A few weeks ago I began leasing a horse who is pretty much a retired showjumper. While no longer in the show ring, he is still a very athletic and extremely good sport horse for his old age. I’m not competing at the moment and I am currently on the quest to buy a horse in another year or so, so this is a perfect medium for me.
Anyway, one of the benefits with this lease is I am completely independent of the owner’s input. It’s practically a full lease without the hefty price tag. This has given me a great avenue for learning about horse ownership and basic training.
Part of my current fascination is with bits. I have just transitioned from an extremely high-end hunter/jumper show barn to a rather do-it-yourself ramshackle farm that lacks the glitz and glamor of my last stable. The nice thing about this is everyone is extremely relaxed and uses “humane” treatment in the sense that most horses on the property are not bitted up as severely as the show barn’s were.
This has led me to a quest to “de-bit” the horse i am riding, if you will. I’ve done extensive amounts of research, reading posts here and elsewhere, watching youtube videos and learning everything I can about bits so I can make my own educated decision.
When I began with him (i’m also taking lessons), he was categorized as “extremely strong” and was in a low-ported pelham with rein converters. Unfortunately, since his owner has another horse she is now using, his tack is very dirty and disgusting–and his bit has never been cleaned and had black gunk and whatnot on it. The people at the farm say he’s been in this bit nearly his whole life. The first time I rode him in it, it did not work as far as slowing him down from the jumps goes.
Because, apparently, he’s taken off with both other girls who lease him, our trainer suggested we take a step up from the pelham and use a dutch gag. Having done tremendous amounts of research on the dutch gag and deciding it was something I needed, I bought one and tried it out. Maybe i’m not using it correctly (i’m riding mostly on the snaffle rein with 2 reins), but the gag is not helping me stop. My stopping expectations are having the horse stop on the lightest amount of rein pressure possible, and even with the gag rein, i still have to pull pretty darn hard (and this is working on the flat).
So I did more research, and learned that the horse has probably been yanked around his whole life and is therefore “hard mouthed” because he’s running right through every bit we try. I also envy people who can jump their horses without issues with a simple loose-ring snaffle, and so my new goal for 2016 is to be able to do a course with him using a snaffle bit.
Here is where my story begins. The last time i downgraded a horse from a leverage pelham to a snaffle i was, in fact, thrown from the saddle (BUT it turned out there were problems with the fact that the horse needed hock injections AND had a sore back). Regardless, the horse bit the snaffle and bolted mindlessly, finally flinging me HARD off his back before galloping madly around the ring. And thus I learned why that horse needed a pelham.
Anyway, I tried out the loose ring sweet iron bit I had in my trunk on my lease horse two days ago, and he went around BRILLIANTLY. It wasn’t perfect, but it was so much easier to maneuver than using the 2-rein gag. Yesterday, I tried the bit again, testing my luck and did 2’6 vertical to a wall line. He jumped it well, but it felt odd because at the wall he really picked himself up and hunched over pretty bad, which felt like we were jumping 3’. I thought nothing of it really, but trying to line ourselves up for more jumps was very hard (he kept anticipating and trying to swerve to the jump expecting that’s what we were doing), and so I did a bit more flatwork.
I decided to, last minute, do a line which was a 2 stride to i think a 6 stride in reverse. I don’t know if that’s what caused the steeplechase gallop or if it was me accidentally poking him with my spurs, but they were only 2’3 and i thought i’d be ok. Well, after the first jump, the horse TOOK OFF at speeds i’d never seen and pretty much grew wings before leaping like a deer over this line. My helmet fell over my eyes and i felt myself starting to fall off, and so i aborted and hit the ground going, probably, at least 30 miles an hour.
What was more ironic is the entire time I was hacking I was talking to my friend, who was riding next to me, how the footing looked soft enough to fall on. xD Now, the horse may have understood English… makes me wonder.
Anyway, like the last time this happened, my lease ran wildly around the ring while I am lying there in shock. Someone grabbed him for me and brought him back over–luckily nothing was broken but… i would have expected that from a higher jump line, NOT a tiny little cavaletti sized line! I can’t figure out what went wrong, and I am kind of guessing I pushed my luck with the simple snaffle…
I hate to blame bits but I’m not sure what else to do? I would have tried the line again if I was not in so much pain after falling. Is there a way to determine whether or not there is a good reason he’s been in more severe bits? Is there any schooling exercises I can do to help him re-adjust to wearing the plain snaffle? My main concern is safety–if it’s always going to be a countdown to whenever the horse can take off with my bit, I don’t want to do the “less is more.” I want the least amount of bit that will keep me from being run away with, since extreme speeds are my biggest fear. He’s 28. He’s still in perfect shape and part of me thinks there’s no reason to train him, since he’s only got 2 more years. And then another part of me sees this as a great learning prospect.
Any thoughts? His bit arsenal at the moment is:
Loose-ring sweet iron snaffle (goes beautifully on the flat–second jumping attempt went terrible, first attempt went great).
Slow-twist loose ring copper (bought this as a training bit to help him learn what breaks mean)
Dutch Gag double-joined snaffle (his new jumping bit–not working as well or as quickly as I had hoped as far as breaks go)
Ported mouth pelham (has curb action–not sure if this horse NEEDS curb action [trainer suggested he did after i complained about the gag but all my research points to the gag being MORE SEVERE than this pelham]).
Like i said, my main concern is breaks. I want to be able to STOP without a fuss. That is the one thing this horse does not do well. If it’s a matter of schooling and keeping his loose ring i would love to learn some exercises. he gets jumped regularly.