It Sure Feels Like Winter

Apparently it was the Siberian air mass visiting NC this week. It was cold, with a pretty brisk North wind and it just sucked the energy out of me.

Since Wednesday morning was too cold to ride I did not get my lesson until Friday. Friday morning I opened the front door to see what it felt like and I went back inside and put on layers. I'm starting to feel like a sheet of plywood though I'm not quite as stiff. The layers worked, at least I did not have to put gloves on since my hands kept warm as long as they were near the horse.

My third snaffle that I bought from Fager's came in and I got Debbie's permission to try it out on Bingo which is nice since I still have a week to go until Shannon thinks Cider has made an educated decision about the Fager's Lilly bar relief bit. After I got the new bit, the Fager's Frida Side Lock TOL double jointed snaffle, I handled it. This is an interesting bit, it has loose rings that go through a “sleeve” where they meet the mouthpiece, the 14mm cannons are straight, the middle link sort of resembles a French link and is 17mm long and 14mm wide, smaller than the French links on my normal bits. IF this bit is put on the bridle correctly this center link limits the fold of the bit so there is plenty of room for the horse's tongue. The TOL Side Lock “sleeve” limits how far the loose rings can come against the side of the horse's head, limiting pressure on the horse's molars.

After handling the Frida I got the impression that this was a bit that gave the horse a lot of freedom in determining where the mouthpiece met the tongue. Since the only other type of bit that allows the horse this type of tongue freedom is the Wellep bit I was eager to see how a horse reacted to it.

Bingo's coat was all fluffed up on Wednesday. He enjoyed his grooming, and really appreciated our putting all the BOT stuff on him, plus a regular exercise sheet over the BOT exercise sheet to cut the wind. Since he can huddle under all his clothing he does not mind as much being led to the cold, windy riding ring and moving slowly instead of becoming a madly galloping, snorting, crow-hopping horsie desperate to get warm. When Debbie bridled him he seemed to notice that this bit was different from every other bit I've put in his mouth, both the shape of the mouthpiece and the novelty of loose rings.

By the time we started walking Bingo seemed to have decided that THIS bit was A-OK. He started walking rather cheerfully for him, and had absolutely no problems with my contact or hand aids. Contact was quite good and he showed no reluctance to move forward. After several large curves and some “iffy” turns in place I decided to halt. Bingo did not react to my hand aids at all. I repeated my aids (alternating tweaks of my fingers as his hind legs came forward) six times before he “said, you want me to halt, are you sure?” and he finally halted.

New bit, I guessed that I should be grateful that this was my only problem.

The rest of the ride I practiced halts, near the gate, at the other end of the ring, facing the gate, going away from the gate, and every time there was the same reaction of “You want me to do WHAT?” until he stopped after many repetitions of the halting hand aids.

After thinking about this I came to the conclusion that the straight cannons might be the reason. They operate in the horse's mouth differently where they meet the bars, more in a directly down direction without much pressing against the side of his lower jaw. Bingo just has to learn that bit pressure on THIS place in his mouth means the same thing as bit pressure on THAT part of his mouth even if they are separated by a millimeter or two.

Then I got more ambitious, we did a short trot. He was sort of reluctant to move faster (Mom, its COLD!) but he finally trotted. THIS time he obeyed my hands immediately when I asked him to transition down to the walk. I felt encouraged, temporarily, until the next time when I asked him to halt and it was the same thing, repeating my hand aids six times. So I decided to see how resistant he would be to backing up, and I was totally surprised when he backed up easily, with no resistance, and he backed up straight. This was the best performance in backing up for all the months I've ridden him.

It was getting near to the end of my lesson when I asked him to halt again, with the same results. I then sat on Bingo, in the cold wind, and gave him a lecture. I told him that he was facing a LOT of schooling at the halt in his new bit each time I rode him, and however many rides I would have to do repetitive halts I was going to continue schooling him at the halt until he OBEYED me promptly. No threats of violence with my hands, no hysteria, just a calm statement of fact that this was what was going to happen until he realized that my halt hand aids with this bit meant the same thing as my halt aids in the other bits.

We walked off, and after a while I asked for another halt. This time it only took three repetitions so I praised him and gave him the biggest reward I could, I got off his back.

I am finding the Fager bits quite interesting. They feel different to my hands, and they obviously feel different to the horses' mouths. The straight, as opposed to slightly curved cannons are interesting though I've noticed that they tend to weird Debbie out, like me she was raised with the thought that the slightly curved cannons felt better to the horse. If she was just going to put one of these bits on a bridle she would put it on the wrong way, upside down, because to her that looks more normal. But upon thinking the Fager bits are not the first straight cannon bits I've used because the Wellep bit cannons also do not have a curve. The results from the Wellep bits were in the category of remarkable improvement and I was giving credit just to the ball joints giving the horse's tongue great freedom, but now I wonder if the wonderful results from the Wellep bits were not also because of the straight cannons.

Ever since reading Dwyer's book, with its warning about three piece bits ending up acting as a twitch on the horse's lower jaw, I've been using single jointed snaffle bits successfully, though my hands do miss the subtleties available with the double-jointed snaffle mouthpieces. But with the Fager Frida three piece snaffle, with the straight cannons, I get no impression from Bingo of any inherent discomfort from this bit, which leads me to believe that this bit at least does not act as a twitch on his lower jaw.

This makes me happy. These bits are a bit pricey but if they hurt the horses' mouths less they are worth every penny to me. I love what the Wellep bit does for the horse, but sometimes both I and the horses end up getting bored with the same old, same old every week for months. What I get to do in the ring with my considerable handicaps is boring to both me and the horses. Bored horses tend to become “stale” and often degrade. But with alternative humane bits I can change the bit to give the horse something new to think about which is quite good for getting the horse out of the viewpoint that being ridden in the ring is totally BORING.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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