The Multifaceted Hackamore

Jumping a few weeks ago in the hackamore!

About eight weeks ago, I started riding Valonia — my main squeeze! — in a hackamore because she developed a minor sore in the crease of her mouth. Of course, I was bummed, and I thought riding her without a bit was going to put a damper on my fall. I also thought to myself there is no way in hell I am going to be able to control this 19-hand creature without a bit. To my surprise, riding in the hackamore has changed this horse and how I ride her tremendously.

This summer has been an odd one in terms of flatwork. My dressage trainer, Denny, and I have raised the bar, and by doing so, Valonia and I landed in no man’s land. We wanted to ask Valonia to sit and lift more than ever before. Being a large warmblood mare, Valonia had some opinions about this new way of going. She tried to be crooked. She tried throwing her haunches in every which direction. She tried doing strange things with her neck.

Anything Valonia could do in order to not be in self-carriage, she did. The most frustrating thing she did this summer was to be heavy on her forehand and lose impulsion. She thought to herself, Well, since this is SO VERY hard for me to do — this whole sitting, engaging and lifting bit — I think I should try and make little Lila hold me up!

My rides were very consistent this summer. The first 10 minutes were spectacular, and after about 10 minutes, she petered out and got into her dreadful middle or medium frame — as my dressage trainer and I called it — which I like to call no man’s land. She was neither deep, nor up and light. Oh, the dreaded middle frame …

Fast forward to now, and I am hacking, doing gymnastics and jumping smaller jumps without a bit. I even did some flatwork in the hackamore. She was surprisingly very good. Was she super connected? No. Was she as engaged as we would like her to be? Nope. Was she moving off my leg, going forward and not leaning on me? YEP! Now I am back to riding in a normal bridle. She is very different after eight weeks in a hackamore. She is much lighter in the contact, much softer in her neck and mouth, more forward, and she is more willing to try this whole sitting and lifting thing.

Who ever knew that getting rid of a bit would solve so many of my problems with this horse? It’s amazing how something you are dreading and not looking forward to can actually work to your advantage. Sometimes stepping far away from our “issues,” whatever those issues may be, can be a recipe for success.

If we are not riding nine horses a day and our focus is primarily on one specific horse, it can be very easy to get deeper and deeper into problem areas. We have a difficult time seeing the bigger picture, and we quickly develop muscle memory. My horse goes this way, so I am riding her this way. Well how about stepping away from the problems and examining those issues with a fresh lens? Sometimes the answers to our problems are literally right in front of us.

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