Wednesday, April 11, 2018

back on the chain gang

Obviously I hadn't really expected last weekend's horse show plans to get derailed by yet another leg issue in Sir Charles. Rather, we had spent the week in advance going through our normal preparations. With the added priority of continuing to experiment with bitting solutions.

i have no idea why this curb chain is so freakin long tho
The idea being: during cross country at Loch Moy a few weeks ago, Charlie grew increasingly strong, dropping his shoulders and flattening to the fences. That makes it really hard to find a good distance to the jumps - and virtually impossible to get a good half halt through so that we could still ride forward to the fences. But backwards is never the answer, turns out.

And we all saw the pictures right? The result of our unbalanced canter was jumping from a half stride, climbing over a couple, or just basically cantering over the fences.

That all feels even less comfortable than it looks haha, I promise. Tho at least that bad feeling is counteracted by Charlie otherwise feeling completely honest and genuine to the fences.

He went everywhere I pointed him, stayed straight, and tackled everything with gusto. Just.... in a slightly uneducated and careless manner that could be problematic when the fences aren't 2'7 and below haha.

snoozing over the swedish oxer / barrel jump
also THANK YOU Sarah for the video + pictures!!!!! :D
Ultimately tho, it's pretty apparent that Charlie actually has a reasonably correct technique over the fences when he cares to. When properly motivated, his form and expression (and auto-changes) wouldn't be embarrassing in the hunter ring.

And while we often leave lessons with paint smudges on his hooves (bc homeboy is #careless about small jumps. also sometimes I suck #realtalk), he does actually seem to have a conscience and tries to avoid hitting the fences after an early mistake.

The horse can jump. He's got a good eye, seems to enjoy the game, and so far has found it all very easy. Charlie's not particularly impressed by anything, and is maybe growing a little cocky. He thinks he knows all the answers, while simultaneously he doesn't really apply himself fully. Not the worst problems to have, if I'm being honest, but still real problems.

i actually had to push to make the 30' 2 stride work
So we keep working on it. From a training perspective, my focus has been in trying to develop a better half halt in the horse (we're talking long term here, guys lol) while also being stricter about the horse getting behind my leg.

He must move up and lift his shoulders when I push him forward. Must. We need that well-conditioned response to my seat and legs to get Charlie pushing up in front of me. If I can keep him up in his shoulders, it'll be infinitely easier to get cleaner jumping efforts from him.

But the precursor to that lifting process has to be the fully functional half halt - the dramatic re-balancing of the horse that rocks him back and shifts more weight to his hind quarters.

Ideally, at some distance from a fence (let's call it six strides in a well-schooled horse) I should be able to get that half halt through to check in with the horse, adjust our balance, and then shift into "managed maintenance" as we ride forward to the jump. You can see this idea in action in Ingrid Klimke's SAP-enabled helmet cam videos (in fact, I wrote a whole post about it a while back!).

eager to the triple bar
That's the goal, right? The holy grail. The feeling of a "well schooled" horse. Charlie is... not there yet. It will take time. He's also very different from Isabel in that he pulls. He's not the first TB I've ridden that pulls hard (hi Lad!), but he is the first I've taken xc. And it's definitely a different experience.

The key for me will be figuring out how to not get baited into a tug of war. Because that's how I end up riding backwards. And again, backwards riding is never the right answer.

The feeling I'm looking for is: How can I get that half halt through to Charlie in a way that he understands, such that he has that moment of re-balancing where I can then put my leg on and ride forward. A lot of this is mental for me too - feeling like I can push my hands forward and put my leg on. It's a trust thing, right? And it's hard to trust dull brakes.

has #feelings about the curb chain. was #happier when we loosened it
So my intermediary step in this process involves bitting options. Taking away Charlie's ability to blow through me, without putting so much on him that he backs off.

There are literally endless options in this respect, and plenty of folks who have ideas or bits for me to try. So far I've kept it pretty simple tho - working with what I have on hand. We tried the hackamore and I really liked it, but missed also having a snaffle for our warm up and flat work.

