Saturday, May 2, 2009

Less Is More!!

I'm working with a student of mine and her OTTB mare aged 6. Nice mare, about 16.2hh, good shape, lots of energy and conformationally a head that is set upon a very high neck. A lot of this wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that the owner is a VERY Green, middle aged woman. Still she is a fearless rider and enjoys riding "fast" on her horse.

She loves watching others ride and is often envious of how nice and quiet their horses appear. She finally desires to achieve the same with her mare. Which is good for the rest of us as watching her tear around thew arena unbalanced and at gallop was getting unnerving LOL!

She was told by her shoer, who apparently thinks she is also a trainer *snork*, that the only way to slow her horse down was to use a copper roller cow horse shanked bit. *GULP* Yeah put that in the hands of a green rider. So one day we all go on a trail ride and we start cantering all of us are under control except for her and her horse. The mare's head is up so high they were probably looking at each other eye to eye. The mare was also learning how to evade the bit this way.

So finally she asks me to help her and I start training her horse MY WAY. I have one of my working students ride her horse while I show her what her current bit is doing to the horse. The mare is uncomfortable, agitated, flips her head and won't settle down. Now being on the ground the owner can see this clearly! So I tell her we're switching her horse to a simple full cheek snaffle. She was aghast at first and said there was NO WAY her horse would be able to be under control in such a simple bit.

So we switch bits and I throw a set of draw reins on the horse to LIGHTLY begin encouraging the horse to bring it's head down just a wee bit. With in 10 minutes we're riding in circles at a VERY nice hunter under saddle-like walk, trot and beautiful canter both directions. No head flipping, bit evasion nothing, just a nice supple horse. She was so beyond impressed and thrilled she couldn't even believe it was her own horse. So she asked me why? Why I changed bits. Easy.

  1. The bit she was using was way to big, thick and fat for the dainty TB mouth.

  2. The bit was WAY to harsh to be used by a green rider on a green horse.

  3. I ALWAYS try to revert back to a simple full cheek snaffle. When a horse is a strong and likes to pull I try to use LESS bit and not something harsher, meaner and more damaging! Using a harsher bit is NOT a replacement for good training!!!

  4. The draw reins were used briefly and in light hands, just to get the mare's brain understanding that round, soft and supple is what we're looking for. Just so when she popped her head up too high I was able to bring it back down gently.

Now the horse is riding in her happy snaffle, light and responsive. No more pulling, bolting or head flipping. The draw reins are no becoming more and more scarce. Weaning her off of them while she learns to support her own frame. Lots of circles and changes of gait to also keep her attentive and willing.

Meaner and angrier training methods or tack is never going to be even CLOSE to a replacement of good training. The problems will always still be lurking. Even if you watch PRO cow horse competitions or reining or show jumping the bits they use may be a tad more aggressive, but for the most part they are in the hands of VERY soft experienced riders.

When training or deciding on which of the three BILLION different bits you could choose from LESS IS ALWAYS MORE and the owner couldn't be more THRILLED with how her horse is riding now!! :)


GoLightly said...

"Meaner and angrier training methods or tack is never going to be even CLOSE to a replacement of good training. The problems will always still be lurking. "

Well said, and well done.

Great job!

sterling said...

Well said, well played! Sounds a lot like my arab, especially how the head is set on. My horse was a saddleseat horse, jerked up into a frame and left there before his muscles could develop. He was ridden mainly off the bit and not the bradoon. Boy, now does he hate curbs! Wonder why...NOT. We now have a HS snaffle that was a STEAL at a tack swap (so glad I found that one) that he loves. He couldn't be happier. Less is indeed more.

On trail rides, the more bit I have on him, the more he ignores it; pelhams, kimberwickes, even a snaffle, he'd prefer to ignore it rather than slow down when he gets going. The solution: a simple rope hackamore.

Who'd a thunk it, right? I mean, for a hot horse, all you need is a bigger bit! [/end sarcasm]

The Pale Horseman said...

I was wondering what your view is on pelhams with roundings on... I use a straight bar valconite (spelling?) for everyday use and have a straight rubber happy mouth one for backup. I use the happy mouth for backup because I know that those rubber bits can split if the horse chews them.

