Monthly Archives: March 2012

The problem of Courage

Tonight, the Filly and I warmed up. It was dark. There was no one else on the farm. We stopped to take a break and looked around at the very black, very empty space around the arena. She sighed, stretched her neck down, and turned to look at me as she does when she’s happy. And bored. And we took off, to a semi-controlled trot, and an uncontrolled explosion when I asked for the canter.

(This photo isn’t from tonight, but it looked like a more airbourne version of this.)

She reared. She kicked out. She twisted. I saw the fenceline approaching from an angle. And I sat back. I kept her head up. I booted her forward. I didn’t growl at her the way I’m inclined to when she’s deliberately naughty, I didn’t hiss, and I didn’t back off. She broke into a trot, I steadied her, tipped my left heel back and gasped.

I still haven’t forgotten that she can do ^this^, and purely as a result, she hasn’t either. The problem when she does ^this^ is that she has enough power from the Super Butt behind us that it takes very little to pop even the steadiest rider over her shoulder, and even less to send Former Miss Hunter over the arena fence…or through it. We’ve come a long way since these days (primarily thanks to the trainer, shown in this photo). The problem of Courage is for me to remember that we’ve come a long way.

“Ok. I’m done, mom. Let’s go.”

Her answer was a very-fast-but-calm canter. Unbalanced. Tight turns. Reminiscent of a barrel racer wearing the wrong saddle. I sat back. I steered with a jockey’s rein. I balanced for her. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it.

We’ve got a long way to go before it’s pretty, but the hardest part is going to be remembering all the times that I sat up, steered, and balanced like a rider.


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March 8, 2012 · 12:59 am

Snow Day

Snow Day

It was snowy and slushy outside so we took a lazy day and had a bareback walk around the arena to look at the snow and listen to the slush fall off the barn. Jitter did not find any of this as interesting as doing her Zenyatta dance through the puddles…during which, of course, she was in perfect dressage frame. Sigh.

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March 5, 2012 · 7:00 pm

A bit of controversy

After months and months of attempting to teach the filly (and myself) the torture art of dressage, I have to say we are both making spectacular progress for a former hunter/jumper and a former unbroke lawn ornament. She is in spectacular frame on the longe line and sidereins and I am getting better about sitting back and widening my hands. We can achieve a frame under saddle some days, and others we struggle. A lot.

Now that we’re getting back into shape for spring and summer, my trainer came to me recently with a new idea.

We have always ridden in an French Link eggbutt snaffle (like this). I broke Jitter in that, and it’s worked well for us. If we have an Energetic Day, I sit deep and practice my half halts, and eventually the draft side of her comes out and she gets tired after about 15 minutes of pulling on me.

The trainer’s suggestion is to get her in good shape and take about two lessons in a copper mouth Pelham; the idea is to just carry the leverage rein unless I need to put an extra ‘omph’ in my ask, to get the filly to take me a little more seriously, then switch back to our regular bit and continue as normal.

As I’ve researched this, I’ve learned that people have violent, violent opinions about all forms of Pelham bits, particularly Tom Thumbs. (At first description, I thought that’s what my trainer was suggesting, but it turns out Tom Thumbs are a harsher variety of Pelhams. So, all Tom Thumbs are Pelhams, but not all Pelhams are Tom Thumbs. SAT flashback much?)

Pelhams are this. And Tom Thumbs are this.

Caveat: I am totally and completely aware that a part of the fact that a portion of our struggle is rider error, because I’m still learning this stuff. No debates here.

Being as I’ve only ridden in snaffles, I’m a neophyte when it comes to drawing force diagrams around your bit, but the gist of what I’ve learned is this: People who hate these bits say that Pelhams suck because they are leverage bits, but because their shanks are longer, Tom Thumbs suck more. Also with Pelhams in double reins you can choose whether to use direct or leverage pressure.

I watched about half of a 10-minute video of an outraged man waving several kinds of bits around in front of the camera and declaring that all bits are unnecessary, and leverage bits are cruel things used only by cruel, stupid people and they should all be destroyed, because people yank on them and it hurts the horse’s mouth.

My personal impression is that if you yank on anything in a horse’s mouth, it will hurt, the same way that if you abuse any piece of tack you’ll probably hurt your horse. I’m not a fan of people or disciplines that encourage equipment swapping as a first response to a performance issue, but I think like anything it can be a useful tool, in balance with other useful tools like rider and horse conditioning, education and physical assessments. I’m fairly unclear as to why this particular bit is deemed cruel regardless of application.

We still have a few more weeks of workouts in our sidereins and french link to get back in shape before we try this new thing, but I must admit I’m looking forward to using it briefly and appropriately to see if this will give both Jitter and I a new perspective on our training.

What bit do you use on your horse, and why?

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