Category Archives: tack

Keep it simple

I blame You Tube. There are so many attractive videos out there – dancing with horses, playing with horses, riding horses bareback and so on. And I wish – and in those wishes I wish for a different horse to Ben. Because Ben tells me to ‘keep it simple. Find me a well-fitting saddle and take me on long rides. And if you want to add in a jump or two I’ll do that too. Just stop making things complicated.’

Saddle fit reared its ugly head again. I had doubts over my lovely Stubben in terms of giving Ben sufficient freedom of shoulder movement. So I researched and trialled a saddle made by a company that specialises in native ponies and cobs and found one that fits well and has a much straighter cut.

Here is the field we had use of for July and August. Ben and Cloud shared it with some calves and, for a few days, some sheep and it is almost too well grazed but I was glad of it, as was daughter, who dragged in jump poles and thought I should jump too.

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Ben liked to see me in the field and would leave his grazing to come up to me and walk with me, his head at my shoulder, all round the field.  Sometimes I would stop or change direction or weave complicated patterns and he would stick with me, head at my shoulder all the time.  That was our version of dancing together.  And it was good.

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Some tack photos

I have stored an excessive amount of photos on my laptop and am doing a spring clean. I have come across these two possibly worth posting as regards tack and equipment:

Ben enjoying his Micklem bridle on the second bitless setting – where the reins are attached to a leather curb strap:

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The Trail hoof boots failing at the first serious test – we rode into a stream and then up a small bank:

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A well-covered cob

I have mentioned before how I have enjoyed a book called Cobs Can! which celebrates the cob and gives excellent advice about training and riding cobs. In a recent edition of the magazine of the British Horse Society this book was given a favourable review. The reviewer added one caveat: he was disappointed that there was no advice on feeding and management of a type that puts on the pounds at the drop of a hat. This is clearly a reviewer who knows his cobs.

“You should be shot” were the less than complimentary words barked at me by the owner of the riding stables where my daughter has lessons. Daughter was having a lesson on Ben who did look rather large and I felt like hanging my head in shame. What can I do? On the track he has a slice of hay to last him all day (although when he is finished his he probably takes over Rosie’s). He is let in to well-grazed grass at night. In his feed bucket is a small amount of light chaff, a low calorie balancer and some herbal supplements. I am giving Rosie more.

I have a friend who has cobs and one is rather like Ben in type. She copes with the weight issue by stabling him for much of the day with a small haynet. She does say that he is “bored”. Thankfully I can keep Ben out on the track which he does move around, but as he obviously needs more work he is getting it. We both are.

I have joined a gym as, with my daughter in secondary school, I have an early start with time to spare having dropped her to the bus. So I work out on the treadmill. I have devised a treadmill for Ben too. The roads are quite flat around here, but the lane behind our house is quiet and has a thick strip of grass in the centre and climbs up hill. I canter Ben up this hill and it is amazing just how much this wakes him up. After that we trot, sometimes past our back gate and round to the lane again, and sometimes on a longer circuit. He looks forward to his next canter stretch and, star that he is, is more than happy to pass our back gate and go round once again.

He really is a star, for the cantering brings the young horses in the fields behind the lane to the front to investigate and he trots past, his back beautifully elevated, showing himself off but staying focussed on me.

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Keeping it simple: Ben selects a bitless bridle

Over the past couple of weeks I have tried four bitless alternatives on Ben, by riding out or in-hand work, or both. I am recording Ben’s response to each, which is obviously just the response of this particular cob to a particular form of restraint and not meant to be a definitive review of these bridles.

I am not against bits and I do not rule out using a bit with Ben again, in fact I possibly will as I, hopefully, progress with his flat work schooling. I am happy with his response in the myler comfort snaffle bit. The only reason I have contemplated bitless alternatives is that, often when I go to put the bridle on Ben, he gives these enormous yawns which I have interpreted as a sign of tension. I also like the fact that riding Ben bitless is educating me, encouraging me to focus on my own body when I ride and to encourage Ben to tune in to weight aids more than he used to. It is also nice to go on a long hack and know that Ben can eat freely without the bit.

There can be far too much information (and even more opinions) on the internet. However, in various searches for bitless bridles I came across this blog post by Tom Widdicombe which has provided a wonderfully sane voice amongst all those opinions out there.

