Sur le mors = on the bit
I found this article I had written some time ago and this subject is important in today's world of riding. So here it is :
Attached is a photo of myself and DiDi doing our stuff in the arena .Notice that she had a rounded outline, was on the bit and that everything, including my feet, looked ‘kosher‘. This state of affairs, this turning away from a lifetime’s riding with my weight pushed firmly down into the stirrups, had come about because of a local lady trainer. It turned out she was not only an excellent trainer but also a well known dressage judge. However, it would be unlikely that I should enter any competitions.
During a lesson, after half an hour or so at the walk going round and round in circles, we would break into trot. My right calf would be pressed against the horse’s side, just like a piece of wet rag draped around a glass. My left calf was to hang slightly back preventing the horse’s butt from breaking left and so encouraging the horse to bend. The undersides of my thighs were to stop the horse from rushing; I was to sit upright (it seemed to me that I was leaning back) at the same time I was to push down to keep the horse moving. My hands were to hold the reins in such a way that eventually the horse gave way and bent its neck at the poll at which time, the pressure on my hands would significantly reduce. I was to encourage the horse to bend by an occasional light movement of the fingers. When turning right I was to look upwards and over to the right so that my shoulders would turn; at the same time there was to be slightly more weight down on the right side of the saddle. My heels must “fall” down so that my toes pointed upwards. All this effort was necessary to go round a corner in an arena.
Of course, the horse must keep a steady rhythmic pace without speeding up or slowing down. I had to change the diagonals at the corner and on the long stretches I was to encourage the horse to lengthen its stride and step out whilst on the short sides it was to slow the horse down and to shorten its paces. When doing all this I should not tense up - neither was I to tilt off to the right or to the left.
Needless to say, when I eventually dismounted from the horse I felt like a wet rag.
DiDi amazingly did it all. I could not believe that if I “flexed” my under thigh, she would slow down. She would mostly, but not always, come down onto the bit and bend at the poll. She would slow down and speed up on command. However towards the end of the session, sometimes there was a slight “droop” as she gets tired and she started to sweat up. This schooling did make her tired. It made me exhausted.
What all this had to do with riding a horse at speed along a woodland track, I simply did not know. It felt like I had gone over to the other side. But I had to confess that some of my confidence was coming back. If DiDi expected to be treated like this, and if I could learn to ride like this without too much effort, then maybe it might all be worthwhile.
The trainer said after the first lesson, that she would give me six weeks to improve and then she would review the situation to see if it made any sense to carry on. I had absolutely no doubt that she has eyes on DiDi, whom she firmly believed was too good for me.
She had muttered once or twice that: “DiDi is a nice pretty little mare“.
She had muttered that: “ it was not fair to take my money if there would be no long term improvement“.
And I was not allowed out into the lanes until she had given her permission.
It seemed that the fundamental mistake I had made when buying DiDi, was to buy a horse that had been well schooled by a classically trained rider. I had bought fillet steak when I should have bought mince meat. In fact, I had thought that by buying an Irish Draught X Connemara I would avoid the problems expected from owing some sort of fancy warm blood but apparently it did not work that way. Needless to say after meeting up with this instructor and by having a modicum of success in learning to ride like a poofter, I was beginning to have some fun out of owning this horse.
What now I could also understand was just why Joe got so pissed off with that other trainer who had tried to school my previous cob in the Classical Way of going. Whilst DiDi believed that this was the way to do things; Joe thought it was all a load of poppycock.
All I could think was that it had taken me 40 years to learn what exactly “on the bit” means - if indeed I do properly understand the expression: ‘Sur le mors’