he goes better in his new bit... one catch
...it's not dressage legal!
After he bolted on me the other day [in a snaffle, totally ignoring any amount of slow-down aid including, in the end, YANKING on his face - though he WAS listening to steering aids] I decided to try Monty in something with a little more bite, that still allowed me to use it in a "snaffle" capacity when he is behaving himself. That something ended up being a single jointed pelham (he HATES single-jointed bits but it's all I could find at short notice), which I'm using with double reins.
I'm not REALLY co-ordinated enough for double reins, which is why I didn't switch him before, but I'm managing to use each pair of reins independently of the other, and most importantly, working off the snaffle rein most of the time.
At the moment I'm using the pelham exclusively on the flat and switching him back into a snaffle for jumping, because I can't shorten the double reins quickly enough and if I get left behind, in this bit, I KNOW I will let the reins slip through my fingers... making it difficult for me to gather them back up again to keep him under control for the next fence.
But, the biggest surprise has been the improvement in how he is working. He's actually flexing around his left turns, rather than leaning into them, and his self-carriage is much improved - he's not leaning on me so much.
Frustratingly his mouth is too small for a double bridle, and neither of us is advanced enough to use one anyway, but we want to event and so his dressage bit HAS to be competition legal.
Any thoughts of other options? Something with a similar action to the pelham "snaffle rein" would be ideal, perhaps a hanging cheek [Baucher] snaffle, to transition him into once this better way of working becomes automatic and I'm no longer using the curb rein for anything... then the pelham will become his jumping/xc bit because I'm assuming by then I'll be able to adjust the rein length more quickly/easily.
One thing I know based on the other day is that there is NO way I will be eventing him using a snaffle for either jumping phase. He gets strong while jumping, and while he is usually controllable, there is that 1% that he just totally ignores his rider. The snaffle doesn't offer me anywhere to go when he has one of those moments - at least with a pelham I can be "nice" to him most of the time and then have the extra bite when I need it.
Have you considered, instead teaching him the one-rein stop? This way you have 'emergency brakes' even in a mild bit? He was still listening to steering cues like you said, so I think this could work.
Sounds to me, honestly, like he needs to relearn how to stop, not just be moved up to a stronger bit. Though I'm sure he does appreciate you using the snaffle rein. I understand he gets excited, but he needs to learn to listen to his rider, this is training - not tack IMO. Practice a million walk/halt trot/halt canter/halt transitions - over and over and over using your entire body to slow and stop him, not just your reins. Then introduce a small jump - practice all your transitions around the jump, before and after the jump. If he gets over excited and charges toward the jump, stop him and turn him around and do it again, if needed use a one rein stop, don't let him carry you away. Work on this with a tiny cross rail until you have complete control. Slowly build up the jump or add jumps but you should be able to stop your horse in any situation, especially in an arena setting being run away with is unforgivable. Practice all your transitions the whole time, walk-trot trot-walk walk-canter canter-walk all three gaits to halt. Practice them the entire time you're working him even around jumps. I'd even get to the point where I'd canter him toward a small trot height jump and then bring him back to a trot a good number of strides before the jump - just to reinforce not to rush.
He knows the one rein stop. The trouble is I don't employ it any faster than a trot [pulls him into a very tight circle and I won't risk having him fall on me] and I like to give him the option to listen before I force his head to my knee.
He has re-learned how to stop at least 4 times with me and it works for a matter of maybe 3 months at a time, then he forgets his manners again. It's not actually an issue in an arena any more, hasn't been since the first time he re-learned to stop, but he bolts with me if I ride in too open an area. He was a high-level eventer in his younger days and I think he gets brain fried.
I showjump him in a snaffle, last show we did [showjumping] he was in his snaffle and was perfect, and the pelham is actually on his flat bridle at the moment in preparation for a show [it's "the done thing" to show them in this discipline in either a pelham or a double, and a double won't fit in his mouth]. Out eventing for some reason the stadium phase fries his brain and in a kimblewick I had no control - showjumping, though, he's a dream in a snaffle. Cross country, I won't even TRY without at least a kimblewick.
The other day when he bolted we were riding along the reserve at the side of a major highway. He is very traffic safe, but for whatever reason the wide open straight line on grass fries his brain [I think it's the cross country training he's done in the past, he was initially trained by someone who knew what they were doing but then sold to someone who had no clue so he does get brain fried quite easily - the beach heats him up horribly, open spaces heat him up... I think he thinks he's meant to gallop and gets too set on that idea and forgets there's someone on his back] and he can be, er, interesting at best. We have a rule that he can trot as fast as he likes but he is NOT allowed to canter - if he doesn't canter he can't gallop/bolt as easily - but that doesn't always work.
He has bolted a few times in an arena but they have ALL been my fault... it's out that's the problem. Nothing I can do will stop him - bearing in mind I am not much more than 100 pounds, I am TINY, so I don't really have anywhere to go if he wants to ignore me.
I am not a very confident rider, and I have HUGE trust issues with this horse, so quite often I actually struggle to be nice to his mouth using a snaffle [I hang off it when I'm nervous]. In something with a little more bite, I know I can stop him if he's being an idiot, so I'm not scared. I have come off him from a full out bolt before, also in a snaffle, AFTER his first re-learn-how-to-stop, and I can't remember most of that day or the next. I had a head injury, and a fractured humerus, and my helmet was cracked front to back. Because of THAT fall, I got lessons. Which didn't stop his behaviour, because it stems from ME, not him, and the coach I had at the time did zilch for my confidence out.
I'm going to be talking to my dad and my boss about possible lessons [boss is an AMAZING coach but doesn't travel, my dad has a trailer so I might be able to get him to help out - MAYBE]
While I know it is looked down on by many you could try roundings on your pelham for the jumping and cross country phase, many people do, and it can work really well.