Next up was continuing with my normal jumping bit: a Sprenger KK with elevator ("universal") cheek pieces and double reins. Except I took off the leather curb strap and replaced it with a curb chain. Small difference, and honestly I wasn't really sure it would do the trick since Charlie was already pretty familiar with the curb chain / leverage combination from the hackamore.


But actually I think we might have a winner here! It'll need more testing bc this particular ride was one where most of our conversations revolved around GET IN FRONT OF MY LEG FOR THE LOVE OF GOD YOU SLUG.

Ahem, cough cough. There may or may not have been a pony club kick involved....

Mostly tho the feeling was pretty good. At first I had the chain on too tight bc again I expected him to not react much to it based on our hackamore experiences. But actually he was quite sensitive - and we ended up loosening it part way through the lesson.

I really like that it's a normal KK snaffle (no curb action at all) off one rein, with the curb only coming into play when I specifically use it. But the curb *is* there when I need it, and it appears to be influential enough to get the message through to Charles. The biggie here being: I could use the curb, then let go, push my hands forward and put my leg on, and ride forward to the fence.

chain did what i wanted tho: allowed me to keep riding charlie forward to the fences instead of resorting to a backward feel
That's the feeling I want. So I dug out Isabel's old sheepskin cover that I used for the hackamore chain when it was hers, and planned to use the cover during our jumping rounds at the show. Just for that slight dampening effect, since I didn't want Charlie too sharp as show nerves often make me ride tighter.

Obviously the jumping didn't end up happening at Full Moon, which is fine. And Charlie's getting a little extra tlc this week bc I'm all aboard the "Rest not Risk" bus right now. More on that later (he's fine, tho, fortunately!).

But hopefully we'll get a chance to bust out for some more test rides soon. After scratching from last weekend's FMF HT, and next weekend's Loch Moy Spring #2 HT (*sigh*), we've got a bit of a break in the schedule until the end of next month. Hopefully with lots of time to get out and enjoy ourselves!!

What about you, do you enjoy playing around with bits? Or are you more like me, once you find something you like, that's what you try to stick with, whatever may come? Do you have a certain "feeling" you look for or has it mostly depended on each individual horse's preferences or ways of going?

33 comments:

  1. Your jumps are all so pretty and colorful! And a certain big bay horse goes very well with all that color ;-)

    I try to keep my bit arsenal to the bare minimum only getting another one if none in the current arsenal work. I let the horse's preference guide the choice as much as possible. Stan and Q are easy and have one bit each they prefer and go well in, Grif is the problem child, though he's involved in a bigger variety of disciplines. My bit collection has grown mostly due to him (sigh). But it's been great because I've learned a ton more about bits along the way!

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    1. Ha yea this whole idea of three different phases really puts equipment choices in sharper focus right? Isabel was so easy bc she wore the same bit in all three but I’m coming to realize that’s not actually super common haha. Yay for learning more about bits tho right? Lol

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  2. I am glad you found something. I am so lucky that Remus bit of choice is the loose ring snaffle followed by the baucher if he gets strong (once or twice a year if I am lucky LOL)....

    Charlie looks great though!! YAY!. Sorry about the cancelling of plans though that does suck :(

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    1. The loose ring snaffle is where it’s at haha and I really like having the option of that on Charlie - which is why I like my elevator so much. If I don’t touch the curb then yea it’s just a loose ring. But. Sometimes we need dat curb do haha

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  3. Bits ugh. I swear to the heavens I could write a book on what Duke has taught me about bitting. For him too though the noseband on the bridle plays a HUGE part of his comfort. We finally have a dressage setup for him that both he and I LOVE and in light of that I'm looking for a jumping setup that he is equally as happy in. Boy has expensive taste though >:{ I hope you have found a good solution for CharlesSaurus. I often lament that no one offers a bit fitting service like a saddle fitting service.

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    1. It’s both frustrating and fascinating right? Nose bands are actually not something I’ve played with much beyond putting a flash on. Am interested in learning more tho!!

      And omg CharlesSaurus omg

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    2. Definitely second the idea of a bitting service! Good lord, there are too many options and every horse is different and....yeah bitting ugggg. LOL! (Also, side note in my own bit search for Ellie: I discovered the Myler eggbutt snaffle with 36 mouthpiece, which looked like the perfect amount of tongue relief, is NOT LEGAL IN USEA dressage.
      Poo. Didn't even bother springing for a trial.)

