Winter has set in here in the heartland. Think lows in the teens, some cranking winds with snow, and lots of winter-proof outdoor wear. No complaining(mostly!) since we had a beautiful fall and I was able to do quite a bit of hacking and field dressage with some cavalletti thrown in for good measure. Nothing like riding through the crunchy leaves on a perfect fall day. Anyway, that is all done now, and we have some quality time to spend in my teeny tiny indoor. I have some great exercises like shoulder-in and haunches-in on the square, spirals at the walk and trot, and more frequent and harder transitions that should really improve our work at First and Second Level in the dressage court next year. But even only riding three times a week, the indoor is a little boring for both of us.
So, I made a list of other things we could try this winter. Things like online or in hand work hopefully leading to some half-steps and then piaffe in hand. Also on the list is some basic trick training, which I think Jet would love. The big one for me though, was to try some bitless riding leading eventually into bridleless riding. Just for fun. Just to test that my aids and that Jet's obedience truly come from my seat and body aids. So on a 20 degree day with cranking winds I decided to give it a shot. I did close my ring doors though, just because common sense.
Jet normally goes in a Micklem like this, so I just took the bit hanger off and attached the reins to the noseband ring. It worked surprisingly well. No mechanics, no fuss, but a direct light pressure on the nose. After doing some flexions in hand while saddling, we were off. The funniest part was Jet's expression. I bridled him and he definitely thought I forgot something and when I pulled up to the mounting block he kept turning his head like he wanted to remind me to get the rest of the bridle. He is such a good egg. Anyway the gist of the ride is that he went 90% like he goes with a bit and I could not have been more pleased for his first time bitless. His stop, go, and turn were flawless from the get go and his poll high, in self carriage, and stretchable came in a few minutes as he figured out to stretch to the contact of the noseband instead of the contact of the bit. We did all the exercises we normally do like spirals, haunches-in and shoulder-in on the square, stretchy trot, working gaits at walk, trot, and canter, and even a little bit of slightly collected work. The only reason I wouldn't say the ride was 100% as good as with a bit was that Jet was slightly above the contact sometimes in the canter. I could see his thought bubble and it went something like, "Canter with no bit? Bitch please. This is sooooo weird." He was very obedient and balanced, just slightly inverted. I think if I had asked him to stretch to the contact he would have, but I was slightly leery about what he was going to do at the canter, so I kind of didn't ask for much. Easily fixed next ride I think. Anyway, I think I will ride again bitless next ride to hopefully get to 100% bitless riding compared to bridle with bit riding. Then we will touch in bitless every few rides for variety and to make sure Jet is truly working off my seat and body aids. Next up, transitioning to a neck rope or maybe trick training? Stay tuned!