Spring is upon us…at least that’s the hope! All the horses are beginning to shed, which is a signal to me that warmer weather is slowly approaching. Even Slider is starting to shed out, and has a lovely, shiny coat. I can’t tell yet because of all the hair, but he might even be developing happy little dapples on his rump.
With springtime comes show season! For the Iowa Horse Show Association, we have a two Tune Up shows at the beginning of March and another at the beginning of April. These are smaller shows for show riders and academy riders alike. I have decided that Slider should be almost ready for a show, at least physically. Mentally he might not quite be ready, but I would rather take him to a smaller show and let him get used to the sights and sounds, as opposed to a big show with the pageantry and quality of horses of Des Moines Springfest. Let’s get the kinks worked out first!
I have been long lining him with a western style grazing curb bit, the type that is maybe $3 at a local Tractor Supply store. This is a tricky task to accomplish, because I am teaching him to respond quietly to the curb bit. It is very tempting to take ahold of the curb bit and hold his head in place, especially if he isn’t responding the way that I want. If I were to have done this, he would have become more resistant to the curb. As I line him, I squeeze each side of the curb bit with the long lines, with little more than a size of the hand. Believe it or not, that much pressure is easily felt by the horse. They only have one mouth, so it must be treated delicately to avoid developing what I call “lesson horse mouth” (where they pull back because they are used to being pulled on). The minute he flexes into the curb bit, I either take the pressure off to reward him, or I will halt him and walk up and pet him. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!
It took several weeks of long lining, but he slowly has begun to catch on. At first he was very resistant and avoided the bit by raising his head up, or trotting around with his jaw gaping open and flopping his tongue around the bit. I solved the last problem by using a caveson, which I had not been using on the bridle previously. If he had continued the jaw gaping and playing with his tongue, I would have tied his tongue, but that was not necessary.
I had decided to enter him in huntseat, because he was doing very well with an older rubber raised port Pelham I had. He was going through his gaits pretty well and had a gorgeous headset. I have always treasured hunt seat because that was where Caraman and I had had so much success, and I felt very comfortable in hunt on Slider. He has good hocks, but not a huge amount of front end motion, so I felt this was a perfect division for him to succeed.
About a week ago, I was about to practice ride him with his show bit. Ever since William Woods, I have made it a habit to do a slight check of my tack before I put it on. Here and there I have caught reins starting to fray or saddle billets getting old, but nothing severe that can’t be replaced or that couldn’t have held on. I noticed my rubber show bit had a small crack but it seemed otherwise fine. I went ahead and bridled him, and with one chew, the rubber bit broke in two. I have never had a bit break before, although at William Woods we used to tie string onto the bits in case it broke. I suppose the old saying of “never say never” holds true here!
I tried several other Pelham bits that I had, but none of them were rubber or wrapped. He stiffened his neck and refused to set his head. I tried a straight bar wrapped in the elastic bandage that a lot of saddle seat horses use, and although he tolerated it, he didn’t like it as much as the original bit. I even looked online for a duplicate bit for the broken one, and I could not find one anywhere. Makes me wonder where I got the bit originally? It was in a used grab bag I believe, and was a perfect fit for him! Of course it would break.
My philosophy for horse bits is that the horse needs to be comfortable in the bit and accept it, instead of being forced to wear it. I have been giving it some thought, and so I have decided to show him in Open English Pleasure as a saddle seat horse instead. Caraman’s old show bridle from when I showed him in Kentucky had some dust on it, but a low port curb bit and a twisted wire snaffle. Seemed like a good place to start for Slider, since that is a pretty generic combination for a double bridle. I had my fiancé watch me ride to tell me what he looked like, and we both expected the worst.
Surprisingly, he took to it like a fish in water. We may not have the highest head carriage, but he isn’t resisting when I ask him to flex at the poll. The only issue he seems to have is still getting that second way canter, and then maintaining flexion while cantering with that right lead. He has a tendency to leap into his lead, and is sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect. He also tends to speed through the canter if he has a big takeoff, and will sometimes take the bit and try to go too fast.
The horse show is this weekend (March 5-6). I think he will be okay with the bridle and his gaits (except that canter lead!), but I think the arena will phase him because people can stand on the other side of the rail and he has never seen that since I have had him. He may get freaked out from all the people or noise. My fiancé and I have been trying to over-stimulate him by making noise, knocking on the mounting block, walking towards Slider as I trot by, and just giving him things to think about instead of only being exposed to the quiet of the arena. The more he gets used to, we hope, the less he can be scared of.
We will see what this weekend brings. If anything it will be a huge learning adventure!