great scott

Scottie has been sold, this time for sure maybe (selling horses is a Byzantine process) so yesterday was (probably) my last ride on him. I was a bit meh about it, because Bella is so easy and fun and rewarding and with Scottie I have to be much more disciplined and correct and it’s much harder work. Sydney got to ride Bella, and I must shamefacedly confess to a moment of pure possessive bitchiness when I saw Sydney putting Bella’s bridle on.

It was an inauspicious day anyway. It had been raining all the way down to the barn and the weather was bitterly cold as well as soaking wet. I don’t like riding in the indoor – although I am grateful to have an indoor, and not have to face the unpleasant choice between riding in the rain or not riding at all for two months out of the year. And then Scottie’s bridle had the curb rein on, and I haven’t ridden with a curb rein since I ill-advisedly put a double bridle on Alfie when I was about eighteen.

Technical notes: Scottie’s bridle isn’t a double, because a double bridle isn’t just two reins, it’s two reins attached to two bits. Scottie is still wearing the rubber jointed pelham he likes so much, but the bit converters that handled the bit and curb chain via a single rein had been taken off, and a thinner rein had been buckled to the lower ring to control the curb chain through a lever action.

I walked carefully up to Erin, explained and offered to take the curb rein off. That’s because you need light, consistent hands to ride with a curb chain if you’re not going to jab the horse in the chin unfairly; I don’t think my hands are good enough yet. Erin told me to get over myself. So off we went with me holding the reins as if Scottie’s jaw were made of rare bone china. I’ve had it drummed into me forever that you don’t hang on the horse’s mouth, and you especially don’t do it with a strong bit, and if there’s a curb chain involved as well you don’t do it cubed, times one hundred, with cherries on top.

Turns out Scottie really really likes it when people are respectful of his mouth. And my new improved lower leg helps a lot with getting him moving forward with impulsion. He rounds himself and gives you these amazing cadenced trots and canters, and it feels spectacularly huge. I glanced over at Bella and looked at her skinny little neck and thought ever so slightly rude thoughts about small mares with no forehand.

Erin set up canter poles, and after we’d ridden through a few times, forward and straight, she raised the middle pole to be a low vertical. This worked really well for me because I had to keep my leg on and concentrate on keeping a light strong position two strides in and two strides out of the fence, all while holding the double handful of reins, and not smashing Scottie’s Waterford-crystal lower jaw. This is how I relax, by the way.

Finally, we did a twisty-tight course with sharp turns. Beth and Austin aced it both times. I completely flubbed it the first time and rode it not-prettily the second. But we jumped everything and my position was half-decent over the jumps and best of all, Scottie at no point got anxious or tried to speed up or roar away. His anxiety issue is almost resolved, and he’s like another horse – like Austin, almost! Cheerful and honest and good at his job. But flashier than dear old Austin :)

The main problem was that Scottie kept cross-cantering during the changes of direction, so we finished with some canter circles on the flat until I could keep him united at the canter. This was difficult, but also revelatory, because a disunited canter was Alfie’s biggest problem and I could never figure out how to ride through it. Not only have I improved dramatically since Alfie’s heyday in the late eighties, I have improved a lot since three months ago, when I was afraid to ride Scottie over fences. It was a patchy ride, bad in parts but good in others, and I finished it flushed with happiness and hard physical effort. Completely worth braving the rain for.

Thanks so much, handsome man. You taught me a ton and had the best cadence I have ever ridden. I hope the clover is hock-deep where you are going, and that your new owner loves you crazy.

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