Fifty-One Years Ago Today

On July 4, 1970 I got my first horse, Hat Tricks, 5 year old chestnut Anglo-Arab gelding, green-broke and just gelded three weeks before. I had 4 years of trail riding experience, I had not ridden in years, and I only had 2 whole riding lessons in my life.

Hat Tricks was an angel. He taught me how to ride horses, train horses, how to not get horses pissed off at me, and how to raise good kids. Hat Tricks, even now I think he was the best horse ever to exist on this earth. I was SO LUCKY to have him in my life. By sheer luck I ended up with a horse that could fulfill all the fantasies of having a horse that liked me, worked with me, corrected me firmly but gently, and one that was so PATIENT with me learning how to ride better. I still miss him.

After a week of canceled rides I did finally get to ride today. It is beautiful out, the sun is shining, there is a cool breeze, and it is not too humid yet. I forgot to put on my ice vest, I forgot to turn my neck fan on, it was great!

Last Sunday my ride on Cider was not good. With Shannon's permission I was using the Fager Alexander sweet-iron snaffle with an angled copper center plate on my new Micklem bridle. It was not a good ride. Cider had no problems with the bit, it was just whenever one of her front feet landed I could feel flinching going all the way up her front legs.

I had started that ride with my now usual 5 minutes of two-point, and it did not do any good at all. We just walked of course, but every step was so tentative, she flinched like it really hurt her, and I was feeling really guilty about riding her at all. After a few days my brain started working on why Cider was so much worse suddenly. I had gotten her the Shoo Fly leggings and Shannon told me Cider was not stomping her front legs all the time, so it was not from the horrible flies. Cider seemed to accept the new bit just fine, she did not fuss with her mouth and she reacted to my hand aids as usual in between the flinching. Then I remembered that the previous rides I had been using either the double bridle with titanium bits or a titanium snaffle. Were the titanium bits helping with Cider's pain while I rode her?

So for my ride this week I decided to go back to the double bridle with the titanium bits. I had this bit floating around, I had tried it on MJ last October and it was a disaster for him, gaping, globs of saliva dripping from his mouth, and he went behind the vertical some. It took me months to realize that maybe this Weymouth, the Fager Elisabeth titanium ported curb, was not wide enough and that the bradoon had interfered with the release of tension on the curb bit, by the purchase (top of the cheek piece) of the curb getting caught up in the bradoon preventing a total release of tension. Since Cider's mouth is not as wide as MJ's mouth I decided to try this bit again. So on Cider's double bridle I now have the 125mm Fager Elisabeth titanium Weymouth curb and the 120mm Fager Alice double-jointed bradoon with a titanium roller in the center.

Cider was totally fine with this set-up. She tongued the new Weymouth for a few seconds and relaxed. I had NO PROBLEMS with her about the bits today, even when I kept contact with just the curb rein she walked fine though she did raise her head slightly at first. No gaping, no super drooling, Cider acted like everything was fine with her mouth.

And Cider's flinching got so much better! She is still arthritic, I can tell that carrying me is not totally painless to her front legs, but she was not acting like a painful electric shock was going up her leg. Shannon saw no signs of distress about the bits, Cider after the first minute or so kept her mouth quiet and went around the ring obviously feeling better. Is this a function of the titanium not causing an allergic reaction?

After our ride Shannon told me that she thinks that Cider greatly prefers the double bridle. I get the impression that the horses collect themselves slightly in the double bridle even when the curb rein is sagging, and even a tiny bit of transfer of weight from the front legs to the back legs is just enough so Cider does not hurt as much when her front legs land on the ground. We did have a few “discussions” but these discussions were briefer and much less vehement than the “discussions” we had with the sweet-iron snaffle bit.

Now I will have to get MJ the next widest Fager Elisabeth titanium Weymouth, the 135mm one that won't interfere with the bradoon. Recently Louise Fagerson wrote a blog on how it is a good idea to change the bits for a horse so a different part of the mouth gets pressure, and to go on periodically changing them. Normally I will change a horse's bit once or twice a year, more as a boredom preventive than anything else. Now I will do it a bit more often, just to keep the horses' mouths fresh and responsive, mostly with the Fager titanium bits.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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