot of advice, but ultimately it is up to you to make the decision that is best for your horse, do what you think is right.

I might not ever be Parelli Level 4 or a riding Dressage Level 4, but then again, maybe I will. But whatever I achieve, it means I have done it with balance.

Tounge Relief

What exactly is tounge relief and why would you care about it? Well, first it is important to undertand the types of bit pressure. You can review my post on Types of Bit Pressure for a quick tutorial.

Many bits restrict the tounge, even though that may not be the main point of the pressure. The Myler's contend in A Whole Bit Better, that a horse generally needs more tounge relief as they get finished. That is possibly true, but what I really believe is, you will know when there is something wrong with your bit.

If your horse is biting at the bit, sticking out their tounge, avoiding opening their mouth here is something to think about: THEY ARE COMMUNICATING with you.

I have been such an idiot watching Precious fuss with her bit for a year then it dawned on me. She isn't just telling me, she is screaming at me. This bit is no longer working for her. Her bit has some tounge relief, which is the ability to move the tounge around and swallow. Many bits are so restrictive that horses cannot do these things.

However, her bit (pictured right) puts its primary points of pressure on the bars. For Precious, this was originally a godsend, she hated nose pressure, tounge pressure then all of a sudden we found the right combination of bar and curb pressure. But just like us, horses evolve. As the horse matures physically and in training, the horse might benefit from a different bit.

I have tried two "ported" bits. Basically a bit that allows for Precious to move her tounge around and swallow, but still retain the bar pressure that is so effective for her. I was highly successful my first day, putting her in the bit on the left. This bit (I had it in my bit box) does not have the curb action, although you can put a curb chain on it, I just didn't have the proper attachments. This was amazing for her, she was so collected and so soft. But it was just the first ride. One of the Myler brothers told me years ago, that you have to take several rides in your new bit to know if it is the right one. I only took one, however, because I wanted to ride with curb action on the bit, as this was designed. The action of the rings can cause it to twist in the mouth unless you have perfect had position without the curb chain, so while I am really not relying on the curb, I do need it to hold the bit together.

Today we rode in a Kimberwick, that has a nice wide port. It went well, required more contact, but will be appropriate for Juliana, Precious' primary rider. This gives her something that will give her more refinement, but still allows for correction if she needs it. The previous bit requires obedience by the horse and well, Precious isn't always known as obedient. In my mind, it is the reward for good behavior, so I will use it when she wakes up on the right side of the stall.


Tune Up

It has been a long time since I have posted on Learninghorses.com. Suffice to say, a lot has happened for me in the last year, but the most recent result is that I am now living back in Portland. I moved back a couple of weeks ago and I am enjoying the city life.

Precious will be staying at Synergy Stables, our farm in Junction City, OR. Phaedre will be with me at Heavenly Ranch in Banks.

For the short term, I have brought Precious up with me for a tune-up. I haven't ridden her much in the last couple of years and it shows. Nothing wild or crazy, but the soft collected horse is really going more for stiff and strung out. I'm trying to put it back together.

Here are some of the reminders I had to give to Precious today:

1. Whoa means stop. Not stop in 3 or 4 steps, but stop. To me, the whoa is the stopping of the forward movment of the horse. Basically, not pull back on your horse, instead, prevent him from going forward. If you are riding with contact this can be as simple as closing your hands on the reins and sitting deep in your seat and dropping weight in your stirrups. If you are preventing your horse from going forward and not asking him to go backward, what is he supposed to do?

2. Everything gets sloppy with speed. Slow down. If something isn't working at trot/gait or canter, perfect it first with the walk and work your way up. Precious and I spent most of our ride today at the walk. It was easier for me to remind her and easier for her to accomplish.

3. Leg does not mean speed. Precious wasn't bolting out from underneath me, but as I increased the leg cue, she wanted to travel faster. What is the message here? Remember to be consistent in how you ask. Make sure to have two different cues and never allow one to mean another.

4. Look where you are going. If you don't know where you want to go, neither would your horse. Do you look down at your shoes when you are walking? I think not. Have vision.

5. Be specific and ask specifically. Precious wouldn't stand next to the mounting block where I wanted her to. I had to move her over 4 times, but by the end, she knew exactly what I wanted. I didn't take 'close enough', I asked specifically and got specifically.

It was a fun ride and just amazing to remember how far my girl has come.