Tag Archives: tack

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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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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Equanimity

Ben and Rosie continue at Sandra’s for this reason:

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We are building an extension to our house and how thankful I am to have Sandra’s place and a group of four equines who form a very nice herd together. I have been going regularly to Sandra’s and have felt surprised that Ben has continuously come to meet me when I come only bearing a headcollar and never a bucket.

This morning, Sandra was away and I wanted to use the opportunity to connect with a Ben whom I have felt to be growing in pride and also dominance as he enjoys his status as man among women. On our hacks with Sandra I have felt him less responsive to me and (naturally) very tuned to Cassie. He expresses this by trying either to tuck in behind her so that he can herd her from behind or by taking the lead and crowding her to the side of the road. My task has been to constantly ask him to walk beside her. He accepts this well, but if my awareness slips at any stage he is right back to herding Cassie again.

So I left his tack by Sandra’s arena and went to the field to catch Ben. I was on my own and wondered how the herd as a group would accept this. They had a good eight acres in which to escape me.

Minnie and Cassie saw me and cantered up, Minnie leading, to stop abruptly about twenty metres away. Minnie, in front, turned sideways on, tail like a flag, head tossing, this mainly thoroughbred mare with a weak leg piaffing before me. Then, staying there, she turned her back on me.

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The message could not have been clearer. If I had been in a school playground Minnie would have been the girl who comes to confront the newcomer, followed closely by her best friend: “we don’t want you here”. I think of a lion who, apparently, can walk through a field of grazing horses without disturbing them when he is not hunting and will send them running when he is. I am perceived here as the hunter intent on hunting.

Ben is in a further field, I can just make out his back, head down, seemingly oblivious to these mares’ performances. Rosie is in this field, over to the side, keeping her head down. As I think of her, she looks up. “What do I do here Rosie?” I ask silently. She puts her head down again.

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I take my cue from Rosie. “Do not disturb.” I stay quiet and look at Minnie. She faces me and her head lowers slightly. I remain silent. Summer is passing already. There is a blueish haze over the fields and the trees. A swallow swoops nearby. Minnie puts her head down to eat grass as does Cassie. They stay in the same spot.

I quietly walk in a wide arc around them, keeping to that twenty metre bubble that Minnie seems to have imposed. They remain grazing. Ben looks up. I cross the gap into the next field and he takes a few steps towards me. Headcollar on, we walk back, past Minnie and Cassie. They do not look up.

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Ben follows willingly until we are close to the gate when he stops. A touch on the girth and he continues but is clearly reluctant to leave his herd. In the arena he can hear them but not see them. Loose there, he wants to stay by the gate with his head up. I move him away. He does not want this. Time for some groundwork. I ask him to move and stay away from the gate. I get bucks, heels, head tossing. I need to up my energy without getting cross, which can often be a challenge for me. There is a pole on the ground. I strike it hard with my schooling whip. My energy has come up and I have stayed calm. Ben responds. He turns to me, his head lowers, his eye softens.

I put on the sidepull bitless bridle and do some in-hand work. Ben is responsive, but in breaks, looks towards the field. I put the saddle on and mount. Instantly Ben’s back comes up. I feel myself freeze and I get this (revealing) panicky thought that I do not have a bit. I name this, aloud, to Ben and myself and this calms me. Relaxing my seat, I put my legs on, giving Ben the reins and as we move off, he stretches and sighs. When we stop, he looks up again. I keep him moving and, to my surprise I must confess, get beautiful self-carriage when I ask Ben to bend around my inside leg. I would have said he was coming into the contact of the bit, only there was no bit. I am very pleased with this sidepull.

After a while, when Ben is soft and relaxed, I dismount. As I lead him back to the field I prepare myself to be assertive with him as he tries to rush in front. He doesn’t. He stays softly behind me. All three mares crowd the gate to welcome him back. Ben stays with me for a while. Then he greets Minnie and Cassie in turn and moves off before turning back again and taking a few steps towards me. We look at each other, he lowers his head, sighs and goes away again, pushing Rosie in front of him, drawing Cassie and Minnie behind, back with his herd once more.

