Monday, August 15, 2011

A Bit About Bits

Although Steen's behavior has been excellent lately, I've been feeling for some time that his bit doesn't fit him quite as well as I would like. He doesn't fight it, or toss his head, or refuse to take it or anything major like that, but it does shift around in his mouth more than I'd like. When I got Steen, he was completely traumatized about bits. I thought this was because he'd been ridden in one that was too narrow and pinched the sides of his mouth. But as time has gone on I think it was more that he had only been ridden a little and always very poorly, with the assumption that he knew more than he did. In such a setting, he was bound to be uncomfortable no matter what tack he was wearing.

These days Steen literally takes the bit. I remove his halter and he bends down and puts his head in the headstall for me. But there are times, particularly when I ride with more contact that usual, that his headgear seems to annoy him. I've worried that I've got the bit sitting too low, and since his primary headstall can't go any tighter today I decided to ride him in the narrower, fat snaffle I use sometimes when I work indoors, that has a smaller headstall.

I went to the barn in the morning, and I went alone. Bear was a bit confused, trying to follow me out of the pasture when I got Steen in spite of Brian's absence. I tacked Steen up and took him to the outdoor arena, where he was fine at first but increasingly bothered by the different bridle as the ride went on. Over the course of about 15 minutes his behavior deteriorated and all his old habits resurfaced. He was stopping badly, refusing to stand once stopped and picking up a jog any time I asked him to walk. I got off once and tightened the headstall and got on again and things were even worse.

So, I gave up. I took him inside and put his normal bridle back on. Within minutes of remounting, he was going great. He'd reverted back to the wonderful Steen of recent rides. But I don't actually know if that's because his current set up fits him better or if because it's just what he's used to.

Nevertheless, the second half of the ride was great. Walk, trot and particularly the lope were excellent.

Afterwards I came home and read a lot about bits. It's not that I've never read anything about bits before. But I do feel you can only learn at a certain pace and learning theoretical horsemanship has to be balanced with learning practical horsemanship before you really understand all the components you're working with. I came away from this round of reading thinking Steen's bit is definitely too wide, but otherwise correct for him, and that his headstall doesn't need to be any tighter.

I ordered a narrower bit that I'm hoping will fit him better, but I'm definitely going to ride him in my current set-up a few more times before I go messing with what he knows again. At the end of the day, the most important thing is a horse that's comfortable. Steen is not a horse that likes change...

When bit shopping I also discovered Cashel actually makes a headstall to go with my new saddle, and it was on super sale at State Line Tack. I may have accidentally purchased one of those too. :)

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback hours YTD: 53:30

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