The Midwest Horse Fair is going on in Madison this weekend. I had planned to go, but then decided that I'd rather spend the time with my own horses than watching other peoples horses.
Today Cody and I ponied Griffin on a long trail ride. I hadn't gotten him out and saddled him up in almost a month and a half. That month and a half ago, I had put the bridle on him, but not for that long. He never quit mouthing the bit the whole time.
Today I saddled him up and put the bridle on again. Once again, he mouthed the bit the whole time we were out on our ride. He would quit at times, especially when he was listening to the dogs crashing in the woods, or when I was giving him a treat for being such a good boy. But then he'd start back up mouthing it again. I think it will take him a while to get over that, as he is such a mouthy horse. He likes to mouth things.
I tied the reins up with the leather strings from my saddle so that he would get used to the feel of them as we walked along. We also trotted a few times. He was keeping up pretty well toward the end, having sorted out where it was comfortable to walk without being pulled on constantly. I think at first he was so distracted with the bit that he wasn't paying attention to Cody when she would pick up the pace.
He was sweaty when we got back, and Cody wasn't. He must be more out of shape than she is! After I got Cody untacked, I worked a lot more on the ground with Griffin, showing him that he can flex to the bit, and reminding him how to step over with his hinds when I push his side with the stirrup. Then I flapped the stirrups and started putting weight on the saddle. He was pretty much planted to the ground by that time, so I stood up in the stirrups and leaned over the saddle from both sides. I rubbed him a lot, and he was completely unconcerned. Remember that he was mouthing the bit this whole time too. He got pretty good as responding to the rein pull asking him to flex even while mouthing.
I was pretty happy with how he was responding, so I took him to the round pen, did the whole routine again, then just mounted up. I continued to rub him on his neck, his sides, his rump, and asked him to flex back and forth. When he got really good with that, I started asking him to step his hindquarters over with a leg cue and clucking. He stepped right over! So we did that several times, both directions, until I felt like it was pretty automatic for him and he was comfortable with it. All this was over course intersperse with lots of scratches and a even his first treat from him back! He was great! Then I dismounted. I still have some more groundwork that I'd like him to be solid with before I really ride him around the round pen, but this was a great start. I definitely feel less confident about starting Griffin, even though I know he has a good mind and is doing well. It's just that I haven't been able to work with him as consistently as I'd like, and because of that, there are definitely some things I haven't gotten to, like I did with the other two mustangs. Basically, I like to do all kinds of things that desensitize them to everything they might encounter with me, but more importantly I like to show myself that they really will react well with any thing I do with them. Some things I do are ground driving, tying full 2-liter soda bottles to the saddle to simulate flopping legs, moving with the breeching (or even a loaded pack saddle). I like them to know their gaits with word cues, but we haven't quite got there yet with Griffin. I know not all this is absolutely necessary for a successful start, but it is necessary to give me the confidence that everything will go smoothly, even if something goes wrong...if they know all the basics really well, even in a big spook or something else, they will fall back on the training they've had rather than panic and buck me off! That's my hope anyway, and it's worked really well for the previous two mustangs.
And the picture below is Griffin's "after" the ride picture. I had my husband watching while I did all this in the round pen just in case something went bad, but he didn't want to get off his lawn mower to take any pictures for me. Maybe tomorrow!
Griffin was so happy to get the bit off.