I'm either brave or stupid - I haven't quite figured out which - but sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do.
Last night was my third ride on Tiki for Project Pony Swap. I had just ridden Sparky - who was very good - in his Duo bit, so his "bad boy" copper-rolly-ball pacifier had just been removed from his bridle. And Tiki's bridle was bitless. And Honorary Big Sister Jen had mentioned that she sometime wanted to try Sparky's "bad boy" copper-rolly-ball pacifier on Tiki. No time like the present! And, well, I didn't really want to ride in the dressage saddle last night, either. At least I'm somewhat honest about my motives.
So I rode Tiki in Honorary Big Sister Jen's jump saddle and Sparky's bit. And it was the worst ride I've ever had on Tiki - not that I've really had that many. As I was getting Tiki ready, he seemed fresh and a bit pissy. Well, when it's suddenly 45 degrees and windy, I can understand the fresh part. We went up to the arena, and again started with the usual W-T-C on a loose rein. Immediately, I knew I was in for a tricky ride. Even on a loose rein, Tiki usually bends relatively correctly around turns. Not so last night. I felt like I was riding a sluggish board. He did seem to like the bit at least somewhat, however - I could hear him playing with it and sucking on it.
I worked with Tiki for quite a while, trying to gain some semblance of "in front of the leg" and "correct bend." It improved slightly, but he still just felt tight. At one point, I got off him and lunged him each direction for a minute to see if he was off. He seemed fine, but obviously I needed to change my game plan. So I pulled off the saddle.
Now, like any rider, I have my weaknesses. But the one thing I do know is that I have a good seat. I was hoping to use this in two ways: #1) Maybe I could convince Tiki to loosen up by him only feeling a nice, following seat, rather than a saddle that may or may not be in the usual place (Jen typically sets her saddle further forward than I; I tried to get it in the same place, but maybe I didn't); #2) Maybe it would help me stay on! (Because you know, riding a horse you don't ride that often bareback on a chilly, windy night is so often a good idea).
I remounted and after trotting for a little bit, finally felt like maybe we we getting somewhere. We never found that same, really nice, swingy trot that we had last week, but at least I wasn't riding a board; we found some bend, but Tiki still didn't think being in front of my leg was a great idea. Worked on that a bit, and once the trot was decent, I decided to move up into a canter, just to have some positive canter work. The canter was decent, but certainly not to where I could try any "cantering in a teacup" or magical "closing my knee = collection." But we did have bend, and we did have acceptance of the bit, so I called it good.
I didn't want push for too much longer, because my primary goal once I went to bareback was to just finish with something remotely positive. I had noticed, however, that I could not for the life of me sit up. One of my favorite off-color expressions (warning: parental guidance suggested; language) is that riders need to have shoulders like a princess and hips like a whore. There were definitely no princess shoulders goin'on. More like Quasimodo. I was completely collapsed in my abs, and though by this point Tiki was going relatively well, I knew I couldn't be very effective riding like that. We came back to a walk, and I adjusted my seat, sliding back a little bit from where I'd been sitting. Like magic, I could suddenly sit up. Now, I'm really not sure how the mechanics of that work, but I'll take it. We spent a few more minutes at the trot, Tiki going pretty well and me not looking like I belong hidden in a bell tower of Notre Dame. Walked a few minutes, then dismounted. I had wanted to also try the concept of "floating my hands" for the halt transition, but I knew better than to tempt fate. We had managed to finish positively; I wasn't going to push my luck.
I will be interested to see how Honorary Big Sister Jen likes Sparky's "bad boy" bit for Tiki; I'm reserving judgement on everything for now, because our rough time last night could have been due to any number of factors. I felt that there was significantly less "head tilt is the same as bend, right?" coming from Tiki last night; I don't think there is ever a less-than-stellar ride without some good attributes. And if I had not ridden Tiki bareback, I don't think I would have become quite so aware of my own issue with collapsing through my core. Part of the point of Project Pony Swap is to help improve us as riders, as well. I know that I will now be hyper-vigilant regarding my core.