Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mouthy Monday on Tuesday

This letter made me feel just great. It's wonderful to know somebody on the other side of the tracks heard me.

My only suggestion to Beth is, next, get rid of the twist completely and try a smooth snaffle.

Thanks for making my day Beth and please call me Mugs...I'm finally shed of the "Mugly."

Dear Mugly,

First off I know this is an extremely late reply to your post on cavessons in FHOTD, but I’m a college student and finals are coming up, so I’m sure you can understand why it’s late. I’ve been a long time reader of your blog , but I've never posted before, but your post about cavessons caused an epiphany of sorts for me. I also used to read FHOTD, but I could no longer stand the mob like mentality of FHOTD. So I switched to you, and your ideas always leave me assessing my own riding/training. FYI this is a rather long e-mail, sorry!

Before I begin, I’ll give you a little background on myself and my horses, which happen to be half-Arabians *insert comment about Arabians here*. I ride just about every discipline, but my main focus is Saddleseat and the hunters * add another comment about saddleseat*. I own two horses, one is a National Show Horse(Arabian x saddlebred)aka Jack, he’s the hunter. The other is my Saddleseat mount, an Arabian x hackney mare, a very opinionated mare at that, but her work ethic is unbeatable, she will go for hours if you ask her too. She’s also the one I always have trouble with when it comes to hardness in the mouth, which I formally attributed to her being a Saddleseat horse, those double-bridles are a lot of hard-ware in their mouth. The national show horse is a wimp and I ride him in a slow twist snaffle, and he’s pretty soft compared to her. Bonnie, the mare, I have to ride in a hard twist snaffle, both are always ridden in cavessons. I’ve ridden my way up from 4-H, up to the Arabian circuit and have done pretty well considering. I’m a ‘do it yourself’ kind of girl, at shows I do all the grooming, feeding, and saddling, I won’t pay someone to do what I can do myself. Call me frugal if you want, but that’s the way I was raised. But most importantly for our purposes, I do all the training, which at first, was much to the annoyance of my barn owner, but now she ask me to ride horses for her. So that makes me feel pretty confident that I’m not totally screwing up my horses. At the barn I keep them at, it was highly suggested *cough*forced*cough* to me to use a cavesson, all the time, every single ride, and those suckers are cinched up tight too. I never questioned their uses and their purpose until now.

A few days after I read your post about cavessons I went out to the barn and no one was there, so that little hamster in my brain started to run. As I was getting out my mare, magically, one neuron fired to another and I thought “hey why don’t I try riding Bonnie without a cavesson?” As I tacked her up, I couldn’t help but think about what a crazy idea this was, there was no way I would be able to ride the entire time without a cavessons, it would just be one big pissing match. Since I thought I was already in for a fight, I decided to put her in a slow-twist copper snaffle instead of her usual sharp twist, what can I say I’m a glutton for punishment. As I walked her out to the arena I sighed as I swung my butt up into the western saddle, grumbling “this is going to be fun” to myself. I wondered why I ever thought to try this. I mean, I like Mugly ideas, but she only rides quarter horses, not Arabians! They’re totally different! All of these reasons of why it wouldn't work ran through my head. So I gathered by reins, geared up for the ensuring fight, and waited for her to bust through my hands and stick her nose out. But to my complete and utter shock, she gave to my hands and went off quietly, soft and willing in my hands.

I’m pretty sure I had to scrape my jaw off the arena floor; my mare hadn’t been this soft since those first months of training. Being the pessimist that I am, I figured that she would only be soft at a walk, so I pushed her into a trot, and I got the same lightness and ease as I got at the walk. I didn’t get it; she was soft in my hands, she didn’t gape her mouth, she wasn’t evading my legs or hands, she happily moved off my legs and seat, she was being perfect.

I just could understand it, was this really my horse? The heavy, touchy mare was gone; instead I had a happy, soft horse. I pressed my outside leg into her for the canter, which normally is freight train time for us, but this time she just flowed into it. I was doing lead changes, stops, pivots, side-passing, backing, anything I could think of to see if it was just a fluke. But it wasn’t, my mare was soft; she was soft in a slow twist snaffle, which is something she hadn’t been in two years. My gelding was the exactly same way, soft and happy.

