Sunday, December 4, 2016

SOM Lesson

I try to take a lesson with an instructor experienced with the Science of Motion methodology once a month. This month's lesson was this morning.  It was both a frustrating and enlightening lesson, and I guess sometimes I have to have the frustration before I can have the enlightenment, although in this case, I'm not convinced the two were related.

One of the things I've struggled with since starting the SOM work is the insistence that horses must be ridden in a bit (with the double bridle preferred).  I started my SOM work with Nimo in a hackamore (specifically the star wheel hackamore) and we have made progress.  My instructor has strongly encouraged and recommended the use of a bit, though.  But I have to admit that I've become pretty close-minded about using a bit with Nimo.  It isn't so much that I believe all bits are bad or shouldn't be used, but I've gotten pretty comfortable using a hackamore with Nimo and I felt that he made it clear on more than one occasion that he did not want to wear a bit.

That said, I ended up trying a couple of bits - one was a Myler MBL Short Shank Ported Barrel MB 33 and the other was a Baucher.  I chose the Myler bit based on the theory that the reason Nimo had not liked his old bit was because it did not offer enough tongue relief.  The Myler bit that I chose seemed most appropriate for a more advanced horse that really needed a lot of tongue relief.  Nimo actually accepted the bit pretty well and I was pleasantly surprised by how well he did with it, but my instructor hated it.  Her reasoning was that because of the way the bit was designed, it was unstable in Nimo's mouth and provided a less than optimal method of communication.  Her strong recommendation was to go with a Baucher because it is considered a more stable bit in the horse's mouth and therefore less likely to cause aggravation in the horse.

So I tried the Baucher and I still believe Nimo does not like it, even after several uses.  Mostly because he has been difficult about letting me put the bit in his mouth and then tried to bite me when I put his bridle on today.  Nimo does not try to bite people.  Especially not me.  He only does it when he is really frustrated about something.  Which puts me in a bit of a bind.  Because my instructor thinks the bit is great for Nimo and believes he moves better with it.  I pointed out today that he was really fussing with it and frequently going behind the vertical and that I think my hands are not very quiet when I ride with a bit as compared to a hackamore.  My instructor's response is that it isn't the bit that is the problem; instead it is something with Nimo's back that is manifesting itself through fussing with the bit.  To be honest, I have no way of knowing for sure, although I do believe that today (and for the last 3 weeks) something with his back has been going on.

Hi saddle started listing seriously to the right.  It got to the point that I stopped riding him because it was so bad.  It finally occurred to me that he needed a narrower pommel (my saddle is treeless with the ability to put in different widths of a pommel), so I ordered one and that definitely helped quite a bit.  But the saddle still stays off-center by maybe an inch.

The enlightenment I had during today's lesson is that for some reason, Nimo is moving with a significant transversal rotation in his spine.  It actually feels like the left side of his back is significantly higher than the right, which absolutely explains why the saddle is leaning to the right.  We spent most of the lesson working on addressing the asymmetry through slow, deliberate walking with halt to walk transitions and then zig zag half pass.  How this rotation got to the point that it is at now when I thought we were doing so well a month ago is a bit of a mystery to me.  But it is possible that the lack of consistent work during the last few weeks is part of it.  I had to be out of town for several days, then I was sick, and then I noticed the saddle issue, so all that meant not much riding.

However, despite the enlightenment that came a little later in the lesson, I admit to getting pretty frustrated at the beginning of the lesson because I really didn't want to ride Nimo in a bit.  He does not feel right to me in it and I don't feel comfortable using it.  I actually liked the Myler bit better than the Baucher, but I've been honoring my instructor's recommendation because she does have quite a bit more experience than I do.  She thinks that working through the issues that manifest when Nimo wears a bit is worth the effort because when they resolve, he will be a better mover.  But I hate putting a piece of equipment on him that I know he doesn't like.  (I did tell my instructor about the biting but it didn't seem to have much of an effect on her opinion.)

I will say that I have seen some horses in SOM work have pretty drastic responses, including rearing, bucking, and leaping in the air.  All in response to a rider quietly sitting on their backs asking for coordination and balance in the most subtle way possible.  No spurs or whips are used, so the reaction does seem to be a way of dramatically indicating that the simple act of asking for improved coordination is difficult for these horses.  And these horses do settle and learn to coordinate themselves very well.  Nimo could be expressing a similar feeling, but in a less dramatic way.  Or he could just hate the bit.  Thus, I am faced with a dilemma:  keep using the bit my instructor recommends in the hope that she is correct about the fussiness being a short-term reaction to a problem that will resolve as we progress or go with my gut that tells me the bit is not the right choice now, based on Nimo's clear expression of dislike.

I really do love virtually everything about the SOM methodology, but this bit issue is giving me serious heartburn and I'm not quite sure yet how to handle it.  I was hoping for some inspiration via the writing of this post, but it is not forthcoming yet.  And so the journey continues...

6 comments:

  1. Wow, that is a tough decision. I ride bitless and I would find it hard to start using one again. I'm really curious why the insistence on a bit. Seems like there should be more ways to get to the goal, besides just that one. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks, Kara. I think the SOM practitioners believe the bit provides a better connection to the horse but I have yet to see any science behind that belief, which is unusual because all the other components do have very specific science behind them.

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  2. For tongue relief, I found a ported mullen mouth on eBay that Nilla has been going very well in. It's not perfect and I'm sure she'd prefer bitless, but since dressage requires a bit, I've found this to be the best compromise. http://www.ebay.com/itm/SHIRES-BLUE-SWEET-IRON-LOOSE-RING-SNAFFLE-BIT-WITH-MULLEN-MOUTH-6357-/400977230148

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Olivia:)

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  3. My emergency lights flashed red when we got to the part with the biting...and the rearing...and the bucking...and the leaping.

    Am I the only one who sees those things as symptoms of a BAD THING? Perhaps the "simple act of asking" is not so simple? Most horses I know (including mine) will act out if something is painful or scary--or if they think that doing a thing will result in pain or fear.

    I've never seen a horse spontaneously leap around when "simply asked". Is it just me?

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    1. You are right to have emergency lights flashing, Aerene. The vast majority of horses whose owners/riders work with them using SOM techniques are in incredible pain from years of poor riding sometimes combined with high performance demands. The SOM work is comparable to physical therapy for an injury. If you've ever gone through PT, you know that particularly at the beginning of the work, it will feel challenging or different or even painful as your body heals and sometimes learns a new way of moving. It can even be scary. Some horses are very reactive at the beginning of SOM work for the same reasons. I have never done anything other than use light to moderate leg pressure, use light rein contact, and work on straightening my body while keeping my core toned when working with Nimo and those are basically the only rider techniques in SOM. All rider interaction with the horse is very subtle. But horses being as sensitive as they are feel everything and some react significant to even the smallest change in their rider. I will also say that any horse with medical issues is supposed to be treated by vet, farrier, and other professionals as necessary to aid the horse's recovery. So my dilemma is that I know Nimo is likely working through some physical stuff. But I am concerned the bit issue is separate and that is what is concerning me.

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