Too deep or not too deep?
`On the bit' is for many a rather grey area. I also have been confused in my earlier days about this matter. However, as the years went on and with that experience increased, I have simplified the matter: when the horse goes too deep it has got to come up and when it goes too high it's got to come down.
We all know what is too high but when does your horse go too deep?
When the horse consistently wants to go to high it is not wrong to ride it too deep during training for a certain time, as on competition day it will probably end up just right. It is important though to be able to recognize when this position is becoming habitual and therefore difficult to change, with the result: a horse on the forehand. A naturally forward horse will start to move quicker than its natural rhythm and the lazier horse will go dead for the leg.
But what when you think that on competition day your horse was accurate, obedient and for the leg but not too fast, whereas your sheet tells you your horse is behind the bit? We must accept that our qualified judges should be able to notice whether a horse is correctly on the bit or not. However, this is the moment we enter the grey area. Can a horse be on the bit when it is actually behind the vertical? In my opinion: yes.
When a horse is advanced in its training and its head and neck carriage in the final position it must be on the vertical when competing, of course. But this surely means that when the horse is more novice and therefore more horizontal in its head and neck carriage but becoming more stretched in its top line, it inevitably will be a little behind the vertical. If not, it would be ahead of the vertical when reaching its final and more advanced position.
This position at novice level must go together with the horse tracking up and consistently and accurately performing the movements in the test. Then I do not think the judge should question the position of the head and neck. If the judge marks this horse and rider down and the rider takes this comment seriously it will stop their development to a higher level and that would be such a shame!
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I have given away my competition coat... To my goddaughter.....It wasn't difficult, to my great surprise. As a matter of fact, it was a very quick and spontaneous happening and a decision I shall never regret as the most wonderful and dedicated `pony-girl' was shining from ear to ear when she tried it on and looked at herself in the mirror. As I looked in the mirror with her I saw what I wanted to see: dreams of what that coat would be doing in the future, on which horse it would be sitting, which tests it would be riding and how well, of course.
I saw myself... in her. Is that dangerous? A little bit, but it's worth the risk.
My competition coat is a lucky one. Together with me that coat was very successful until Prix St. George when it was replaced with the so very much desired tails. I loved wearing it. It was, and still is, a beautiful woollen Pikeur dressage jacket, dark blue as I preferred that over black, blue was always my colour. It made me feel smart and ready for another good performance. Putting it on together with tying the stock always was a routine which had a certain quiet importance to it. It was a routine which put me in the right groove, gave me the right focus.
Do I miss it? No, actually. not anymore. I miss the horses I competed, Marie, my stalwart chestnut mare who surprized all who knew her with her fiery work attitude, in particular.
So, when do you stop competing whereas it has been a lifestyle for so long. For me it was clear. Fifty five years old and after Marie's sudden death, starting again with a young horse would not necessarily mean the same highs. And I did not want a slow decline after all that was achieved.
Is that weak? If others want to consider that weak, so be it. I never looked back and continue working with my wonderful pupils and their horses, who give me so much satisfaction and always make me sing out loud when driving home after their lessons. This is of course a luxury which hobby riders do not have.
It is a very personal decision and motivations will be different for every personality. The right timing is everything. Also making a good plan to fill in that time with something worthwhile. Fitness is an issue. Also, riding less means extra pounds. I replaced it with swimming lengths.
Occasionally I open the drawer filled with rosettes, with on the back written when and where and which class. A drawer full of indispensable memories. It was special and I hope for that to continue... with my goddaughter... because she wants it...badly.
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The thing you really don't want to think about
When you are thinking of buying a horse, there are lots of things you have to consider. One of the things to think about carefully is the one thing you never like to think about. One day your horse will probably have to be put down. Hopefully because of old age, sometimes because of an injury or a disease.
In the twenty five years I have owned horses I had to make that decision more than once. My farrier at the time, Brian Webber, gave me some great advice: You, as an owner should probably not be holding your own horse when it is put down. Your emotional state could very well worry your horse. Ask a dear and competent horse connection to do it for you.
It made sense at the time and several times I took his advice. The last one, however, my very loyal Prix St. George horse Marie, was a different matter altogether. She was not to be trusted with others and I knew it had to be me at the other end of the rope. It went as well as it possibly could….. for her. I was proud of the accomplishment, but traumatised.
It is different from a dog or a cat, somehow. That is because it’s so very big and to put it bluntly it makes a terrible thumping sound when this huge body lands on the ground. That’s what they call dead weight.
Also, for your vet it doesn’t make things any easier when confronted with your emotions. For them it is something that comes with the job but not something they enjoy doing. It is important for them, in order to do it right, to be able to concentrate and not to be distracted by your emotions.
So I do think my friend Brian was right. He had some more advice, though. He thought shooting was better than injecting. Being from Holland, it never occurred to me to have your horse shot. But I did see the point Brian tried to make about how quick it went and how slow sometimes the injection is. So I did that several times. Somehow, when it came to having to hold Marie, I could not face up to the shooting. Since that time I have held more horses when put down by injection. I honestly have never seen a horse worry and do not think there is much in it. Also, if your horse needed an operation it would go through the same initial thing.
A horse can’t think in the future so it does not know whether the injection is for getting better or in order to die.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: don’t wait too long and keep the suffering to a minimum. We owe them that, after everything they have done for us.
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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