Hey Kaylen! Sorry for my tremendously belated reply! I haven't had the chance to sit down and check DA much and I really appreciate the thought! I hope your first year of college is going well I miss seeing you and Mariah!
Rambly shenanigans! You might be interested to here that I have recently replaced my Abetta Arabian-Trail with a Fabtron Semi-QH... found one of their black half leather/cordura models with lots more silver, leather seat and basketweave on it for less than a newer plain one would cost. Stayed on through cantering with a handsbreadth of give on the cinch, which is more than I can say for the Abetta (though come to find out the Arabian tree was a smidge too wide an angle afterall even with him muscled up). Unfortunately the HAF pad I love so much is not holding up now that the weather is hotter. I had heard the foam was low quality and since the heat makes it's softer it's giving too much in the front and making the saddle downhill when I'm in it. Saddle is level without the pad, so now I'm looking for a Toklat or 5-Star as a replacement.
I've also come to some pretty big decisions and hypothesis recently- and I'm starting on a rough draft for a horsey book (not meant as guide or any authority mind you, but a horseowner's musings on training). Most notably, after researching the subject of contact (something I have struggled with due to my start in English, and my biased in favor of that discipline) for the last couple of years, I decided to collect my own thoughts and form my own idea on the subject, and go from there, and let Sawyer tell me if I'm on the right track or not. So far my ideas regarding training can be summed up in two levels, which at the moment I am (perhaps in a fit of over-romanticism) calling the 'Herd Of Two' and 'Herd Of One.' The former functions under the premise that the horse: 1. MUST respect your space 2. MUST go 3. MUST whoa These rules are un-negotiable, and are enforced out of necessity and safety, everything else is negotiable. I believe it is worth noting that I do not teach 'whoa' as pulling back with both reins, and indeed, I NEVER use that cue for stop. It is always a seat/weight cue, and/or rubbing to a stop, and is only ever enforced by a hindquarter (turn on the forehand, though it is sometimes not a 'true' turn on the forehand as the head may be laterally bent far too much, as in this case this exercise is not a matter of gymnastics but obedience). The latter focuses on the horse and rider becoming the 'Centaur' of one thought and action, and requires: 1. Vertical Flexion 2. Impulsion When these two are combined - correctly - we get collection, and hypothetically the lowering of the three joints of the hind leg (I would not be surprised if this last hypothesis will require another point, as I do not have much in the way of experience with this aspect yet, but that will be revealed with time).
Now, I mentioned I was throwing the traditional idea of contact out the window, allow me to elaborate: I have talked about my struggle with the idea of contact, and have finally come to the conclusion for me (at least for the time being) I am unwilling and unable to stomach the traditional idea of contact. No where else in my training knowledge is anything more than a 'weightless feel' considered ideal, and so starting with that thought I began to think of what contact in that context means. I do not understand it, so I cannot implement it, and either because of that or some other inherit flaw in the idea the horses I have ridden do not respond how I believe they should. Here I think it is worth pausing to note that by 'weightless feel' (what I am calling what I believe many of the old masters perhaps originally meant by 'the weight of the rein') I in no way mean behind the bit. I believe we talked about this before when I posted a video of one of JP Giacomini's stallions and you pointed out that, though he rode on a loose rein, the horse was behind the bit. Though this is not ridden work, and lateral flexion verses vertical flexion, I have often observed horses during groundwork, when asked to move around the circle with a bend without pulling on the handler (something my mentor taught) begin to go 'behind the feel' by dropping out sideways too much. Even though they may still refrain from pulling, there is a distinctly different feel, and thus we would urge the horse forward and back 'in front of the feel.' So I established in my mind that contact should in my case be what I have dubbed the weightless feel, which I am familiar with and can recognize instantly. Excellent... and here vertical flexion and impulsion comes in. Instead of considering 'collection' one big subject, I broke it down into those two points to be worked on separately (and indeed, both can abide by such rules as not to be harmful for the horse when used exclusively, unlike when some people focus only the position of the head while attempting to create collection). And so the rules of vertical flexion are: the poll should be the highest skeletal point of the neck (meaty crest coming above this point or not is dependent on conformation), the horse's face should NEVER come behind the vertical (IMHO an angle between 240 and 270 degrees would be acceptable share.ehs.uen.org/sites/defaul… ). The rules of impulsion are less clear to me, but so far it seems to hinge on the idea that the inside hind foot should step under the point of weight and the pelvis should tilt back to facilitate this. Fixing anterior pelvic in this manner produces that lovely 'round back' feel, although interesting enough I felt a significant change in the back and general posture during the vertical flexion exercises I tried (more on that a bit later).
