As Michael Approached

I just got to ride on Wednesday this week. There was off and on rain, and a pretty persistent drizzle while we drove to the stable. Debbie had called me to make sure I was still coming out, but when I told her that this would be my only chance to ride this week and I was willing to dodge the raindrops she told me to come on out.

Debbie was late so I started Coach's grooming. He was a little antsier than usual in the wash stall but I shrugged it off since he was not doing anything dangerous. Debbie appeared for the final brushing and tacked Coach up for me. Luckily the drizzle had stopped by the time we went out to the ring though the weather was obviously unsettled.

I have noticed with several horses that while they may learn a lesson perfectly under one set of conditions, they “forget” their lessons when their environment changes. Coach was going “are you sure this means the same thing?” for most of my aids. Then he started neighing, long neighs that shook his whole body. I kept him moving and he neighed three more times, I said enough and put him to work, at which point he stopped neighing. But “halt”--“Are you sure? Does this mean the same thing that it meant when a storm was not coming? How can you expect me to halt with a storm coming?” Eventually he realized that it did not matter that a storm was coming, I still expected him to obey my aids. It was not wholly bad, when I asked him to extend his walk he went into an absolutely marvelous “going home” walk that Thoroughbreds will do on the way home from a trail ride, calm with longer strides, going home a Thoroughbred has little difficulty adding 1-2 MPH to the speed of their walk, even horses that at other times need leg, leg, leg to extend their strides a millimeter.

Since Coach was still loath to halt I practiced halting while heading toward the gate. I worked on turning him by relaxing my outside rein and asking him to keep contact with my outside leg, something he seems to have figured out, hopefully soon I will only have to relax my outside rein for him to keep contact and turn. I like this rein aid for turning because when I use my inside direct rein for a turn it seems that the horses slow down a little bit and I want the horse to keep an even speed. It is also good for a horse to “buy into” keeping contact, and this relaxed outer rein is useful proof that the horse understands what contact means, is not bothered by the contact, and that he is obedient to the rein.

When I asked him to back up Coach surprised me, every other time we backed up Coach moved his right diagonal back first (micro-step), on Friday he moved his left diagonal back first (micro-step), and as usual he was reluctant to make the second step back. I had been wondering if his one-sidedness backing up was because of something physically wrong with him, now I have proof that he can start backing up with either diagonal. I am not making rapid progress with him backing up, right now I am concentrating on getting him to back up without inverting, opening his mouth, or otherwise acting like a totally untrained horse.

Coach's acceptance of the titanium bits has led me unto some strange paths. I tend to be a little bit conservative about horse tack, but here I am using the “rainbow” titanium coated bits because they are the only titanium bits I can afford. Fortunately Debbie, my riding teacher, thinks that the “rainbow” bits are beautiful so she has not found them unacceptable though I think they are a little bit garish myself. Since Coach is the first horse I've ridden in a decade with a suitable mouth for two bits (long lips) and who does not have any problems with his back or hocks, I am eager to try the double on him. However I simply cannot afford around $300.00+ USD for a Lorenzini pure titanium Weymouth curb, and none of the titanium coated bit makers have come out with a Weymouth bit. I was looking on the web and finally realized that the ONLY titanium coated bit available that could be used as a curb in a double bridle is a Western grazing curb, with the swept back shanks. So I have been asking around to see if anyone had ever seen or heard of someone using a Western grazing curb in a double bridle. No one had, I went to my “local” tack store whose owner rides Western, and she had not heard of it either, but she told me that since I do not show horses that she saw no problem with me cobbling together a double bridle out of any bit combination I desired. Since I will be using my Micklem bridle plus a brandoon strap as the headgear and my rainbow reins for the snaffle, I will look unconventional anyway so I might as well use the “rainbow” grazing curb and a rainbow snaffle. I do have a double bridle set made of a copper-nickel alloy that I will try at some point but this alloy's taste is different, it does not warm up anywhere near as quickly as the titanium bits do, and I fear that he may not like it as much as he does the titanium. It is so much more relaxing to ride on a loose rein without Coach trying to grind the bit into tiny pieces!

The Western grazing curb might help me with a problem that I was better able to deal with before my MS got so bad, when I ride with double reins in a double bridle or a Pelham I have difficulties because my curb reins feel like they should be 3” longer so I can shorten both sets of reins evenly at the same time instead of trying to shorten my snaffle rein without shortening my curb rein too much. With the swept back shanks on the Western grazing curb I hope that I will not have to order custom made curb reins that are just 3” longer (1 1/2” each rein) so that handling the reins will be easier for me. I tried using warm-blood reins one time as a curb rein but they were just too long for me to handle them easily. If I were riding in collection like the dressage riders or if I rode show type American Saddlebreds with the high head carriage this would not be a problem. However when I ride in a double bridle I want the horse to go just like he does in a snaffle, with a stretched out neck with his nose poked out in front.

I just ordered today a Bombers “Happy Tongue” titanium snaffle bit, a non-jointed bit with a very generous wide “port” that will give Coach's tongue more freedom. ALL of the Bombers bits are expensive (most are made with “blue” iron mouths) but even so this bit is cheaper than the Lorenzini pure titanium bits and none of the Lorenzini bits have this mouthpiece. In fact the Lorenzini people do not make any Mullen mouth snaffles. I do not know if Coach will like this bit better than the normal Mullen mouth snaffle but I get the feeling that Coach might prefer a little bit more room for his tongue. If he does not like it I am sure that someday I will run into a horse that thinks this bit is a gift from heaven.

Tomorrow, if Shannon approves, I am going to try my titanium coated “rainbow gloss” Uxeter Kimberwick on Cider. She, like the other horses, has been grinding the right side of the mouthpiece between her premolars, and I want to see if she improves with a more stable mouthpiece. I will discuss with Shannon if she thinks I should try putting the rein on the bottom slot of the Kimberwick for when I do a “collecting” rein aid on her, or if Shannon thinks I should just use the bit as a regular Kimberwick until Cider gets used to it. Fortunately Cider is not quite as picky about bits as Coach and Mia are, and hopefully she will decide that she likes this new bit.

I never imagined that the horses would like the titanium bits so much. Right now I am thinking that maybe I can safely sell some of my stainless steel bits. You see, before I tried the titanium coated bits, all the horses I ride were quite vehement that with my MS affected hands that only the Wellep bits were gentle enough. Now, with the titanium coated bits they let me use mouthpieces they have not let me use for years.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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