Saturday, March 07, 2015

In the Snaffle

Although in general I'm finding myself feeling an increasing preference for the hackamore, I decided to start Piper in the snaffle. My main reason for this is I don't know how long we'll keep her. From a versatility perspective, the snaffle is more practical. Also, since we're not thinking of her as a horse we will keep permanently, the extra time it takes to train a horse when they're started in the hackamore was a consideration.

I decided this a while ago, but it wasn't until today that I actually put a bit in Piper's mouth for the first time. I did this after we'd already done a lot of groundwork, and I'd climbed into the saddle once but hadn't asked her to go anywhere.

Piper took the bit easily enough. Then she did the thing all horses do when they feel a bit for the first time. She spent quite a few minutes trying to drop it out of her mouth. I waited until she got used to the sensation, then spent some time familiarizing her with the idea of yielding to the bit the same way we'd been practicing yielding to the rope halter. She was more distracted with the bit in at first, but we just practiced all our things. After a while she was feeling pretty soft and attentive. I got her to the point that she was flexing laterally quite softly, backing and coming forward off the slobber strap, going nicely in circles in both directions, and giving me a soft feel when I held both reins up near the horn. At that point it seemed time to get on.

This ride started out better than the last in that Piper was far more comfortable about the idea of moving from the beginning. This was great a first, and we tooled around a little. I'd let her go straight for a few steps, then tip her hind end under, and we'd start again. Then she got pretty focused on the gate that leads out into the pasture. We had a few minutes of struggling where everything I did only briefly distracted her from her goal of getting closer to the gate. I employed some Bryan Neubert style pulls (slow but firm) when she was trying to get near the gate, then tried to go soft and passive when she was moving away. It took a couple minutes, but she soon realized trying to get to the gate wasn't all that comfortable. At that point, I guided her easily back to the center of the arena.

From there, I had Brian walk in a circle on Laredo. Piper and I followed just inside. This helped a lot with getting some more consistent forward movement. As we went, she got more and more responsive to the bit. By the end she'd tip her jaw as soon as she felt a slobber strap lift.

Of course, the control I have of her feet is completely primitive at this point. I was joking to Brian that it feels a little like being drunk. I'm so used to Steen, whose feet I can put anywhere. With Piper, we have only the roughest of strokes laid in at this point.

I rode for about 15 minutes. Then the tractor came to deliver hay to the herd, and the commotion was visible through the door. I figured that was as good a time as any to call it a day. So I stepped down.

Tomorrow, Piper will get her feet trimmed, which is excellent as we don't exactly know when last that was done. And it also looks like we might be through the insane cold for the year. It's certainly more relaxing to be out at the barn when the temperature is above freezing.

Horseback Hours YTD: 18:05


  1. Is there a particular reason you waited until after mounting the first time to try the snaffle? Just curious. I probably would have put a bridle on a few times and worked on flexing and yielding to the bit from the ground. Different theories and all, I'm just wondering about the why.

    Interestingly, Trekker took to the bit right away. He picked it up and held it right from the beginning, like he'd been doing it all his life. The saddle was a different story, however. Always interesting to see how different horses react to different things.

    And yeah, I totally hear you on the "feeling drunk" thing. I've mostly been riding Tranikla lately, and he's become very responsive to seat/leg cues. I rode Trekker a few weeks ago, and just didn't feel like I had the same precision. He'd turn too much, or not enough, or not respond to the seat cue like I expected. I'm just not as in-tune with him these days. I guess that means I should ride more. :)

    1. The reason for doing the first ride(s) in the halter is to get the basic controls working without having to be in the mouth to get things done. If a horse gets stuck in a snaffle and comes onto pressure, the bit can cause a lot of pain. Pain can cause a wreck, and leave a lasting impression on the horse. In a rope halter, you can help the horse through learning basic maneuvers and balancing with a rider with the stakes staying lower.

      In an ideal world, I'd have put a few more rides on Piper in the rope halter. I'd have liked to be able to work more on moving her out and getting her to soften and step under from different gaits. But we don't have a round pen, and our indoor arena is busy right now. It's pretty rare that we're riding alone these days. She did great her first ride, so I decided to push ahead. But it's not the way I'd have done it if I was 100% control of my riding environment.

      Haha. After my weeks of being sick, I got on Steen and I could feel we were rusty. It only took half a ride to straighten things out, but yeah. Riding a lot definitely helps with not feeling drunk up there. :)


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