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    3. ugh that's really annoying about the bit being illegal. so many of the myler bits seem to to fall into that category and it's kinda odd to me. fwiw if you're looking to try a myler, i found their lowest level "comfort snaffle" on ebay for a song and charlie really seems to like it. it's got just the itsiest bitsiest hint of a port. really tho, i'm totally on board with the bitting service haha. maybe we need to create like, a blogger bit pool? where we all exchange bits with whoever needs them??? lol

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    4. shameless plug for my employer- my boss DOES offer bit fitting services via email and phone (or in person if you're convenient to wherever she is with the trailer). she is super knowledgeable and offers the service for free (with free bit trials, too)!

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    5. ha that's awesome! and good to know! one of our local saddlers does that too, but it's very local - not a traveling show like your shop.

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    6. Oh that's awesome to know! I'm trying to refine our jumping gear - bitting down of all things - and he's proving... difficult. Big surprise. I may look into Horse of Course. And I'm not a Blogger but would TOTALLY be on board with a bit sharing system!

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    7. lol you're basically an honorary blogger at this point ;)

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    8. It seems to me that if a bit is legal for USDF (which the Mylers without hooks are), then why would it not also be legal for USEA? Ugggg so sad. I don't want to bother if eventually we cannot use it when we try a rated event. Definitely need a bit sharing system OMG that would be amazing. And Stephanie, maybe I should reach out to your tack store!

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    9. Yes, please feel free to do so! You can contact Beth at beth (at) thehorseofcourse (dot) com. If you talk a little bit about what kind of riding you're doing, how you horse takes the contact, and any issues you're having, she will be happy to recommend something.

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  4. I'm glad you found something that's working well for the big guy! Looking good :)

    I personally don't like messing with bits or tack, as P is a fickle character day-to-day and so changing something and having the ride be better or worse doesn't necessarily mean anything. I typically need a full week or more to really gauge if it's something that will or won't work. So I try to stick to tried and true, though we are in the midst of experimenting with a rubber bit vs his usual KK Ultra, at least for XC.

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    1. thanks! and yea i can totally see why isolating variables is so key with P haha. i've been lucky to not have such fickle animals, but tend to still be pretty change averse anyway. i like to find something that works, and then just stick with it forever and ever haha.

      but then again... sometimes there ARE better options out there and we can be pleasantly surprised by experimenting. seems like your rubber bit trials are working out pretty well too!!

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  5. Is it me or are your jumps getting bigger and bigger these days?! That triple oxer made my stomach flip just looking at it. Horse in front of my leg is the focus of my lessons right now, ugh. When Shiraz is tense, forward is very hard for her but lucky me she is also a puller! So working on getting leg on and not getting baited into a pulling match when she throws out her head in protest. So far, more leg/less inside rein seems to disengage her pulling but it feels opposite of what I want to do. :P

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    1. why yes, the jumps are growing a bit!!! and it makes me super happy (even tho i would never ever set them up this height for myself haha). charlie's pretty solid at 2'9-2'11 now, finally, and actually is easier to ride when the jumps are a little bit bigger bc he apparently can't be bothered to pay attention to smaller fences.

      also i know what you mean about feeling baited into taking leg off and using too much hand - izzy did that to me alll the time, and while charlie is a different ride completely i still have the same problems. it's just never ever intuitive, is it? sigh. riding his hard haha.

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  6. I think I end up playing around with bits more than the average person. (maybe not though...) I find that there are so many factors that go into a ride that picking a bit is usually a factor of what I am looking to achieve with what I have. If a horse is super out of shape, I might need a leverage bit to remind them about their balance, if we haven't gone XC schooling, I might want the pelham with a chain, if they've been good or we're doing something very simple, maybe we step down to a simple snaffle.

    Right now, May is in a Myler Level 1 D ring with the hooks, and it seems to be fixing our heaviness issues without backing her off. Maybe one day we'll be able to step back to just a double joined loose ring snaffle.

