Busy Mouth - Your Horse, or You?
Busy Mouth – Your horse, or you?
January 17, 2019
Most of us have experienced our horses going around chomping, biting, grinding, gnashing their teeth on the bit, which is usually accompanied by unsteadiness in the contact, a hollowness through their back and no hind end engagement. If we’ve ruled out pain, we’re left with anxiety. Who’s anxious - you or your horse? It’s a little bit like which came first, the chicken or the egg. But in all honesty, it doesn’t matter – it’s up to us as the human, as the leader, to fix it. We’ve been taught to use “mouth shutters”- clamp their jaws down so tight they can’t move, use a harsh bit – they won’t want to move their mouth in fear of pain, crank their head down with draw reins and force them in a frame. I’ve don’t it all. What did I create? I created more anxiety, a false frame, and a learned helplessness (https://greyhorsellc.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/learned-helplessness/?fbclid=IwAR0vkwrmkdZN-4J06G_wh4xC8NAYKhcWgJ_WUoA5XUO-1txztxVb830mIr8 ). I certainly didn’t create a harmonious partnership in which my horse enjoyed working with me (yes! WITH ME – NOT FOR ME!)
Luckily for my horses I met Buck Brannaman when I was searching for a new and better way to work with horses. He changed my life. He challenged me to become a better person. To dig deep – to throw away the gadgets and grow internally. Whaaaat??
I rode in my first Buck clinic on a young gelding I had bred and brought along that started having a rearing issue. Buck helped us through the rearing issue and that gelding hasn’t reared since and is now a lesson horse. But more importantly, Buck talked to me about my gelding’s busy mouth. He mentioned that he needed more support from me and that the busy mouth is created by the human. I went home from the clinic and watched every Buck DVD I could, read all his books, immersed myself in this new philosophy I had found and emulated the way Buck moved – I wanted to be Buck!
Fast forward a few years and I found myself with a very challenging, feral Azteca mare. She was 4 years old and wild! Once at home at my farm, she pushed me to grow – to better myself – to have patients – to get quiet. She has been my teacher since that day. We have come so far together. I got help along the way, from Kristi Fredrickson, Efrain Guzman and Ricky Quinn who all helped me with my horsemanship and confidence working with young fractious horses and the guidance of my dear friend, Beth Killough, who gently guided me through my learning process of becoming a better human being – a better leader of horses and humans.
My not-so-feral-anymore-mare, Lolita and I ended up attending our second Ricky Quinn clinic together. He had helped me with her when she had only 10 rides – he pushed me to push her and get her moving out – so thankful for his guidance! This time she was farther along and doing great! But her mouth was constantly busy. Something I was trying to ignore – since I had thrown out all my gadgets to “fix” this problem after meeting Buck! Ricky said those words Buck had told me years ago - She needs more support from you. Oh boy – here we go again. Stepping through my intimidation of Ricky I asked, what does that mean? How do I do that? He gave me an honest answer – “Each horse is different – some need more firmness some need less, you have to figure out what SHE needs”. RQ is great at giving you answers that make you think! I tried firming up – I tried less contact – nothing changed and I kind of shoved the whole issue under the saddle pad… FOR LIKE 6 MORE MONTHS!
One day while riding Lolita, and being very frustrated with her constantly chomping the bit – being fidgety and unsteady in the contact – that moment in the arena in Briones, CA with RQ came back to me. Along with many other moments with Ricky throughout the years. A light came on inside of me – along with a sadness – I knew without a doubt that this issue was because of me. How could I have ignored it for so long? How unfair to my sweet mare. Sigh. We don’t know until we know. I decided then and there to fix this within myself and help Lolita overcome her anxiety and the problem that I had created – and help her to want to work with me. What Lolita needed from me was for me to get quiet – quiet in my mind, my body, my soul. Yes, my soul. I accepted my responsibility in creating her anxiety and found peace in that acceptance. I wanted to start over. I began at the halt – asking for a soft feel and releasing only when her mouth was quiet. In my body I was breathing… I was physically relaxed and soft.. My hands soft and still – and I waited… I waited for quiet from her. My release had to be on point with perfect timing. I was soon walking with a soft feel and releasing when her mouth was quiet. I stayed at the walk for quite a few rides. I had to keep quieting the place in me that wanted to work on fun stuff – leg yields, walk canter transition, shoulder-in. But I was on a new journey – strengthening the foundation – making it more stable to be able to handle the fun stuff later!
I started trotting with a soft feel, and again, releasing when Lolita was quiet. I kept my body so quiet, so soft. She is such a responsive sensitive mare that I had been over loading her brain with so much stimuli. I am a quiet rider. She taught me to be even quieter, even softer. To whisper my requests. While I’m trotting with her my mind quiets – I get grounded in my body – I feel her breath – her rhythm under me – it’s a state of meditation. Her ears are floppy – her mouth is quiet, we’re breathing together. It makes my soul full – my heart full. She is thankful – grateful I’m becoming a better human. We trot almost a full 20 meter circle with a quiet mouth – when she does chew, it’s a quiet rhythmical chewing and a licking and a swallow. This is a work in progress, because I am a work in progress. Some day we will be doing all the fancy tricks and we will be peaceful and in harmony. No mouth shutters, no gadgets, just a quietness, a peacefulness.
Horses are put in our path for us to learn – to grow and be better humans. Thank you, Lolita.
Solving horse problems one person at a time… starting with myself!