Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day 24-25: Introducing the bit (the Natural Horsemans Double Bridle)

Friday was another hot one. I ended up working with Eclipse about mid so there was no escaping the heat. Up until now all of my riding has been down in nothing more than a rope halter and lead rope tied into reins. I have been asked many times why I choose this method so I will explain. Starting a horse begins on the ground with a halter and a lead rope. I use a rope halter for the fact that they are light weight to wear but uncomfortable to pull against, its a great communication tool. The horses geat familiar with this piece of tack and soon start to understand what I am asking with it. When it comes time for the first ride, I am going to use something familiar to them instead of changing something different. Some people wonder about the control aspect verses a bit, and yes you can have more leverage with a bit if things get out of hand, but if you prepared your horse right on the ground you should have that same control in the halter. The other reason I use the halter first instead of the bit is if my young horses are going to fight with me over the control of their nose, I would rather it be with the halter over its nose then the bit in its mouth for the horses sake. Some horses can get panicky and emotional about the pressure in their mouth if they don't understand it. An emotional horse never learns anything positive so most the time the horse learns to fear or dislike the bit instead of accepting it. When I introduce the bit for the first time I put on my Natural Horsemans Double Bridle. In essence I put my colt starting snaffle on over the halter and ride with both sets of reins.

I go back and forth between riding in the arena and various places in the pasture to win my horses respect now matter what his surroundings. Today was a pasture day. I tacked up and warmed him up on the ground then bridled him over the halter and got in the saddle. As always I started with bending him with the reins side to side until he bent nicely with out moving his feet. I did this first with both reins so that Eclipse would feel the familiar cue of the halter as well as the new cue of the bit at the same time. This went well, he was soft but naturally played with the bit some as he was getting accustom to its feel. We then went about working a circle in the lower part of the pasture next to the woods. Still sceptical of the woods Eclipse would counter bend towards the woods each time we would go by. Using the reins and my inside leg I would bend him straight on a circle and continue around. As I started to use the bit and reins more to incourage more bend in our circle Eclipse would wag his head trying to understand the pressure in his mouth. I would simply hold steady on the reins until he went with the flow then I would relax my hand. We pretty much worked the same bending pattern from the previous day at the trot only while working on accepting the bit. Once we got to the point that the head wagging and resistance was at a minimum we relaxed and cooled him out by walking through the woods.

Our next ride was Saturday morning before my lessons. Still working in the "double" bridle I was amazed at how soft and accepting Eclipse was when we started to ride. I always know when I am working with a good horse when I can come back to something the next day and it is better than when I left it the previous day. We went straight into working our figure eight pattern in the arena changing direction by moving the shoulders over first then heading out on the new circle. Even moving his shoulders to the left is starting to happen at the walk and the slow trot. Next step is doing this at the canter.

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