Some Thoroughbreds leaving the track are all harsh angles: straight lines, ninety degree turns, and stiff necks. They take months of suppling and stronger leg muscles than most of us can ever aspire to, just to teach them to loosen up, turn their spines, arch their necks, soften their jaws to hold the bit gently, turn their ears from the horizon and the ever-missing starting gate, like a hole in their line of vision, and back to our gentle words.
Some Thoroughbreds are just the opposite, coming off the racetrack round and elastic and vibrating with energy like a plucked bow-string. They hold the bit like a burr in their mouths, drooling pools of foam around it, for all the world like a Grand Prix dressage horse. Indeed, their trot is more like a piaffe; their canter an exercise in collection. The reins are electric, alive; your fingers but quiver to evoke a passionate response – your legs on their sides are quiet and still lest you send them leaping into the atmosphere. Barely restrained power and nervous energy, these Thoroughbreds require a very confident, gentle rider.
I find this more often in mares than geldings. What is the saying – Tell a gelding, ask a mare? Too few people know to ask their mares. Or their fillies. And so you find these quivering, explosive ladies, their hearts pounding, their mouths dripping, waiting to be told, waiting to be told so that they can be angry, so that they have an excuse for all this upset, so it isn’t her it’s you. Mares, mares, mares, you are just women after all. I see something of myself in you.
Which is why it’s easier to ride geldings, of course. Even with all those hard angles and straight lines. Because they can be easily fixed, with just a little muscle and determination. The metaphors are endless.
Riding Bon Appeal was simply the opposite of riding Final Call. Final Call expresses frustration by sticking his nose out and gaping his mouth against the bit and flash noseband. Bon Appeal expresses frustration by tucking her nose to her knee, rounding, and performing a piaffe. To relax Final Call before a training session, one gives him a good long trot and gallop to help him round out. To relax Bon Appeal before a training session, one must walk, and walk, and walk, to help her unwind.
When you see her tongue appear, you’re starting to get through to her. Bonnie’s tongue appears when she is relaxed. She loosens the tension in her jaw, and out it rolls. They say that this is a deduction in dressage. If this is still the case, then dressage judges are exercising out and out prejudice against retired racehorses. Most of the horses that go to post have their tongues tied. Tie a tongue enough, and the nerves just don’t recover. And when the horse relaxes, and softens against the bit… there goes the tongue…!