So, here is Ben’s (and my) impressions of four different bridles:

  • Sidepull: the one I used is fashioned from a leather cavesson and I have chosen to place the noseband in the normal position, not low as in crossunder bridles. I have used this bridle while riding out, my daughter has used it in the arena and I have used it for in-hand work.
    • Ben has been more responsive to in-hand flexion etc than he was with the bit. While riding out with Sandra and Cassie I have asked Ben to stop while Cassie moved away from him and he did so from my body’s signal to stop and a slightly lifted outside rein. He did not attempt to snatch at grass while riding out. My daughter said that she forgot he had no bit when she was riding Ben.
  • Lightrider bridle (rope version): I rode out in this once only and did some basic flexions in-hand with this bridle.
    • This felt “dull” and I had to tug quite hard to lift Ben’s head from the grass. I did stop him as Cassie moved away but I had to pull much harder than I liked on the reins. The strap that is supposed to slide behind Ben’s chin did not slide and seemed to stick in the side rings of the bridle.
  • Cross-under bridle: the one I borrowed was made by Barefoot, but is similar in design to a Dr Cook’s. I tried this first over a year ago, when Ben leant into the contact. I thought it was worth trying again as he has had cranio-sacral treatments since which have eased his sensitivity around the poll area. I only rode Ben out in this.
    • This was the worst bridle from my point of view, possibly the best from Ben’s! As we rode out Templeton’s song from Charlotte’s Web went around in my head: “a fair is a veritable smorgesbord…” The sides of the road turned into a veritable smorgesbord for Ben, as he went from snatches of cow parsley to hazel leaves to grass. I must say it was very irritating and the bridle felt un-subtle and quite blunt and I was hating it by the end of the ride.
  • Rope halter: I thought I would try this for in-hand work before riding out in it. Mali used to love the rope halter (parelli-style) and was very light and responsive in it.
    • This felt very crude in-hand and after one session I decided that I would not ride out in it or use it again in-hand.

My conclusions: keep it simple. Choose the bridle that is closest to what Ben is used to, which give direct rein signals and does not involve poll pressure.

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Ben is looking rather disgruntled that I am taking a photo when he thought he was finished. I have fiddled with the height of the noseband a bit and have it usually one hole below this.

Is it worth using a bitless bridle? I think it is. Those yawns prior to bridling have completely disappeared.

The sidepull I have used is borrowed from Sandra, so all I have to do now is choose from the many, many options out there…

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Revisiting bitless

I have looked at going bitless with Ben before now. I have tried a Dr Cook’s bridle, quite a while ago at home, which produced such a dramatic reaction that I dismounted sooner than I thought I would. I have tried a lightrider bridle in-hand and concluded from Ben’s reaction on release that his issue is with any restraint around his head rather than a bit as such.

So I have continued with my Myler comfort snaffle.

However, Ben has continued to produce large yawns prior to bridling and before a recent ride I paused, suddenly reluctant to put that bit into his mouth. We have had such nice rides recently. I have felt complimented by his coming up to me each time he sees me arriving at Sandra’s, even though it is always with a headcollar in hand. Sandra, of course, had bitless options for me and produced a simple sidepull, no more than a well-padded leather headcollar with rings at the side of the noseband.

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We went straight out for our hack. During the ride I let Sandra and Cassie ride away from us and asked Ben to stay back. He required no more restraint than he would with a bit, and the bridle made me more conscious of how I used my body as I rode. My verdict at the end? It really felt no different to riding Ben with bit and it must have been nice for him to be able to eat some grass without being impeded by a bit.

The next day, I tried the lightrider bridle again. I had bought the rope version, as the English leather version was too expensive and the supplier was out of the beta model.

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I don’t like it. It is fiddly to put on, requiring some fussing around the ears which Ben does not like. And in my hands it feels duller than the simple sidepull for some reason. When we stopped to talk to someone on the road, keeping Ben’s head up from the grass felt like a tug of war which I did not like. Also, the sliding piece under the jaw does not seem to slide very easily. (He possibly needs a bigger size – he is in the cob size here.) And visually, of no interest to Ben I know, I do not like the rope version on him.

After these two rides, my daughter came out to ride Ben. I put the sidepull on and she walked, trotted, cantered and popped a small jump and said that she forgot he had no bit.

(I have just returned to this post having been lured once again by the many choices of bitless bridle available on the internet – and, even worse, the many differing opinions.)

