Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You can never have too many bits

I might have a rather significant collection of bits, but I don't use them all. In fact, some of them I've never used. Bits, for me, are a lot like shoes for other women. I just like them and I like to have plenty of options available, just in case.

Since I've had Gabe I've had a variety of bits in his mouth trying to find something he likes. From a big fat loose ring snaffle, to a loose-ringer Myler snaffle, to a double-jointed Myler D-ring, to a regular racing dee, a single-jointed eggbutt, a rubber mouth D-ring, a full-cheek and finally, a Baucher.

Each and every bit elicted a different, not entirely accepting, response from the big, picky guy. He absolutely hated the full-cheek snaffle and has been mildly accepting of the Baucher. He mouths and mouths and plays and gets above it and below it, twists his head and sometimes puts his tongue over it, no matter how little or how much contact I take up. His teeth aren't the issue, they've been checked.

He has a very narrow jaw and a low palate (like many Thoroughbreds) and I got to thinking...are these single jointed bits nut-crackering and irritating his palate and smushing his jaw? Even the double-jointed Myler had a mild port on it, so it would poke his palate.

I've been searching for a very specific bit for quite some time and for some reason, it's not carried by many tack shops. I don't like to buy my bits online, I like to hold them, feel their weight in my hands, examine the action over my arm and run my fingers over the metal to check for any scratches or burrs that might irritate. I also can't STAND a squeaky bit, so the joints must be fully tested, too.

A quick stop in my local tack shop finally struck gold. Of all the bits on the wall, there was only one of the type I was seeking: A double jointed eggbutt snaffle with a copper half-moon, in the right size. JACKPOT!

Even though there was no one else in the shop, I snagged that bugger as quickly as I could just in case it decided to poof into non-existence.  I hefted it, folded it over my arm, caressed the stainless steel, tested the joints and listened very carefully for any tell-tale signs of squeakiness. Nothing. It was perfect and beautiful.

I couldn't wait to get home to give it the Gabe test.

Guess what? He likes it! He likes it! So much excitement! After a few moments of mouthing it and sucking it up into his mouth to test it, something amazing happened - his mouth went still and I swear his eyes went soft and accepting. His mouth was completely quiet, his teeth stayed still and his tongue remained under the bit. That has NEVER happened with any of the other bits I've tried. His mouth stayed quiet and still the entire ride and he actually began reaching actively into it, white foam lipsticking his lips beautifully.

Our ride was fantastic. It felt good, he felt good, there was no head twisting or lip flapping or teeth grinding. I rode with very, very light contact and he kept reaching, reaching, reaching for the contact and every few strides rounded actively up into it with his ears pricked forward. Joyfulness!

Happiness is FINALLY finding a bit your horse loves. Especially when it's a nice, gentle, mild bit.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oh, it hurts!

Last night we did something I've not yet felt comfortable enough with Gabe to do. Those who have been following our progress know that while, for the most part, Gabe is usually on an even keel, sometimes he has fairly explosive reactions to spooky things and can, for no discernible reason whatsoever, just be way too playful under saddle.

But, with him being such a star lately, I decided it was time to ride him bareback. Well, I didn't ride bareback, bareback, but rather threw my Baretek on him and went for a ride. For the record, I love my Baretek, all the benefits of bareback riding without the drawbacks (sweaty, hairy butt and legs, slippery back, etc.).

At first he didn't know what to think. He turned and looked at me when I first climbed aboard as if pondering what the heck I was doing. I know the feeling is different and he didn't know how to respond. I nudged him for a walk and got no reaction. Nudge again, still nothing. Kick and the lightbulb went off in his little TB head.

Did I mention I haven't ridden bareback or with the Baretek for YEARS? Holy mackerel. Apparently, I need to do it more often because within the first 10-15 minutes and a posting trot down the long side my inner thighs and hip flexors were SCREAMING in agony. My saddle, a multi-purpose eventing saddle that has a fairly forward seat, does not push my thighs back into a dressage position like the Baretek does. Yikes. Ouch! It is nice to know that I still have good balance though, even without stirrups. I dropped the reins a few times at the trot and held my arms out to the sides or above my head just to be sure I was riding with my seat, not balancing on his face. Most of the ride was done on a loose rein simply because I wanted to be sure I was using my body to balance and not his face.

Once we did as much posting and sitting trot as I could physically tolerate, we worked on tuning his sensitivity to my legs and seat (something nice and easy we could do at a walk and still accomplish a lot of what I've been wanting to work on with him.) He has always been sticky and very slow to respond to requests for lateral movement away from the pressure of my legs. By the end of the ride I think he finally GOT it. Yay! He does, however, respond beautifully to my seat for half-halts, halts and slowing/shortening his stride without any need for the reins. At least I got that part right in the training!

So, my goal now is to ride bareback at least once a week and really work on building my leg/ab strength, something that seems to have significantly diminished in riding exclusively in my saddle. It's good for me, and good for him, and now that I trust him so much more not to be a random nitwit, I feel comfortable doing it, too.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Moooo-ving right along

Cows, we have conquered you. Go ahead and moo as we walk by, go ahead and run at us in your crazy drunken gait. Go ahead and stick your tongues up your noses because we just don't care.

Yes, it's true, Gabe has very nearly conquered his fear of the bovine kind. Three times during our Sunday ride the cows were present and he kept himself together. The first time the cows, a youngish herd full of bucks and moos, ran at the fence at us (what is it with cows being so fascinated by passing horses? I don't understand.) and followed along as we went up the road. And Gabe kept it together, I could feel him trembling beneath me, I could feel that big muscular body knot up in preparation to leave town, but he didn't. One slight balk from him, a few encouraging words and nudges from me and onward we marched. To add to the level of terror, the cows were above us on a ridge that runs along the road. So, not only were they loud AND following us, they were towering above us.

So proud of my big, brave guy. Lately it seems like a switch got flipped in his brain. He went from cautious, spooky, terrified baby to stoic, face-your-fears, give everything a try grown up. Such a delightful change. On-the-buckle trail rides have become the norm rather than the exception and the little things (like wind in the corn or a quail flying out of the grass near him) no longer send him into fits of white-eyed terror.

But, is it maturity, or simply the fact that we've been going out a lot more since Jaquie moved Teddy out to my farm and we now have someone to ride with? Maybe a combination of both. I don't know the answer, but I sure love the results!

And, he has discovered how much fun jumping can be. I have a small course set up, about 2' jumps and he gets so excited...ears prick forward and it seems like he really looks forward to a couple of times around the course. He doesn't get crazy excited or overly fast, but he certainly does seem like he enjoys it...a lot! And so far, he's gone over everything I've pointed him at, even the scary barrels. Next...I'm building a scary liverpool and a super scary brush box stuffed with the most hideous fake flowers I can find.

Life is good!