Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Riding Diary: 27

Bit: Well... you'll see.

Time: 1.5 hr

Ride: The saga that is my horse and his mouth continues. I rode Jingle a couple times this week and he was just generally being annoying and attempting to ignore me. Freezing up, throwing his head when he gets too hot, his typical issues, however, they seemed more pronounced this week. I'm bad with his behavioural issues though because I know they've come from PAST pain responses, and so I baby him. Then I get into my lesson and say things like, "well... he was shaking his head a lot but maybe he wasn't comfortable", when this time last week we were loping perfect small circles, relaxed, on the left lead and "well I switched up bits so maybe that was the issue", when I tried him in an even milder, comparable to one he already has now, bit. I need to work on getting a back bone with my horse. Sigh. I just worry, but my dentist said to continue riding him in a bit for now, and that I wont see results right away, but over time I will notice quite a difference. My trainer also commented to me last night, "by the end of winter, you two will have all of this down - don't worry." So that's the theme of mine and my horses relationship right now - time.

Okay, so now that I've premised this as if it was the worst ride ever (it wasn't, I'm a drama queen)... We started off warming up with some limited space, so I was working Jingle is some smaller circles and he was doing really well. He is carrying himself better in those smaller circles and I had some friends out who know him from back in the day and they commented on how sleek and muscular he's starting to look. Handome Boy! This was the lesson of the bit drama, I usually ride Jingle in a D Ring snaffle with three piece dogbone copper roller, however, I felt as if the roller was only contributing to his fussiness, and so I thought to move into some more immobile. I then went out with just a basic french link in mind, and came back with something very similar, just not as flat as your traditional french link - more bulbous. (I'm sure there is a name for this bit, but it's early, and i'm tired) Honestly, if anything, I think it made his fussiness worse, so perhaps I was wrong. Horselife said that if I tried it once and didn't like it I could return it as long as I give it a really good cleaning, but that was a young girl telling me this, and I've never heard of a store taking bits back when they've been used... plus I would never want to buy a bit "new" that's been in a horses mouth, so goodbye $40.00.

Jingle is hard-mouthed, like... exceptionally hard mouthed, and the only time it really becomes a problem is his stops. Last week I started to feel as if he was really beginning to use his back end when he stops, but this week we started off with the same weak, leaky stops. This is probably me, once again, babying him, and not doing enough work stopping and transitioning with him - things to practice this week before next week's lesson! My trainer couldn't believe how hard mouthed he was, and got on him herself, well... I wasn't lying was I. She was pretty shocked I think. She commented that it's like trying to stop a brick wall or something, haha, poor Jingle and Louisa.

So, we moved him into the bit we had that worked well last week (double twisted snaffle - not as thin as a twisted wire though). It's such a precarious balance - bump them up into a harsher bit, make sure your hands are soft, don't bump their mouths too much - only get after them if you have too.. I stress out. My pony was NOT responding like he had last week - back to his pissy pants tantrum self.

So then we moved into a long shank three piece with a roller in the centre. Jingle has been ridden in a shank bit, so he knows what leverage is, but he used to really avoid leverage (especially in his turns), and that's why I chose to ride him in a snaffle. However, aside from his stop, he's starting to really work well and understand his cues more and more, so I wasn't too worried about adding shanks. He ended up doing pretty well, he was definitely responding more with his stops, and I didn't have to really yard on him so much, so it was a nice little happy medium.

On a more overall positive note - his jog is really coming along, the other night I must have jogged him 6 laps at a big circle, small circle, serpentines, around barrels, and he was nice and slow and moving really long and low, so there's a gait that we really are starting to get the hang of!

He is still a sticky sticky horse with his right lead, around and around and around we'll go at this like hyper-crazy jog, and he'll pick up a lope but it'll be the wrong lead and before I even attempt to correct him - bam, he breaks down again. We'll get there - I can feel it coming, his left lead is really coming along and starting to be something, but... that right lead will need some work.

For Next Time: My trainer let me keep that bridle for our next ride so I can keep working him in that bit and see if that's the route I want to go. (Thank the lord, I can't keep buying bits - sheesh!) So i'm going to work him a couple more times and see if he's going to actually respond to it, instead of respond nicely once and then fall back on his old ways. Other than that, his stop is my number one thing I want to work on this week.

As for the bit vs. bitless debate it's raging in my mind; On one hand it wouldn't hurt to see if I could try out a side pull or a hackamore or something and see if that's better. However, on the other, my dentist did advise to continuing riding him in a bit, and just give it loooooots of time. & so, for now, I'll continue searching for the elusive bit/tack combination that makes him happy, and if that doesn't seem to work in the next couple of months, I suppose we'll move into bitless. Nothing wrong with that.


  1. Sorry for clogging up your blog with comments. :)

    I am of the school of thought that all good training can be accomplished in a snaffle. It takes a long, long time, but if your horse has a hard mouth, the way to soften him is with softness. Pulling harder will never get through to him.

    So what you do is sit on his back and get comfortable, and pick up light (very very light -- lighter than you think) pressure on the reins. Then you hold that light pressure as long as it takes, never changing, never pulling harder, never doing anything but waiting.

    Seriously, with hard-mouthed horses, this can take a long, long, long time at first. As much as five or ten minutes just sitting there. So go into it mentally prepared.

    After a while, your horse will start to get annoyed with that slight pressure and maybe push against your hands. If he does this, just hold your hands in the same place. Let him put more pressure on his own mouth if he wants. But don't pull back.

    Eventually what will happen is he will start to explore. He might try going up or down, or bend to the left or right. Don't reward this, just keep your hands in the same place. But the instant he breaks at the poll and the weight on the bit disappears, drop your reins and pet him on the neck. Give him a 15-30 second break to think about what happened. Then do it again.

    Do that over and over and over and over. Like, a million times over. One you've got it standing, do it at the walk. Once you've got it at the walk, do it at the trot.

    It takes a long time, but it's the only guaranteed way I know of to make a hard horse soft again. I've seen a few pretty dead-mouthed horses come out the other side though, and it's worth the effort.

    1. No way! I love your comments, always so insightful and well thought out. I agree with you, the past week when I've ridden we've just gone back to our regular bit (which is a three piece with a roller, because without the roller he becomes so mouthy it's outrageous) and I've done a lot of softening stuff like what you talked about. Today we were doing some beautiful transitions between walk and jog, with intermittent stops, back ups and then I'd ask him to drop his head, etc. Just really mixing it up and he was doing great. So, I think we're at the beginning of a long road, but I do think softness will be achieved!

      However, in my lessons, when I'm starting to ask for him to lope, if he's hot and frustrated, he will not stop. He'll zoom off and around and down and through, a couple times almost into a jump standard. So, my trainer and I do bit him up, but I barely use contact with him anyways. I know you may see it as slightly counter intuitive but I do think it's working for us. He's learning to lope properly, and really starting to use his hind end, but if he decides to take off, I have more control, and more stop and then we work on softness, he's really starting to engage and work with me.

      His mouth fussiness though, is unrelenting and annoying with any bit. haha