It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that redheaded mares are a total trip.
Seriously though, I am really enjoying my little firecracker. She shares some similarities with Gogo, which I of course love, but has her own flair for the dramatic. She requires a very tactical ride, but she is showing so much promise in a very short time. I've only had her a month, after all!
I'm definitely glad I decided to give the neck stretcher a try. I'm not really a gadget person, but there are some situations where certain things can be very useful. O's evasions under saddle include pretty much everything she can think of (that isn't overtly naughty) to avoid going straight and forward in a decent rhythm - tosses her head, grabs the bit and roots outwards, blasts forward, slows way down and gets way behind the leg, turns her head one way, turns her head the other way, and goes sideways. None of it is outrageously naughty, and none of it is nearly as dramatic as it sounds - if she's doing all of that at a trot, she's still just trotting along, not bucking and leaping and plunging or doing anything dangerous. I don't think she has ever learned to balance herself anywhere outside of an arena, and she motorbikes on turns as well as snowballs like crazy when going down hills. As she was a jumper in her past life, she may not really have ever been ridden that extensively outside of an arena, so it isn't really surprising. She can turn on a dime, I will say that much - I found that out when testing out a one-rein stop on her when she tried grabbing the bit and park-trotting off. She did a literal reining spin at the blink of an eye! She is only 15.1hh after all - she looks, feels, moves and rides like a MUCH bigger horse but she is so coupled that she can really sit down and get things done. (I SWORE she was a solid 16hh, until I finally got around to sticking her... yep, she's a shrimp!)
To help give her some stability, and to allow her a little more freedom at the same time, I set her up with the neck stretcher. This particular one is actually a neck stretcher modified with some chambon pieces from one of the ones Gogo broke a few years ago, and can be assembled as a chambon as well - just run the bungees up through the crownpiece and down to the bit as opposed to running them from the bit to the crownpiece, and voila! In this case, I needed something to keep her from tossing her head around in every which direction, so I went with the neck stretcher.
It does not restrict her normal head carriage in any way, hold her head down, crank her in, make her break over too far back, or any of those things that neck stretchers can occasionally do. Since it is elastic, she can still definitely raise her head PLENTY high if she wants to. You can see that she is still in front of the vertical and comfortable:
It looks taut but it isn't. It's near the end range of its length but it isn't engaged. She is more than happy to plop along on the end of the lunge line wearing this, quiet and calm.
Since she has such difficulty maintaining balance on turns and on inclines/declines, I decided to move our work today up to the top of the pasture, where it is totally flat and where S's husband has mowed a path all along the fenceline (so we can see the freaking SNAKES if they are out). Flat, straight lines can work magic for a horse like this, so I expect we'll be up there for awhile! This was the first time I had ridden her away from the barn area - we don't have an arena, and she was totally nutty when you took her away from her mares (or vice versa) at first... thankfully, she has gotten over that. This is also the first time I have ridden her alone, which is a big step - you have to be able to deal with being alone when you are an eventer, and even if you aren't an eventer, you have to deal with being alone when you are MY horse, period! She stepped up to the plate, walking along with interest, looking at things but not acting spooky or concerned. When she did spook (only once), she jumped a little, but kept walking on. Very promising!
We only did walk-trot work today, which is quite enough for this stage. She started off a little cranky and balky for a few strides (making somewhat disgruntled ears), but moved forward smartly with a cluck and didn't give me any attitude again. She like to compress herself, get behind the leg, and hold all her tightness in her back, so getting her to release her back and move forward into a contact takes some convincing. In a lot of ways, it is similar to how Gogo would hold herself until she warmed up and released herself, so I am well-versed in feeling the subtleties of back tension. O, like Gogo, is not one that you can knock around until they give in - she requires a lot of subtlety and a lot of constant redirection ("No, this length of rein. No, this speed. No, this speed. No, we're going straight. No, at this speed. At this speed. This length of rein. Straight. This speed. This speed. Straight."). When everything comes together, she takes a contact, releases her back, stretches out, and moves freely along. She gave me some very nice moments... some VERY nice moments. Every ride gets a little bit better and a little better.
The ladies all need a trim tomorrow... I love pedicure day!