A little side note, but I tried this idea on a mare who has a habit of flipping over when she feels trapped, which is often, I'm crazy I know. She's heavy in the mouth as my own mare, and when she feels trapped watch out! Its like a nuclear explosion. So I removed the cavesson, but a simple snaffle on, again wondering if I was headed for an early grave, but again it was like someone had sprinkled her with fairy dust, she was fine. She didn't feel panicked or trapped, I amazed me to think that something as simple as removing a cavesson could fix the problem of flipping, that a a good crack on her butt! She's been fine ever since I loosened/removed the cavesson. So Mugly I though you should know that you saved a good horse from going to an auction, and most likely the slaughter house.

So long story short, it worked, it really worked. (Sorry it was so long!) To be honest I kind of laughed when I read your article, and thought to myself “yeah right, come ride MY horse, she’ll show you!” Well I guess she showed me! Thank you for opening my eyes to what my horses have been trying to tell me, they don’t need all that hardware to perform. It wasn’t my horses being nasty and hard just because, they where looking for an escape from the pressure of the cavesson. Looking back I was just being lazy. I won’t say that I won’t every ride with a cavesson again, because, well that’s a lie, I simply apart of the world I ride in. But now I know that I really don’t need it, and that my horse doesn’t need to either. You got a person who shows Arabians to change their mind about cavessons, whats the world coming too?!

So here’s to you Mugs, thank you for showing me that just because everyone else thinks something works or is right, doesn’t mean it is.
The picture is of my two horses, the bay is the mare, the paint is the gelding 


Fyyahchild said...

That is a great story! Good for you for being open minded.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Beth ! What a great thing. Glad you found your way through the trepidation!


Anonymous said...

This is a great letter!!! How many other people with this problem will open their eyes and say "why not give it a try?" I am always willing to try something new and if it dosent work, at least I know it, if if does I may or may not incorporate it into my riding.. I always listen to other ideas. I am always up to try something new. So keep your ears open people.. Great read by the way!

Golden the Pony Girl said...

Way to go Beth. It takes a thoughtful person to go against your current environment and try something new for the welfare of an animal.

I grew up in the hunter jumper environment and i was convinced all the way through my first horse that the cavesson (worn snug) was a must, and that when I ran into a strong, resistant horse the first thing I reached for was a slow twist, or double twisted wire bit and a flash. It seems like a no brainer that my first horse owning experience failed miserably but I had no idea what I was doing at the time. Your horses are lucky you are way more cognizant then I was.

I hope you take Mugs' advise and try a simple snaffle bridle as well. I have long since switched only to snaffles and I will never go back to the twisted bits.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear Beth describe a trial run with a bitless bridle :-)
That is all I ever ride in, except when I go to my local stable for a group trail ride where the owner insists everyone use a snaffle bit. She dislikes my treeless saddle, but hey, i respect her rules at her barn.


Anonymous said...

Great story! I ride my Arabs bitless, so it can totally be done. :)

shadowlake2005 said...

Wow, what a wonderful letter! If only I could make it required reading for every cavesson-using rider. It might not change the world, but oh, the possibilities! I haven't used a snug noseband in years, and just recently removed them from my bridles when I realized I was using them as lip service to convention.

Valerie said...

What a great letter! After the mugly post on cavesons I remembered when I took the caveson off my mare's english bridle. I did it more for the fact I was riding western and I thought it looked better without it :) Plus it showed off her cute face. ANYAYS it was after that that she started relaxing her jaw and giving to the bit. I ride her in a plain snaffle and when she gets hard I realize IM doing something wrong. It takes a few minutes of correct riding to "fix" a hard mouthed horse. It takes a few seconds of hard handed riding to create a "hard mouthed" horse.

I encourage you to try regular snaffles and maybe give a try at a french link (my horses LOVE french links)!

Anonymous said...