Just wondered what you think of them, as my mare is quite happy in hers.

Is there any way they should never be used?

CCH said...

I have that bit, lol. Its kind of a piece. I haven't actually used it in more than a couple years. It really has no flex, kind of like a mullen with a little give at the roller. IMO it is more of a roper's bit than a cow horse bit. It's for the nod and rod type.

But, in the end it all goes back to horsemanship basics. Green riders just generally don't belong on green horses without supervision. People need to learn from someone who actually knows what they are doing.

(I probably would have made her ride around in a padded halter.)

The Crossroads said...

I run my gelding in speed on a snaffle, never had a problem with him. We don't make the tightest turns but I'd rather suffer turns than a painful bit or a ruined horse. I watch this barrel racers run around in twisted wire snaffles and gag bits. They drive me nuts the concoctions they put their horses in. Half of the riders don't have enough brains to take things slow and maybe then they wouldn't need such harsh bits.

Great post ;)

dazey said...

Does anyone realize that the snaffle bit can be hurtful to the horse? If the rider pulls on both reins at once it will arch and cause pain to the roof of the horse's mouth. Much better and safer for horse and rider is Dr. Cook's bitless bridle.

The Crossroads said...

Any bit can be hell for a horse, it all depends on the rider's hands.

Trainer X said...

Pale Horseman. I am not against a straight bar pelham at all! The straight bar in the horses mouth can actually be way more gentle than a broken mouth piece... And if that's how your horse is able to be ridden effectively for you than GREAT! Stick with it :)

Here's a good test for ANY rider looking for a new bit. Lay it across the palm of you hand grab the rings and pull, if it's painful for you think of your horses mouth!

Equus said...

I agree with that test on your arm!!

As for "aggressive" bits such as curbs...they do not have to be (and IMO shouldn't be) aggressive. They're meant to refine communication, for subtlety, between horse and rider. Not for control. You put them in for collection and other refined maneuvers, after all the basics are installed. Snaffles are for lateral flexion and bending, curbs are for straightness.

Dazey...snaffles can hurt a horse's mouth. Most people do not realise a simple ingle-jointed snaffle can exert a lot of nutcracker action on the tongue. That's why it pays off to know your bits and to understand what works and what doesn't for your horse.

Great post, X.

kestrel said...

I truly hope the sadist who developed the 'snaffle/curb' bit is wearing one in hell as we speak! Those are some harsh bits, and the flapping of the loose shanks when the horse moves is incredibly painful. I've actually had students hold the bit under their own chin and be driven by someone else...bwaaahahaha!

horspoor said...

Excellent! It's amazing how often this situation comes up. Go harsher go bigger, make a bigger mess. When the fix is usually so easy.

I find many people are really not comfortable with going back to a snaffle. They truly believe they need the 'bigger' bit for control. It must be a fear thing. It's tough to change your way of thinking, and what you believe to be true.

GOOD JOB. Hard to deny the facts when they are slamming you in the face. Very nice outcome for horse and rider.

sterling said...

dazey said...
Does anyone realize that the snaffle bit can be hurtful to the horse? If the rider pulls on both reins at once it will arch and cause pain to the roof of the horse's mouth. Much better and safer for horse and rider is Dr. Cook's bitless bridle.
Dazey, you are right. Some people don't realize how much of a nutcracker effect a plain old snaffle can have. And, I am not against hackamores and bitless bridles (my horse likes his hackamore). However, if you are pulling hard enough on your horse's mouth to cause that much pain then A: horsie is being silly and trying to yank your arms out of your sockets and you should go back to basics for awhile or B: you need better hands. I prefer a french link or a similar type of bit that reduces the nutcracker effect and is gentler and fits better in the horse's mouth than the plain snaffle.

I think that the reason why so many people don't go bitless is because you can't show in a bitless bridle (or a bosal over a certain age). And some horses simply don't like it as much as a bit. My horse loves his HS snaffle and rides great even on the trail, but rides well in his hackamore too. Another horse at my barn goes only in a simple copper mouth snaffle, but is kinda scary in a hackamore. It is all about the horse's preferance.