It’s a little hard to believe, but we’ve had Aiden for seven months now. In that time, he’s transitioned from a scrawny, shaggy, wormy creature who would sooner walk over the top of you than listen to you, into a sweet, plump, soft guy who is respectful and quiet in most circumstances.
Because of the way the number and type of horses we had over the summer played out, I’ve done most of the work with Aiden. Now that Oliver is gone and Brian is busy with Nevada and Laredo, this is going to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m finding I like Aiden more the more I work with him.
Since Aiden is getting ridden more by K than by me lately, I’ve been using our rides mostly to just check in with all the basics, polishing up anything that seems a little rusty, and then fiddling around with whatever I happen to be curious about or interested in on any given day. One of the Richard Caldwell videos we watched recently brought me some new awareness and understanding about how important it is to be able to influence and elevate the shoulder. With Steen, working on this has helped us have better balance in turns and better canter departures. So I’ve been playing on building that up in Aiden as well.
When I rode Aiden last weekend, I was feeling like the snaffle was getting in my way a little. The thing I don’t always love about the snaffle is how noisy/sloppy it is. By design, it’s got a lot of flex and pivot points, and where it sits in the horse’s mouth is going to change depending on the horse’s head position, the amount of slack in the reins, what the horse is doing with his mouth/tongue, etc..
Beyond that, more and more, I’m just increasingly attracted to the traditional Vaquero philosophy of training a horse via signal rather than direct pressure. There is a bit of a debate in the tiny sliver of the horse world we align and identify with on whether horses should be started in snaffles or hackamores and which method is superior in what ways. For a long time, I felt I didn’t know enough to really have much of an opinion beyond repeating what I’ve heard said by horsemen I admire. While in reality, both the snaffle and the hackamore are just tools that can be used or abused in the hands of any horseman, lately both Brian and I seem to be gravitating towards a preference for the hackamore. Brian is starting Nevada in the hackamore, with no plans to introduce a snaffle anytime soon.
So, yesterday I decided to ride in a hackamore instead. Since Aiden is essentially new to the traditional hackamore, I used a 5/8″ rawhide bosal with a 5/8″ mane hair mecate tied on.
Aiden’s worst habit under saddle is a tendency to get a little heavy on the forehand. Ride to ride, the extent to which this happens varies, but during my ride last weekend I worked on this a lot. At the start of the ride, he felt like he wasn’t getting his haunches underneath him as much as I would have liked. The shoulder lifting exercises I mentioned helped, and by the end, we’d more or less worked through it. But yesterday, in the hackamore, we started out balanced from the get-go. Of course it’s impossible to say whether or not the headgear had much to do with it (it’s not like Aiden was heavy on the forehand every single ride until then) but one neat thing about the hackamore is the way the the knot hangs below the chin encourages the horse to find the point at which the noseband balances properly. A good bosal and hanger have been designed to help the horse find a balance point that encourages proper movement.
In addition to feeling like his balance was better, Aiden and I just had a particularly fabulous ride. We had some our best canter departures ever, and I worked for the first time on jumping him straight out of backing into the canter. I got all his leads every time, (we had a phase right after I took him back over from Brian when he wasn’t wanting to give me the left lead). He was considerably softer to the hackamore than he generally is to the bit, and I felt he was moving off my legs with more life as well.
While I was trotting figure eights with essentially no input from the reins, it occurred to me that I can now get more done with Aiden than any other horse I’ve ever ridden (including Laredo) other than, of course, Steen. Now that Aiden is a healthy weight and his back has gained strength, he’s a really balanced, robust horse with good movement and a really nice attitude. At times, I actually ‘forget’ from moment to moment that he’s not Steen, and when that happens I find we get even further. It’s amazing how subconscious expectations can hold you back.
Of course, there are other moments as well – moments when I shift my weight in a way that Steen would understand and Aiden doesn’t pick up on the cue at all. But that’s happening less and less.
We probably won’t keep Aiden long term. But in different circumstances, I think he could have been a horse I could happily have invested a whole lot of time in.
Horseback Hours YTD: 204:35