scottie the brave

Yesterday I rode for the first time in five weeks. Low expectations are my friend! I assumed that I would fall off and be crushed to death beneath Scottie’s iron-shod hooves, so I was quite pleased when instead I managed to more or less keep up with the-other-Erin and Sarah, who are very good, and only make two or three terrible mistakes. Scottie’s in a new bit: a jointed rubber pelham with a curb chain. He was in a slow twist eggbutt snaffle, or something like that. How awesomely English and perverse are the old horse bit names? The rubber mouthpiece makes the pelham a gentler bit, and gives him something to chew, which he loves. The curb chain supplies the emergency brakes.

I was slow to adapt to the change. Scottie’s carrying himself better, because he’s more comfortable in this hardware and happier generally. Just as Bella did last year, he’s spent a few months settling into the barn and putting on weight, and now he’s a mellower and more cheerful horse. You can feel the muscles of his back relaxed and loose and warm. I guess that means I am sitting better, too? I get some undeserved credit for my riding improving on the sale horses when it is the horses themselves that are filling out and calming down in the kind and wise McIntosh program. But that’s quite okay with me!

Anyway, slow to adapt, yes: we were warming up in the dressage arena and I was fussing with his head, when I should have been just getting him to move forward. Bad Rach! I must not fuss with heads! As soon as I kept my hands still he did move forward. A lovely thing about Scottie is that he isn’t lazy, as all my great and perfect chestnut horses, Alfie, Noah and Bella, absolutely were or are. I’ve become so accustomed to nagging at horses and pushing them with my seat that my lower leg swings like a pendulum. This is an appalling fault! I need to keep my leg very still and just apply pressure with my calf. The great pleasure of riding Scottie is that when I do this, when I press him gently into a light but secure contact, he sort of surges forward with a great generous wave. It’s so beautiful it takes your breath away.

So of course the other awful and counterintuitive thing I did was to try to mess with that awesome forwardness. We went into the jumping arena and started an exercise cantering figure-of-eights over a pole on the ground. The other Erin went first on her big hot dark bay, and he tried to run off with her, as he does (he has improved out of sight since I saw him last; he used to go straight up in the air or backwards, and now he is going forwards, which is key.) Apparently while watching this I decided that Scottie was liable to run through it as well, so I rode the exercise hanging on the reins for grim death, thus guaranteeing that he would.

It was instructive. I’ve tried to avoid antagonizing Scottie on the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to cope. He did get shirty, and was well within his rights to do so, given my death grip on the reins, which clearly violates the terms of the international convention on equine rights. But Scottie’s definition of naughty, like his definition of a hard mouth, fall well short of the insane brumbies in twisted wire bits I used to hurtle around on as an immortal teenager (hi, Hawkeye!). So his little cow-hops and evasions were not even particularly frightening, let alone dislodging, and when I did sort myself out and reinstate an appropriate contact, he cantered with his big rocking-horse cadence again and I remembered that riding properly is nicer in every way.

And then he was spooked by a person behind the hedge and did a teleport to the left, but I stayed on him, and we went to chat to the person behind the hedge, and Scottie snorted disgustedly a few times and went back to being a cow pony ridden on the buckle. All in all it was a splendid Sunday afternoon.

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