Monday, January 26, 2015

Side Reins - A Quandary

Every now and then you just have to bite your tongue, swallow your words, take things back.  I am now doing something I honestly never thought I'd do and have actively disapproved of and criticized from time to time.

I started using a "tie down" - in addition to my regular lesson with Daniela my dressage instructor I also requested a "minilesson" from her on lungeing since she has always told me to use side reins and finally convinced me, but I didn't want to start without her showing me how.  So now when I lunge Starbuck (Daniela has instructed me to lunge every other time I ride, so Sunday ride, Monday lunge, Tuesday ride, Wednesday lunge... although with the rain we've had and barn kitties to neuter it's been more like Sunday ride, Monday lunge, Tuesday lunge, Wednesday lunge, Thursday take the cat to the vet, Friday get the cat back from the vet...), after warming up in a "long and low" position at walk and trot without anything at all, I put on the side reins so her nose is just a couple of centimeters in front of the vertical when the reins are taut and do about 15 minutes of work (mostly trot with some transitions) before detaching them and doing some trot and canter work without them, then cooling off "long and low" again.

Instead of buying fancy side reins, Dani assured me I could simply use some old reins I had lying around - the kind made of cloth webbing with leather nubs every 4 inches or so - and tie them to the saddle girth or the surcingle.  They go straight from the bit to the girth (fixed point reins) and at the moment I'm tying them a little below the height where the girth is attached to the saddle.  The nubs help me remember exactly what length to tie them, too.  The idea is to see how this goes and then decide whether to keep using them and how, change to another type of auxiliary rein like sliding side reins or drop them altogether.  So far so good, right?

But here's the thing - even though I said yes to this, I am still terrified of the side reins.  I mean having-anxiety-dreams-about-them, keeping-my-hands-from-shaking-when-I-attach-them terrified.  In the past I've used elastic reins noce or twice when lungeing Starbuck and even a couple of times riding her in the roundpen for seat improvement exercises (no reins or no stirrups or no saddle or a combination thereof).  But they've always been loose enough that she could put her head up as much as she wanted, and I've never dared to use any other type of "tie down" mostly because I think it's the kind of thing that can very easily turn into a disaster by someone who's ignorant of how to do it.  I'm afraid I'll put her into a false frame her body won't be able to handle or ruin the sensitivity of her mouth or make her sore or sour or give her irremediable back injuries or cause her to flip over backwards and all other kinds of bad things.  However Daniela has assured me that none of these things are likely to happen as long as I use them correctly and responsibly at the exact length she's shown me to set them at for now and keep Starbuck moving forward.  Also, I figure with so many people I admire and respect using them (Daniela herself, Reiner and Ingrid Klimke, Sue Morris, Will Faerber, etc...) I shouldn't knock them until I've tried them.  And I have to admit, Starbuck looks so gorgeous in them that sometimes I get distracted just looking at her.

So here I am swallowing my words and steadying my hands, and hoping both that the benefits (like improved topline musculature, actually tracking up, steadier rhythm, better acceptance of contact, more impulsion and rounder movement) outweigh the risks and that in fact, the risks themselves will prove to be mostly a figment of my overactive, anxious imagination.  I'll keep you posted, in the meanwhile if anyone has any experience using auxiliary reins with their own horse for lungeing I'd be thrilled to hear it.

By the way two other random things to mention:

I changed bits a couple of weeks ago - started using a 13 mm three-piece full cheek snaffle.  It's thicker than the old D-ring and even though it's 100% stainless and doesn't have the fancy copper insets the D-ring does she definitely seems to like it better.  More slobber, more chewing and as soon as I put it in her mouth when bridling her she drops her head down.

And on the ridden portion of last Saturday's dressage lesson, Daniela pinpointed leg yielding and walk to canter to walk transitions as things to work on in the next two weeks, as well as continuing the shoulder in at walk to trot transitions.  I'm so glad my friend Cinthya decided to offer to take these lessons with me since Dani will only come for two people (she lives halfway across the island) and I feel like we learn so much.  On top of what I'm learning, Dani is very encouraging about Starbuck which makes me feel like as clueless as I was going into this (and still am now) I haven't screwed up too bad.

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