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    1. it's definitely fascinating to me how the different actions of different bits can be utilized for various riding objectives! i've never had to play much bc my last mare was pretty much rock solid for everything in a snaffle, but i'm learning with charlie that sometimes i have to adjust my communication methods so that he can better hear and understand me lol

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  7. I hope you've found the right solution!
    I tried a few bits on Cupid when I got them but it didn't seem to make much difference, so I got a Myler comfort snaffle (level 1) and have stuck with that as my jumping/trail bit since. For dressage a few years ago I got a pretty typical Sprenger double jointed loose ring snaffle. I guess I'm a "if it ain't broke don't fix it" person.

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    1. lol our horses are the opposite! charlie wears that level 1 comfort snaffle on his dressage bridle, and has the sprenger kk double jointed mouth piece on his jump bridle (tho instead of just the plain loose ring cheeks it's got the elevator cheeks with double reins as pictured). agree tho about the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' attitude. that's basically how i roll too

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  8. I wish I had experimented with different bits on Moe for jumping. I always rode him in my D-ring snaffle because I thought snaffles were the One True Way when I was a teenager. He tended to ignore half halts and totally blow through the D-ring, especially on cross country. As a result, I developed a habit of giving REALLY strong half halts and getting into pulling matches with him.

    I tried hacking and hunting Candy in an eggbutt, but in a group out in the open, she would basically give me the middle finger. I used a kimberwicke for a bit, but she hated the curb chain. I borrowed a 3-ring elevator (like yours, only with another ring on the bottom) to try, and that's working a lot better! I don't feel like I have to hang on her, and she pays attention when I give her a half halt. She still jigs and gets cranky, but she listens.

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    1. i mean, snaffles are pretty great and all... when they work. i really hate this feeling of getting into pulling matches too, bc as much as i wish i could claim otherwise, my position really isn't that strong and i don't have all those independent body parts that the experts are always describing. so if i'm working my balls off trying to pull the horse into a reasonable way of going, probably other parts of my position are getting bent out of whack in the process. it's a challenge haha.

      glad to hear your three ring is working well for Candy tho! it's so tough when they're tricky rides but also sensitive with a lot of opinions about bits. isabel really couldn't tolerate a curb chain either. i've also had reasonably good luck with putting a leather curb strap on the elevator for a little extra oomph and stability.

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  9. I hope the chain gang works for you guys. It’s nice to have the back up when needed without punishing his efforts. I stick with what works and only change if I have to. That said I changed to a Baucher last year and wish I had sooner

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    1. lol that's kinda the double edged sword of making changes... when we realize that life could have been so much better / easier had we just changed that one thing lol. brita recently felt that way about a bitting change she made too haha

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  10. Glad that's working! Sounds like you have a good handle on things :). Amber is a one bit horse. Or should I say I one mouthpiece horse haha. Because of that I don't change bits with her. She goes the best in that so I don't change it. If it ain't broke, right? lol And so glad Charlie's leg isn't bad and that it's doing okay!

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    1. i definitely feel ya on wanting to stay true to the one mouth piece that works. that's kinda where i am with charlie too - i know i want a simple snaffle in there to have sort of a "first base" for any type of work. what i'm hoping is that by adjusting the cheek pieces (ie, using an elevator on the snaffle) and other accessories, like a curb rein and curb chain, i can get the best of both worlds: a mouth piece that suits many different purposes, and the extra oomph when i need it.

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  11. Ah, yes. Bits. Things I get to deal with soon... lol

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  12. My suggestion was going to be an elevator! I rode Ramone in an elevator gag for a couple months to get him to stop bearing down on the bit as the answer to everything. Once they stop using it as a crutch you can step back down and get your desired response. Hope it helps you guys out!

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    1. yep i've been riding him in an elevator for close to a year ;)

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  13. Every once in a while, I'd like more bit with Niko, but we're kind of waiting on that. We're still such a new partnership and the horse has basically been under saddle for a year at this point so... I'm not in a rush to make changes unless I really need to.

    My jumper teammate has been on the bit hunt for FOREVER and we (FINGERS CROSSED) think we found one her sensitive (but big and strong) TB likes. It's almost a waterford hackabit... but the mouthpiece is slightly different -- instead of stationery "balls" they're round copper and move.

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