The weather has been beautiful lately, so I've been taking every opportunity I can to ride. Last week I was actually able to ride with Honorary Big Sister Jen for the first time in ages. She had set a few jumps in the arena for us to use... I was happy to see that they were set closer to "Sparky height" than "Star height," as I had planned on riding Napolean first.
Fresh on the heels of what I had gleaned from the Greg Best clinic, I had made the decision to try a new bit on Sparky. Sparky is an interesting horse... he will get behind the bit on the flat, but sometimes "makes a bid" for the jumps and gets a little strong. In my lesson with Jen's-Boss-Lady, it was mentioned that the George (that would be George Morris, demi-god of all hunter-jumperdom) would likely suggest a little twist in the mouthpiece for Sparky. Jen's-Boss-Lady said she wasn't sure she would agree with that... mainly it was put out there as an idea to consider. It started me thinking that maybe I would start flatting him in a milder bit, and keep his current bit (JP full cheek with copper rolly-ball) just for jumping. I didn't at all consider putting Sparky in a twist; knowing my horse, I knew that was not the right answer.
In the Greg Best clinic, Greg changed many horses to bits that were softer than their current mouth hardware. He wanted the horses to not be afraid of contact, and he wanted the riders to not be afraid of contact. In other words, he wanted the riders to be able to maintain contact with the horse's mouth over the jump without inflicting pain on the horse due to the horse being overbitted. If the horse is still going willingly forward into contact and not making ugly faces or acting out, then the horse is not overbitted. ("Bit to the horse's sensitivity level, not the horse's energy level").
With this in mind, I tried a loose ring Nathe on Sparky. I had already been toying with the idea of trying it on the flat, but decided that there was value to trying it when jumping, as well. So, new bit in hand, er, mouth, we started out. Aside from the fact that Sparky would. not. bend. at. all., it was a good ride. The not bending was later revealed to have been likely due to my brand-spankin' new Ariat Westchester dress boots and subsequent inability to really use my leg. The first jump we approached was the biggest crossrail Sparky has ever seen (~2' at the center), so of course, he said, "No, thanks." Little turd. I wasn't expecting him to hesitate - I mean, it's a crossrail - so I hadn't done enough to prevent his stop and detour. So we tried again, and it was no problem, except for a little over-jumping. I'm telling ya, 4' will be NO problem for this horse... once he stops jumping 4' over 2', that is.
After the crossrail a couple times, then moved on to the line consisting of the stacked cavaletti and the cabinet. The cav stack was only about 2' and the cabinet is 18", so I knew it would be no problem. The point was to keep Sparky listening to me and going straight. Set on a "regulation" four-stride distance, Sparky did six strides. Okay, well, at least he's listening to me and not running off! We did the line a few times, and Sparky was very good each time. The halt at the end of the line sometimes got wiggly, be overall, he did a good job of staying straight before, between, and after the jumps. And he continued to listen to me, even with the next-to-nothing Nathe bit. We called it good with that.
I jumped Sparky around again on Sunday; this time we did all the jumps (I lowered a couple from where Jen had set them previously). We again focused on straight and listening, but also threw in "no refusing" and "right lead" (as in opposite of left). Sparky was pretty much as perfect as I could ask. He worked his little butt off for me and jumped over everything with no problem at all. We continued to work on straight and on staying consistent. The four-stride line was done in five strides every time on Sunday. I'm okay with this, because you can always ask a naturally forward horse for "more forward;" it's the idea that sometimes "whoa" is needed that is often more difficult. All in all, a very good day for my little Napolean... maybe there's hope, yet!