Backstory: Last fall when I was riding Griffin sporadically, I noted that his worst outbursts under saddle were related to having pressure put on his mouth. All his training had primarily been with the halter and pressure from it. I'd introduced the bit and bridle slowly over time, and transitioned my requests through it so he could understand that the new sensation should still result in movement he already had learned with the halter. I had even played around with single and double-jointed snaffles to see what he preferred. Despite all of this, he was somewhat resistant and would demonstrate his displeasure toward pressure the bit applied on his mouth with a variation of outbursts: head tossing, crow hopping, bucking, etc. If I rode him in just a halter, none of these behaviors would persist. He wasn't in any pain, he was simply being a pill. The behaviors reminded me a lot of a two year old toddler throwing a tantrum over something trivial.
(Worth noting: All of the outbursts he throws under saddle as a result of not liking something are the same maneuvers he throws on his own if he thinks I haven't given him his grain soon enough. He'll stand tied in place throwing his head, crow hopping, bucking and rearing in place. Its actually quite comical to observe. I'll stand and laugh at him as he throws out all his tricks. He never gets his grain until he's been standing still and stately like a gentleman for a solid 15 seconds minimum. I share this example to demonstrate that the outbursts are not as a result of being ridden or experiencing pain. He just gets pissy when he doesn't get his way and acts out in an attempt to bully me into making it "easy for him". Such a little ass...but I love him.)
He bucked me off during one of his outbursts one day last September when I was riding him with bit/bridle; I tweaked my ankle pretty bad when I hit the ground. While it seemed minor at the time, the ankle didn't truly stop hurting until sometime in December. As a result of this incident, I quit riding Griffin for a long time. I couldn't risk injuring myself with my 50 on Q coming up and ski season approaching (my second job that sort of requires good physical condition and health).
Through the winter months I toyed around with a myriad of gadgets with Griffin on the lunge. I never had the goal of "forcing him into a frame" with this work. The only reason I applied gadgets that had connection to the bit was so that he could experience pressure on his mouth in different ways and work out his issues with it on his own without a rider. He's a sensitive guy. He's also young, and the tantrums he likes to throw are something I'd rather watch from the ground than experience from the saddle. So, I let him work through his issues on the lunge.
With time, his outbursts (squealing, crow hopping, bucking, kicking out) from feeling pressure on his mouth ceased. I introduced work in side reins regularly to help him build strength by encouraging him to use his back; he started seeking the contact, working the bit in his mouth, not fighting every step of the way.
I started riding again. I kept it short and slow at first. Noted he still had some confusion when a bit was used, but was wonderfully responsive without it. I decided to take a step back from riding with the bridle for awhile and would ride him with the halter-bridle instead - I wanted him to have positive riding experiences! We put in time and miles and had a lot of good experiences this way. He learned how fun riding could be. His outbursts completely ceased under saddle.
The next slow step I took was to put the bridle on over his halter-bridle. I still connected the reins to the halter-bridle, but now he had the bit in his mouth as an addition. It was more an ornament than a functional piece of tack, but riding with it in this manner let him learn that it's mere presence when riding didn't mean negative things.
Finally, last week, I got on him formally with the reins attached solely to the bit. We tooled around for about 5 minutes (at a walk) in the barnyard. He was a steady eddy, responsive to my requests and even sought out contact as he does with the side reins. YAY! I quit on that good note that night and didn't attempt riding with the bridle again until this week.
Both Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week I have had wonderful rides
on him - both rides with reins attached to the bit. Both times with minor outbursts.
What triggered these small outbursts, you wonder? Not being allowed to chase the dogs. -_- Its one of his favorite games. When I turned him away from his path of chase, he shook his head and did the babiest stutter-step/crow hopping for about 5 seconds then moved on. Each time he locked onto the dogs to chase and was redirected he'd behave this way. These were the only occurrences.
The rest of the ride was wonderful though. SO WONDERFUL. He's SO MUCH FUN.
Tuesday was 15 minutes long. I'm trying to keep this type of session short right now. We did at least half of the 15 minutes at the walk, and then the other half was a mixed bag of walking and trotting with a sprinkling of canter, mostly to see if he would. I have no idea how he looked for certain, but he felt so collected, so uphill, so nice! <3
Last night Mike was kind enough to take videos for me while I was
riding Griffin. Sadly, I don't have these uploaded yet - but when I do I will be certain to share! I rode him for 25 minutes last night. He didn't feel as totally wonderful as he had the night prior, but there had been a lot of commotion going on at the barn (vet giving fluids to one of the dogs who has been having some problems, more people than usual to help, gusting winds, intermittent rain sprinkles, etc.) that was likely distracting him a little.
We walked for the first 15 minutes of our ride last night. Then I had him trot several circles. And then we cantered 2 circles in each direction. (The circle out there if I use the full barnyard to my advantage is right around 30 meters. We closed it in some last night, so it was probably closer to 25m.)
When I got to watch the videos I squee'd a whole lot. He is just SO CUTE. And he tries so hard! He's far from perfect, and I know that, but because this is our "beginning" I am so, so, so thrilled with the kind of beginning it is! And I really can't wait to compare the footage from now to footage I get months and years down the road. Damn is he fun to ride.
I took screenshots from the videos to share until I can upload and share videos, enjoy!