As much as I want to be in the hunt for the awesome prizes, I think that my utter lack of physical activity and exercise beyond riding is hindering me a bit. Don't get me wrong: I am trying to chip away at fixing that (more walking at work, walking to work when I can) but my job is sedentary and so are most of the rest of my hobbies. And I fucking hate working out. Hate it. It's the actual fucking worst. Don't try to convince me otherwise.
Anyway. I digress.
Tristan is still having fun hijinks while outside. Result: he never sets foot outside without his Big Bit. Life is easier when we have one unpleasant conversation about what he is not allowed to do rather than let him bully me around and flail for 15 minutes as I make futile attempts to stop him using his usual snaffle.
Last week, after much pondering, I added a new tool to my strategy: a running martingale.
It may seem absurd, but I've never actually ridden this horse in a running martingale before. He's a perfect candidate for it. His default naughty behavior has always been to fling his head in some way, usually as a precursor to then slamming his shoulders around. Up, sideways, both at the same time, you name it: his neck and head are over-proportioned for his body and they are his first fallback.
(this is where I acknowledge that were I a better rider I would have gotten him past this; I'm not and I didn't and let's just assume we've had that guilt-trip and move on)
I don't know why I've never tried it. I even own one that has sat, unused, for several years now. I have no good reasons. Partially because no trainer I've ever ridden with has suggested it, and it's only fairly recently that I've felt more free to tinker with things by myself. Partially I've felt like a failure in figuring things out myself. Partially he HAS been mostly manageable without it.
Well, last week I finally decided to try it and see what would happen.
DOESN'T HE LOOK EXCITED ABOUT IT?!
So. Let's talk about this, with a few caveats. First, the breastplate + martingale I borrowed were too big for him. I tightened as much as I could but I could not get it perfect nor did I feel like I needed to for a test run. Second, I did not have rein stops. I should've had rein stops. Younger, smarter, more cautious me would've had rein stops. Next time.
How did it work?
Pretty darn well, except for one moment when it didn't.
Overall, I'm going to keep adding this in to our routine from time to time.
The good: it pretty immediately nipped our problems in the bud AND really helped with the thing where in warmup he feels like he has to stuff his ears up my nose to try and avoid using his body. He flung his head to the sky, he found he could not, and faster than I've seen in a long time, he put his damn head back down and settled in to work.
So, when it really worked, it worked a lot like a chambon, my favorite piece of gear for him when longeing. Great!
When it didn't work so well it was because he felt like it was forcing him to work in ways that he did not want. In particular, picking up the left lead canter when he could not fling his head around to help fall into it was hard. I am actually putting this in the success column. There was some pretty ugly flailing.
There was one moment where it really didn't work.
That moment came near the end of our ride. The barn manager was leaving for the day, coming up the hill in her truck. I was coming around to the side of the ring with the opening that faced back toward the hill and down toward the barn.
As we rounded the corner, Tristan saw the truck. Now: he's not really a spooky horse, but sometimes he does startle in place, and when we've been outdoors he has sometimes used this startle in place as an excuse to launch himself. And that's what happened here: he startled briefly, went "FUCK ALL THIS," and took off.
Except...he couldn't take off. And when he hit the martingale hard, after flinging his head up hard, he lost his brain for a couple of seconds. He felt trapped. And he responded to that by going backwards at a high rate of speed.
It was very quick; he took maybe two strides while I was surprised, I kicked him hard for another stride or two, then realized that wasn't working, then turned him hard to the outside. That stopped it: he realized he could in fact go forward.
That was the only incident. We worked a little more to make him realize that he didn't need to freak out, and ended up getting some nice moments in the canter.
Overall? I'll definitely be doing this again. I hope it will continue to help.