I also removed my horse's flash and loosened his noseband after Mugs' post. He has a very busy mouth and constantly works the bit during our dressage, and not in a happy, soft way. He just constantly chews and moves his tongue around (all his tack fits, teeth are routinely done). Mugs logic made sense to me so I figured I'd try it out and Voila! Pony is much quieter and on the bit and he is softer and steadier in his frame. I think all that mouthing was his constant resistance against the flash holding his jaw shut. I am super pleased with the results and feel a bit bad that I never thought to remove my flash before. It is just so ingrained for me to put a flash on for dressage. However, with flash removed and nose band loose pony is much more the picture of supple, soft and round.

However, for the cross-country phase I'm not quite sure if I am ready to give up my nose bands and flashes yet. When I woah up and collect my horse before a big, solid fence I need it to happen. Not just for my safety but my horse's as well. If a flash or figure-eight keeps him from resisting my half halt, even just once, I feel it is worth using. Many cross country horses are strong, fit and keen to get the job done. That often means that despite lots of schooling and acceptance of the bridle some horses on course will resist against the bit in front of a fence.

If I were a better rider and could make a perfect half-halt and collection happen 7 strides out of every fence on a cross course I would throw away that flash for good. I just know that despite my best efforts every once and a while my horse gets strong and I'm glad I have that noseband and running martingale on. Any thoughts on this? I want my horses happy and comfortable. I don't want them to feel resistance or restriction from a piece of tack. But I need them to be safe to ride as well. Is this archaic thinking or do others feel the same way?

mugwump said...

Anon - you have to stay safe, first and foremost. If you feel safer in the flash and martingale then you need to use it.
You're not killing him by putting it on, you're simply playing with a new riding style without it.
No guilt!

Kel said...

Great story and I'm happy the OP got to experience an eye opener in a good way. The more I read and experience on my own, the more I realize things with horses just go better the less we interfere and the more we can come to mutual conclusions (or a benign dictatorship, perhaps). 'Course getting there can be a difficulty in and of its own. Loving them for the amazing animals they are is one thing, but being able to understand why they do what they do and the motivations behind it is something else. But I digress. :)

Bif said...

I think we discussed this a long time ago, too... I feel that we as riders should take the time to listen to what the horse is communicating in one of the few avenues open to it.

If a green horse gapes, figure out why instead of tying it closed. I spent a long time trying to find a black dressage bridle that had just a plain noseband. Ridiculous that an entire discipline is seemingly only buying headgear to keep the horse's mouth closed.

I will always try a standard cavesson (or none at all) over a flash or figure 8. I adjust it an inch or two fingers below the cheekbone, and two or three fingers *on edge* for tightness. In a young horse or one where the noseband doesn't fit, I'll leave it off.

I don't object to a properly fitted cavesson, and it is traditional for many English disciplines. If more people took the time to train youngsters properly, to really listen when he opens his mouth to protest or say he doesn't understand, perhaps that tradition would fade...

I rode a confirmed jaw crosser at age 20-something and pulled the figure 8 and she was happy as a clam, and no crossing or gaping.

rant over

Travel Truth 101 said...

I'm a middle aged Australian woman who's an average rider, living in a foreign land (Germany) who only rides school horses, and I find these posts so interesting.

I don't have a choice of what tack is used on the horses I ride, but each time I read a term that I don't understand (twisted snaffle etc), I google it and read more about it.

Reading about those twisted bits this morning was a real eye opener and I know they're in use at the western barn I ride at (western is HUGE in Germany). Luckily the horses I ride are in plain snaffles, but some have cavessons (which I always do up a little loose as I feel they can't be much fun for the horse when they're done up so incredibly tightly.

Thanks for posting things that help me learn and might make things easier on the horses I ride.

mugwump said...

Kel - Benign dictatorship - I love that. Can I use it as my rallying cry?

Bif - Rant away....it's a good one

mugwump said...

Kel - Benign dictatorship - I love that. Can I use it as my rallying cry?

Bif - Rant away....it's a good one

Fyyahchild said...

Mugs, if there was a "like" button for your reply to Anon I'd be clicking it. ;)

Kel said...

Mugs -- Use away! :)

Fetlock said...

Those are beautiful horses. I'm so glad to hear that there are horse people out there who can keep their minds and hearts open.

redhorse said...