Today was a lesson for me in equanimity – maintaining my calm centre while faced with turbulence without and within, finding a place from where I could diffuse suspicion, claim the attention of a horse who was both dominant and anxious and allow my own anxiety to pass through me.

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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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Effects of a saddle

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I bought Ben this time last year because I wanted a horse to ride. I wanted a horse I could safely ride from home, keep at home, manage myself. I saw myself having fun with this horse, doing le trec, schooling, taking lessons, going on long peaceful hacks on summer evenings. I saw perhaps my daughter riding him if she stayed interested. That is what I wanted.

I saw Ben’s photograph in an internet advertisement. It was a blurred photograph of a cob jumping with a teenager on top. Although I am not an enthusiastic jumper, something about that little horse made me put him to the top of my list.

I went to see him. I saw a, smaller than expected, cob wearing a headcollar in a field, running away when its owner came, who rattled a bucket of stones which fetched him, close enough to allow a lead rope to be clipped on. I saw a cob being ridden on a slippery field, unbalanced. I rode a quiet small cob down a strange road, turned to go back to the people waiting, knowing I needed to make a decision. I said yes, still unsure. I got off this cob, stood beside him, still with no real sense of him. I looked at him, I saw a gentle, deep eye, he breathed over my head and I felt that, yes, subject to vetting, you are for me.

He had hunted, a lot. He had hunted with a hunt known for the size of the ditches that had to be jumped. He had been exercised in the dark, from a lead rope at the back of the jeep. He had been loaned to children for pony camp.

He always lived out and that cold June day last summer when I saw him he was taken into a bare stable and stood there, shivering. He has free access to a stable here and often uses it. When he was brought to different places he travelled in a cattle trailer, lower, barer, louder than a trailer such as I have. When I went to bring him home to me, he followed me up the ramp of my trailer without a second’s hesitation. Little did I know that I would have great difficulty getting him into a trailer afterwards. He would pull back, hard. I can only speculate that if he did so in that cattle trailer and hit his head, that is possibly how he came to have such pain around his poll. As I have learned more about his saddle difficulties recently, I have realised how short backed he is. The pain the chiropractor found that made him squeal was just behind where a saddle should sit.

Ben came home to me, I got him checked over by a chiropractor, seen by a dentist, got all his vaccinations done, a passport organised, worming, all the things I would expect to do with a new horse. I rode him, regularly, from the back gate, as I had wanted. I took part in a couple of le trec orienteering events. I felt after a while that I was just using him, and I started to put time into our relationship. In part he demanded this, by suddenly becoming very hard to catch. We had a long, cold winter and that gave me plenty of time to spend with him, guided loosely by Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals, but mostly by intuition and by Ben himself.

He is a safe horse to ride and in many ways an easy horse in that he is pretty solid on the road. But he was quite sour when he came and seemed to feel that people were a threat. He could be aggressive when children were around. Imagine my joy recently when my oldest daughter and her friend were standing on either side of Ben, my daughter holding the lead rope of his head collar, and his expression was soft, friendly, open.

Carolyn Resnick told me that she wouldn’t be surprised if he turned into the sort of pony who would follow me around everywhere. That is happening more and more. I can catch him with a bridle in my hand now, so the other day, when he ran from me after a hack in another saddle I was trying out, he confirmed what he had told me the day before about that saddle. I had taken him down to a saddlery, where the very knowledgeable owner fitted many different saddles on Ben. One looked ok. I rode around, but as ‘around’ meant through a yard of stallions, and in a field next to mares and foals, Ben was on his toes and not really able to give me a good feel of the saddle. I took it away on trial: a well-made, wide fitting, second-hand treed saddle. I was told that Ben would tell me how it felt. We went on a hack with a friend, from the start he hung back, very unlike Ben who likes to take the lead, and when I asked him to trot he stumbled, ears pinned back. Sweat patches under the saddle afterwards told me that it was sitting too far back.

I think Ben’s sourness and being hard to catch was all about pain. People are a threat if they cause pain. Incidentally, that saddle was not good for me, I had very sore knees. My search continues.

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