We Survived Florence

Tropical storm Florence messed up my riding last week. While I got my lesson in, I did not ride Mia that Friday because I was afraid that the lowering air pressure would aggravate her arthritic joints and Sunday I did not ride because of the storm. But my power stayed on throughout the storm, I had the internet, and I did not have to go outside to take care of animals, so my life was not horribly disrupted. Lots of rain, some strong wind gusts, other people got it a lot worse than I did. The hot and very muggy weather we have had since the storm is really sapping my energy and my rides are exhausting me more than usual.

I have been using my 23mm single jointed egg-butt snaffle on Coach in my lessons last week and this week. While he was not FURIOUS when he ground this bit between his teeth, he still ground on it when bridled, led, and ridden off contact. He still grabbed one rein or the other when off contact too. I have come to some tentative conclusions about Coach and bits, and it will be interesting how Coach will respond to my bit experiments.

Of course the most obvious conclusion is that Coach really does not like bits. Unfortunately for Coach the show classes he is headed for (Hunter) requires bits. I could try him out bitless but I think he has already ruled out one of the types of bitless bridles, the cross-under, since Coach DOES NOT like anything tight on his lower jawbones. That leaves me with the choice of the Light Rider bitless bridle (a modified Scawbrig that acts on the nose and curb groove), the LG bitless that acts on the nose and somewhat higher on the lower jaw just above the curb groove, and my beloved ancient Jumping Caveson bridle that works mainly on the nasal bone. I hope to check out how he reacts to my Jumping Caveson bridle when I introduce Coach to a curb bit, when I will be using the Jumping Caveson for steering, but that will have to wait until the weather is cooler and my hands improve.

The next conclusion is that Coach just does not like the taste of the stainless steel bits I've used, of three different brands (Eldonian from 40 years ago, Wellep made of surgical steel, and the more modern stainless steel bit.) When I rode with the titanium coated bits he still ground the bit between his teeth but usually I could ride off contact without the grinding, and when he did grind the bit it was less “furious” than with the stainless steel bits. I do not know how Coach reacts to the other types of non-stainless steel bits, I have not yet had a chance to try out the Kangaroo Metal (Dewsbury) or German Silver brandoons I bought to try out on him, that will happen when I get to start him on the double bridle.

The third conclusion is that Coach does NOT like a bit that moves a lot in his mouth. When I tried the titanium coated three piece snaffle with a lozenge he came up with a new evasion, grabbing a rein with his teeth while off contact, so I could understand that it was the form of the mouthpiece that he objected to. I am beginning to think that the reason Coach goes better in the single-jointed 23mm snaffle is that this bit is so thick that Coach can keep it stiller in his mouth when on contact, but off contact he will grind this bit between his teeth and grab a rein. I get the feeling that Coach just does not like a super mobile bit, unlike the other horses I ride. I will test this hypothesis out when I try him with the titanium coated Mullen mouth snaffle next week.

Coach has had some problems with his last shoeing, at least one nail was driven in too high. The offending nail was removed last week after my lesson, but he was still showing a small head bob when trotted in the barn aisle before my lesson on Wednesday. After thoroughly cleaning his hooves, checking the hooves for heat (the one without the high nail was hotter, possibly remnants of an earlier abscess they had to deal with), Debbie decided it would be alright for me to ride him in the deep sand of the ring so long as we only walked. Coach was a little iffy with his front feet the first minute or so of our ride, but that went away. He still was not striding forth as confidently as before so I did not press him much to extend his stride. I did not feel any flinching with either front leg, though, and I do not think I caused Coach much distress by riding him.

One thing I changed this week was Coach's saddle pad. When we untacked the previous two lessons Debbie noticed that there were dry spots on Coach's back. The first time the dry patched seemed to extend most of the way under the saddle. I removed all shims from my Contender II BOT/ThinLine pad for the next lesson, and the dry patches were smaller, basically under my seat. Debbie and I talked and she approved my suggestion that I try my Corrector pad this week. After much thought I decided to put one shim on each side in the front of the pad. This seemed to work well, at least there were no definite dry patches on his back, though Debbie noticed that one side of his back was a little bit sweatier than the other side of his back. Since this covers only under the panels of the saddle, I have to be sure and clean the rest of the saddle where it rests on him so the dirt and sweat do not build up on the leather.

My ride on Mia went fine, especially since I've resigned myself to having to retrain her to halt to my light rein aids. Mia likes her titanium coated bit (the “comfort snaffle”) just fine, she does not seem to mind having it in her mouth, she willingly reaches out for contact, and she backs up without any problems. It is just when I give my hand aids for the halt, the same hand aids I've used successfully all the years I've ridden her, that she acts like she has absolutely no idea what I'm asking her to do. She gets fussy, starts sucking back, inverts and flings her head if my hand aids get stronger, but then she will go back to willingly reaching out for contact so long I am not asking her to halt. So I am working at making my hand aids even softer, twitching my fingers maybe a 1/16” instead of an 1/8”, and with maybe one gram of strength instead of 2 grams of strength. Then comes the problem that my aids are so light that Mia does not seem to consider them important at all. I will see how she goes my next ride on her, if she does not improve I will probably try another type of titanium coated bit, possibly the Baucher.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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