Tag Archives: dressage

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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Intro to dressage (or, TDG says yield and Jitter giggles)

The filly and I have spent about 3 weeks discussing sidereins. I think of this as more of a discussion than instruction. I’ve used them before, but in the Hunter Land I come from, there hadn’t been much cause to use them quite as much as I am now.

This is actually at the recommendation of our vet, who I called to diagnose a phantom hind end lameness that turned out to be non-pathologic lameness and completely inefficient motion. Obviously I’m more ok with that than a chip, but it certainly sounds damning.

We started out simple–on the third hole on a set of sidereins with elastic ends. The vet came for a check-up, and promptly cranked them up about 18 inches. This sounds kind of…insane but as it turns out, she’s perfectly capable of resisting the bit even with them that short, so I don’t feel I’m forcing her into anything much.

She understands what they are for, and gives me beautiful, beautiful movement when she decides she wants to listen. However, as a greenie she gets bored/mad/tired/lazy/hormonal/angsty/whatever some days and spends about 30 min. fighting them before bringing her head to the little perpendicular line I’m supposed to imagine coming from the ground. Other days, it’s an instantaneous head drop, and I keep the sessions short on those days as reinforcement.

Mind you–I don’t know much about dressage. Probably best to describe my feelings toward it as similar to those toward brussels sprouts: a necessary pain that everyone will lecture you about the benefits of. I’m trying to keep an open mind, but the more frustrating the learning process, the harder that’s becoming.

Current struggle: Correctly reinforcing a yield under tack.

Apparently, I’m tending to catch her in the mouth when she yields. I don’t mean to be doing this, and I try to soften my hands as soon as she gives, but I’m either too late, or too enthusiastic, and I drop her mouth altogether. There doesn’t seem to be a problem when I keep my reins longer but in contact, since I can keep my hands soft to start with. When we first start out though, this doesn’t work so well, and the pretty merry-go-round pony sticks her head straight up and sets off like a Standardbred.

Particularly distressing: I am told that this is a Formative Stage In Our Training (like, what isn’t?) and if I don’t get this right soon, I’m going to frustrate her out of yielding, which is way harder to fix. Any dressage newbies out there got a suggestion?

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