When the Mugly post was published, I was thinking about putting a noseband on my gelding. He was opening his mouth a lot. Instead of adding the noseband, I switched bits to a snaffle with some curve in it, and the problem went away.

Candle said...

Kel- love benign dictatorship!

Mugs- if you aren't a fan of nosebands, then how do you view bosals and bitless bridles?

genuinely curious, I have several horsey friends who ride bitless and in padded hackmores and bosals. I know the noseband thing is a dislike for tying a horses mouth shut. But if bitless bridles are designed for pressure on the nose and chin then how do they factor in?

Cat Cliff Farm said...

Hi Beth - Great story and it's wonderful to hear from another Arab lover! Arabs are such great horses and so sensitive, I find that with them, less tack is more.

I always rode my Arabian gelding bareback in an Arab Show halter - yes, just a thin little decorative cord over the poll & nose with a light western curb strap under the chin. I got looks from both the Western AND the English folk at the Air Force Academy! I think they all thought I was nuts!

And not only did I ride him that way, but I was usually ponying my Arab mare along side us, through a variety of mountain trails (water, thick trees, meadows, rocky bluffs, etc.) We could go at a walk or a flat out gallop - didn't matter. The three of us were a herd.

Sadly, I lost that guy to a colic so I'm having to start over with a new little filly - half-Arab like yours. I'm working her in a rope halter and will start her bareback after she turns 3. And I have a beautiful bitless bridle to introduce her to this summer.

You have beautiful horses! I'm glad you found a way to enjoy them even more.

mugwump said...

Candle - Don't know about bitless - I get stubborn when I feel I'm being "sold."trhe marketing campaign came across as "you are cruel- you bit using fiend."

I ride my horse in a bosal (we call them hackamores) for anywhere from 1 - 3 years before I bit them in the big bit.

There is no bit in their mouth with a hackamore, so I'm not tying it shut against a response to bit pressure.

quietann said...

My flash-less experiment didn't last long... The mare wasn't happy. My fault? Sure... but I'd rather have her happier, given that I am the rider that I am and taking away the flash isn't going to cure my hands.

OTOH I'm willing to give it another shot, because she has a different bit now and seems to like it more. It is heavier so she may think twice about tossing her head.

Peanut said...

What a great post, Beth - beautiful horses by the way! I started out as a low level dressage rider, and I never gave the cavesson any thought. One day someone mentioned that it was to "tie the horse's mouth shut" - I was surprised and was always in trouble for leaving it really loose after that.

Eventually I had a great trainer (a student of Tom Dorrance) start a young mare for me. He does not use a cavesson or flash and explained that rather than trying to hide it, he wants it to be obvious if the horse does not understand the bit. Now my bridle does not have a cavesson or flash - if my mare's mouth is open, either she doesn't understand what I'm asking, her thoughts are somewhere else and I need to get her attention back, and/or I need to work on my hands!

Clancy said...

Barefooter, I also ride only in a bitless bridle (sidepulls, or Dr Cook cross-under or LightRider, and the horses go brilliantly.

The local riding school I go to changed over to bitless after trying one on a green QH mare who was very hard mouthed and hard to stop - instant different horse. So then they changed all their horses to bitless and found they all went much better, and I swapped mine over on seeing how well all the others did and we've never looked back.

Granted we only ride trails and low-level gymkhana games (barrels flags, etc). The horses are very controllable and willing at all speeds, even the young and bouncy ones.

I see so many local riders who think they have soft hands, but their horses mouths are gaping going around corners or halting, or their heads are up and tails swishing, and the less secure ones ride with martingales or rings and their poor darn horses look miserable.

Great story Beth, huge respect from me for going softer.

Atina said...

I really enjoyed that post. I think it was an eye-opener for many people (at least I hope). I think about those pieces of equipment, I see them as tools. They are not a permanent fix, and if use correctly they are wonderful aids. The pictures you shared were people using those tools/aids incorrectly. I have seen horses mouths badly abused by a simple snaffle because people don't understand how to use their tools properly. In the western world, it is comparable to spurs. They can be great, but don't abuse them.

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