I am tempted to revisit Dr Cook’s bridle again. Since I tried it, Ben has had two craniosacral treatments which have definitely helped his sensitivity around his poll area and our relationship has continued to grow in mutual trust, so we may both relax more now with this bridle. I have been reading all the articles on Dr Cook’s website and they are very convincing.

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On restraint and a bitless bridle

I have commented before on Ben’s reaction to a bit and to being bridled. He seems happy with his myler comfort snaffle, but produces huge yawns on bridling. I have been keen to try a different bitless bridle to the Dr Cook’s which he did not like and have just purchased a light rider bitless bridle (the performer type – more affordable than the English leather one). So last night in the dark and this morning in the wind I put it on and played with some simple in-hand work to see how he responded to a feel on the bridle.

I have made this work palatable with lots of treats. (I tell myself these are a reward, not a bribe.) Last night in the dark I fiddled with the bridle to Ben’s displeasure as I tried to fit it on properly. He did relax and focus as I put a feel on each rein, asking for a bend to either side. He is quite sticky on the left which is interesting, but on the right he got the idea immediately of responding to the feel on the sliding chinstrap of the bridle.

This morning after breakfast he hung around, making snatching motions with his mouth, obviously wanting another treat vending session. I spent some time teaching manners around treats. He knew immediately what I meant by “don’t snatch’. He is one bright boy and I have to be alert to keep level with him.

I produced the bridle and put it on more easily in the daylight and once again played with different feels. This went well, and he waited, rooted to the spot, when I paused and walked away. What was interesting was how he reacted when I took the bridle off. He rounded up Rosie, trotting fast, then cantering and finally galloping around the track before relaxing to have a rest.

Ben chose to work with the restraint of the bridle. He stayed with me and responded, sometimes willingly, sometimes showing resistance. When he showed resistance I released the feel anyway so that we would not have a battle. Taking up the feel again, he would then respond. When I walked away he would wait, but when released he showed the tension that was involved in this imposed restraint.

This was not about a bit – it was about a bridle and about contact and probably also about standing still when asked to do so. And in his response once released from the restraint of bridle, contact and standing lies the clue to those yawns he produced just prior to bridling.

Now I can respond in different ways to this. I could leave him free of all restraint which would be an end to our hacks out in the country which he seems to tell me he likes. I obviously like them too. I could carry on as normal, bitted or bitless and ignore what he is showing me here. Or I could work with his response and gently challenge it by exploring it, playing with restraint and feel in short sessions.

Of course, this last is what I will do. I can never resist a chance to explore an interesting reaction from Ben.

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Ben and a bit

When I got Ben, I was told he was always ridden in a simple, jointed snaffle bit. So that is what I gave him. He has a soft mouth, which was a nice surprise as I expected worse after his hunting career. But he would shut his mouth against the snaffle bit and when I rode I would see the side of his tongue protruding slightly. I thought that the joint of the snaffle was probably clunking against the roof of his mouth and also that there was more bit in his mouth than he had space for.

I tried a bitless bride. Sandra lent me a Dr Cook’s bridle and he hated it. He went behind the contact and tried to evade whatever pressure came from it and I put minimal pressure on. I thought it was probably due to the poll pressure from the cross under design.

Now I use a Myler comfort snaffle. It is shaped to the curve of his mouth and can not clunk against the roof of his mouth. Ben likes it. He opens his mouth for the bit and today did even more.

We went for a ride with Sandra and Cassie again. Ben has always yawned when the bridle is produced: some sign of tension I suspect. I had my hand around his head holding the bridle, with the bit just below his mouth when the yawns started so I waited, thinking I would let him get these yawns out of his system before proceeding. Ben stretched out his lips, seized the bit between them and pulled it up into his mouth.

I would like to try a bitless bridle with a different action, maybe like a lightrider bridle, just out of curiosity, but Ben seems to be telling me that he is more than happy with his Myler bit.  He also tells me, so often, in so many different ways, that he really likes to just get on with things and what I see as considerate behaviour on my part he sees as QUITE. UNNECESSARY. FUSS.

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He walked well without hoof boots again today; still searching for verges where possible, but with greater confidence starting out than last week. I wonder will I need hoof boots at all.  The roads were also quite icy today and I would have hesitated to ride out had Ben been shod.  As it was I could leave negotiating the icy spots to him as he was more than capable of feeling his way along.

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