I'm going into this relying on my horses existing foundations. This will certainly not be the first time I've ever ridden him without a bridle, and it won't be the first time we've ever done a pattern bridleless either.
As I've recently shown him how to make lead changes, this might be a strained lesson. Everytime I move on to a new technique, it throws gadget off balance some until we begin to fine tune it and integrete it into the entire range of his ability.
The workout was a hard one, especially after giving him a 2 week break while I caught up on work and school. We lunged both on a line and free in the pen, and then I saddled up. With the bridle on we went through the rail motions, walking, jogging and loping, transitions, reversals, and backing, and then we left the rail. I started back into his lead changes with a figure 8 that I reversed every so often. He had gone back to his jerky, sudden changes, so I decided to move him off the figure 8 and do some straight line changes. This improved him noticeably.
After that I went through the expected pattern (the pattern is usually the same at least two years in a row for the State competition, and last year it was new, so I'm guessing this year it will remain the same) with the bridle on. He did it well but not flawlessly. I would have normally gone through it again untill we were working it almost perfectly, but there was a storm approaching and time was getting short. I had already spent a long time on lead changes. I decided to cool him a bit before removing the bridle.
I took off the bridle and detached one rein which I looped around his neck. It was a bit short which was annoying, and it constricted my upper body to hold it. Still, I began to make large and small figure eights, jogging and loping. Nothing fancy. He was a bit reluctant to steer, and I had to stop him more than once for speeding (thats what I get for 2 weeks...).
We began to get back into the more complicated motions. I worked on his pivot both directions and his reverse, both of which are prominent features in the pattern which requires a 540 degree spin to the left and 5 straight reverse steps. He was confused at first which frustrated him. I began to give him subtle spur stops as we pivoted to keep him from wandering forward. That worked better, but the reverse and pivot will need work. Also, deepening my seat and leaning back slightly while giving steady spur pressure helped him to back better.
In the end, we finished with a pattern that was surprisingly coherent. I managed to squeeze a late lead change out of him and in hindsight, despite my initial negative emotions about our performance, I realized that it was actually better than some of the performances from other horses that I had watched last year. Plus,to my knowledge, no one has yet to attempt a bridleless pattern at the State Championships.
Given his frustrations resulting from the sudden complicated demands I was making of him after a 2 week break, and from his obvious fatigue, I'd say the next report should be more optimistic.
My first mistake was waiting until the end part of the ride to un-bridle him. In the future I will be sure to un-bridle him mid way thorugh our exercises in order to tie up any collection loose ends that might result from removing the bridle. I think it will also help me to improve my own riding while using the bridle, and teach me to rely less and less on it even when it is on him. I think I had also failed to use my seat and legs as fully as I could have in the early stages of our bridleless ride, and that could have thrown Gadget off a bit. Finally, I would like to find a longer rein to use next time. I didn't like the short one and I don't think my horse did either.
All in all it's encouraging that he is able to perform that well this early in the training. Never before have I focused so pointedly on bridleless riding; before it was just a fun novelty. Still, I can't help but think that he has been more under control in previous bridleless rides. I think it's possible we may have just been having an off day.
Thanks for reading.