It Seems Like Coach Prefers a Center Joint
This week I learned that Coach can communicate with great subtlety.
I was all excited when I got to the stable for my lesson on Wednesday. I had put my new three piece titanium coated “rainbow” egg-butt snaffle (with a lozenge) on my bridle to try out on Coach. When it came time to put on the bridle I showed Coach the bit, I apologized that the mouthpiece was thinner than he likes (12mm instead of 23mm), I thanked him for his forbearance with my bit experimentations, and I asked him to tell me what he thought of the center lozenge of the bit. The other tack change was that I did not use my Fenwick face mask with ears since he seemed to be upset with the connection on his lower jaw bones, substituting a regular crochet ear bonnet that ties down on the throat latch.
Of course Coach ground the bit between his teeth until I mounted, though not as furiously as with the stainless steel bits I had tried. Once I got contact he stopped the grinding, took up adequate contact, and he was responsive to my hand aids. He kept his mouth quiet when I rode with loose reins too, EXCEPT that he started to deliberately pick up a rein and start chewing on it (both sides though mainly on the right.) Several times Debbie had to get the rein out of his mouth. She said she had never seen him do this particular thing before, though he had gone through a lot of the normal bit evasions when he did not like the bits they had tried on him.
Finally it dawned on me that Coach was trying to tell me that he wanted a thicker bit (the initial grinding,) that he liked the taste of the titanium coated bit (no grinding while riding off contact,) BUT he DID NOT like the extra mobility of the three-piece mouthpiece (grabbing the rein while off contact.) I was amazed, I have never gotten such a specific critique of a bit from a horse in my 48 years of trying to ride seriously! I am getting the feeling that Coach does not appreciate the bit moving a lot in his mouth, first with his incessant grinding of the super mobile mouthpiece of the Wellep bit, and now with grabbing the rein with the three-piece lozenge mouthpiece. This new knowledge had certainly changed my bit buying plans!
Of course I may have put this bit on backwards on the bridle. The center lozenge is at an angle to the mouthpiece, and afterwards, after experimenting with this bit on my own tongue I found out that one way it does not feel comfortable to my tongue but the other way the central lozenge lays flat on my tongue. So I am not giving up on this bit forever, it will still be in my “boredom relief” bit rotation, but next time I will make good and sure that I put it on the way that the central lozenge lies flat on his tongue. I still think he was objecting to the mobility of the side pieces of the mouthpiece since he seemed to find contact comfortable.
I am planning on using the stainless steel 23mm thick single jointed egg-butt snaffle for the next three rides to give Coach a break from all of my bit experiments. I just ordered three more titanium coated bits, a single jointed Baucher, an Uxeter Kimberwick bit with a port, and a Mullen mouth snaffle. I am interested in Coach's reactions to the Kimberwick and Mullen mouth bits whose mouthpieces do not move at all. Will his mouth be calmer? Will he still obey my hand aids? In a few weeks I will be able to find out. I am also interested in how he will react to the Baucher because it is a possible brandoon substitute for a double bridle.
Over the decades I've read and heard that chestnut horses, especially chestnut Thoroughbred mares, can be more reactive than other colored horses. I had sort of discounted this, my first horse was a chestnut Anglo-Arab gelding who reacted “normally” to most of everything. However, with Coach (gelding) I am becoming a believer in the idea that chestnut Thoroughbreds are more sensitive. There is so much that Coach does not like that either does not bother other horses or the other horses quickly decide to ignore. Not Coach. My fly whisk was an instrument of psychological torture, he HATES anything tight across his lower jaw bones, the HandsOn grooming gloves are too harsh for his delicate skin, he was very irritated with my leather bit guards, and now Debbie thinks that he does not like my mohair string girth when he gets sweaty (which he shows by reaching around and halfheartedly trying to bite my lower leg.) Debbie told me that he does not act that way with a fleece girth so I will buy one just for him. I am also getting the feeling that Coach might be happier without any ear covers too, which means I have to get fly spray on his ears and upper head which may end up being an adventure.
But Coach is SO SMART! He may not be as quick on the up-take as an Arab, but when he gets to think things through he comes up with behaviors that show his displeasure that I've never run into before. He is not mean, he shows his displeasure in measured ways and without any danger to me, and at no time have I felt threatened by his objections. Coach is not a super-reactive dumb brute, Coach is a super-reactive intelligent horse that figures out subtle methods to get his point across without scaring or hurting me, his rider, and he is patient with me (he has not “blown-up” or tried to run away with me.)
I really like smart horses, this is one reasons why I like Arabian horses so much. Arabs keep me at the top of my mental game, but so far no Arab I've ridden has ever been as super-sensitive as Coach. The Arabs seem to come to the conclusion that I am doing everything I can to not irritate them and they are willing to give me a chance to gradually improve. Coach, on the other hand, wants me to improve RIGHT NOW so I will stop irritating him. This is good, by the time the weather cools enough so my body can handle going faster than a walk I do not want him to feel irritated by his tack or bit, so when I inevitably start losing my balance that will be his lone irritation instead of an additional irritation to the twenty or so other things that irritate him when I ride. I think that multiple irritations are a reason why some horses “blow-up” when ridden, so I figure that the fewer ways I irritate Coach the better for my safety.
Have a great ride!