I have talked about my success with Will Faerber's down n' forward work before, and I believe his method is essentially the 'correct one' for impulsion (though I have put it to a different cue than he has and require it be done with no contact, or side-reins/chambon for that matter). It is easy to see why this would work if we contort our own backs for a moment- head up, back hollow creates anterior pelvic tilt; lowering the head automatically straightens the back and reduces pelvic tilt, putting the horse in a position for success when asking for more impulsion, and later when we ask them to move the weight back even further in collection. This brings up another interesting point- the chief complaint in long n' low work is that it puts too much weight on the forehand, which is the opposite of what you want in collection. By making this exercise an issue of impulsion only this argument becomes nill. Eventually this impulsion exercise can be done with the head level, once the anterior pelvic tilt is corrected and the horse understands the request (and is physically able to complete it). And now what has been the bone of contention in my mind for so long... contact, or more specifically now, vertical flexion. I have firmly rejected the traditional English way of pulling the reins, or vibrating them, or massaging them, or whatever other bizarre exercise. However it is also plain to me that the Western way is also sorely inadequate, and indeed, the fact that Western vertical flexion is done in a lower headset is detrimental right from the get go, not to mention the fact that all examples I have seen put the horse behind the bit and are often accomplished by rude jerking (see Buck Brannaman for example) of the reins. So those rules of vertical flexion I mentioned earlier come into play: the poll should be the highest skeletal point of the neck, the plane of the face should be between 240 and 270 degrees, and the horse should maintain a weightless feel (the same feel that is required online and at liberty during groundwork, not to be refused with dropping behind or evading the feel). Alright, now the question is merely how to accomplish those three goals, which is far, far simpler than the whole great big idea of 'collection' or 'contact-' to me anyway. As I mentioned before, my cue for stopping is in no way related to 'pulling back on both reins,' and so taking a feel of both reins becomes a very intuitive cue for vertical flexion (and is a simple, beautiful answer, considering lateral flexion is done with a feel of one rein). Alright, that's the cue- but wait, your poll needs to be higher Sawyer! Don't you dare rolkur! Though I'm somewhat loath to move my hands higher, it is the simplest way to keep the horse's poll up... and this is where heavenly music begins to play! Upon raising the hands to raise the poll it is obvious that the snaffle is acting on the teeth and is a useless, confusing aid: ENTER THE CURB BIT! Excuse my excitement, haha. And so, completely by accident, another piece of the puzzle falls into play. EDIT: forgot to mention, obviously the hands can be lowered back to 'normal' once the horse understands the request and does not drop the poll.
I hypothesize that the snaffle bit (or sidepull/lunge-cavesson) is to be use only for lateral flexion (here meaning any give of the head side to side, not the NH 'put your nose on my boot' lateral flexion), and the curb bit (or cordeo/bosal) is to be used for vertical flexion, as the nature of the snaffle is beneficial for inciting the correct alignment of the jaw and produces a clear signal in lateral exercises and the nature of the curb (most notably the rotation of the mouthpiece to always act on the bars in the correct place, even when the hands are raised) is beneficial for vertical flexion.
Now, one last note that I hinted at earlier- I had assumed that all positive change in the posture of the back would be brought about by the impulsion part of the exercise, but as I experimented with my idea of vertical flexion in the curb bit, bareback, I noticed something that surprised me greatly: as soon as Sawyer 'got it,' he not only shifted his weight back when asked for vertical flexion, but very noticeably change his posture. I do have enough information to say for sure yet, but my initial reaction is that this change in posture felt very different to one gotten via impulsion- I am assuming the change brought about by impulsion is the previously mentioned backwards rotation of the pelvis, while the change brought about by vertical flexion is the raising of the base of the neck.
And so, based on all this new information I going to continue on with my own hypothesis and see how it pans out. I'm going to take confo pictures soon so how the new exercises affect his musculature, if I am correct then his back will grow stronger and the dip in front of his withers will flatten out as well (due to raising the base of the neck and building those muscles). I have the feeling that most of this is stuff that other people have been saying all along, but I just haven't been able to grasp without working it through my own logic. Thoughts?