For dressage, there is nothing that will give you the leverage of a pelham that is dressage legal, the boucher does not work the same way at all. You just need to try a few of the legal bits to see what he goes best in, sometimes it surprises you what a horse likes and will work happily in.
A pelham with roundings would be way too harsh for him... he goes awesomely in a snaffle most of the time and the reason I chose a pelham is because I can use a snaffle action 99% of the time and then have the extra bite there if I need it. Which I definitely do now and then! He is 17, and best I can determine he has been like this for a long time, so he's pretty set in his ways.. and someone as nervous as me is never going to get any significant change out of him. Honestly I need something a bit more reliable... or at least something that doesn't have baggage. But Monty's that horse, you know, the one you love so much you honestly don't care what he's like... you still ride him even though he scares the crap out of you.
I'm not going to be eventing on him for a while, I don't think, so I have plenty of time to make this new better way of going habit for him and then transition him into something that has a similar action to the "snaffle rein" of the pelham - I don't necessarily need the leverage for dressage, but if it has a similar feel to the pelham's "snaffle rein" [no leverage at all as it attaches level with the mouthpiece] then once he's used to the new way of going and I'm not using the curb at all, he should in theory keep the new way of going. That being said the last dressage test I rode, he wouldn't come down from the first canter without a good amount of yanking, so I never really know how he'll react at a show...
He is really hard to keep collected because he's SO long, and he's really stiff through his left-hand turns, so whatever softens him up and gets him flexing - and a little easier to get and keep collected - is fine by me!
What sort of mouthpiece do you have on the pelham? Some horses prefer a straight bar, or mullen mouth, and if that is what you have for a pelham, he may like it in a snaffle as well.
I hear what you are saying about the D's but a lot of horses just go well in that combination, and it means that you can be 'off of their mouth' a lot more, rather thsan nagging with the snaffle, then having to engage the curb, certainly a lot easier when jumping.
single joint at the moment [borrowed from a friend and that's what they have soooo]... he actually HATES single jointed mouthpieces, and they're not technically legal for pony club run shows [nothing jointed is] so I'm on the hunt for a nice curved mullen. I've tried him in a mullen snaffle, he ignores it. For a snaffle, he responds best to a french link. Flat better than lozenge. But he's unreliable and I feel like I need that little bit extra to be comfortable on him.
For jumping, he responds quite nicely to my kimblewick. I don't use the slots for stadium [although his brain blows and he's a bit out of control, so maybe I should], and I use the stronger bottom slot for XC. But maybe split reins on a pelham would be a bit better, because I can lift my hands and engage more curb, or lower them and engage more snaffle. I am not a fan of roundings just because the rein slips around on them and so it's hard to get that level of finesse.
So here's what I'd do:
Take him, in a pelham, tie up the bottom rein so you don't use it outside of a real emergency. Use the snaffle rein and ride him out on whatever your usual trail is. When you reach the part where he would usually get wound up - bring him toward it at the WALK. Practice calm walk-halt transitions. When he starts getting worked up or ready to go- turn around. Use walk-halt transitions until he's calm again. Remember to keep yourself calm, breathe deep and relax your body. The more tense you are - the more tense he is. When he's calm turn back to the open area, walk-halt, walk-halt. Do this until you can walk calmly accross the entire exciting area. Then start again (probably another day) with trot-walk transitions and through is some trot-halt's too. Repeat this until he can calmly trot the entire field. Carry on as usual. He needs to be taught that open areas don't mean he HAS to run.
Again, stronger bits don't fix problems, just cover them up. If you need to reteach him to halt every so often it's because something is un-teaching him, not because he forgot. You mentioned that when you're nervous you tend to hang on his mouth, this in a way, is teaching him to ignore that contact. You need to consciously ride on a looser rein when he's being good. If he's getting tense and you grab hold of his mouth he's going to think there's something to be worked up about. If when you ride you hold onto his mouth, but then keep urging him on he's learning contact on his mouth does not mean stop. Every time you apply a cue, but expect something different you are effectively un-teaching that cue.
So ride on a softer rein, remember you can easily shorten them in an emergency - if you feel you can't shorten them fast enough spend some time practicing yourself shortening and lengthening your reins. Remember that holding tight on the reins is actually teaching him to ignore the bit - NOT controlling him better. Every cue you give him you need to mean.
Practice bringing him into open areas in a controlled manner teaching him he doesn't need to run, if you only get half way across the open field the first day that's ok just remember to end on a good note where he's walking calmly. Allowing him to racing trot across an open area is a good way to get him worked up, if he gets too worked up turn him around, go back to walk and wait till he's calm.
I really hope this helps, this is what I would do. When you're feeling comfortable you can switch him back to the snaffle as that's all you'd have been using anyway, just with an emergency brake.
I do recommend you get an unbroken one, especially if he has a small mouth, mullen mouths are great but you're more likely to find one with a medium port. Personally though I wouldn't bother buying one as I'd plan to switch back to a snaffle, as you can't use a pelham in your sports anyway. Get him going good in a bit you can use in your competitions AND he is comfortable in.
Actually Punks you CAN use a pelham in the two jumping phases of eventing [and we're fine in an arena so I don't need it for dressage, except that he's working better in it], and they are perfectly legal for showjumping. Eventing is just something I dabble in. Won't bother me if I never compete at another eventing show.
I have tried the whole transitions thing and actually with this horse the more transitions you do the hotter he gets because with HIM, transitions reinforce the forward, and don't seem to do too much for the brakes.
Hanging on him is a habit that I have that I've mostly managed to kick, but when I'm nervous I go straight back to it. So for the SAME REASON I used a kimblewick, MY NERVES, I put him in a pelham so that I can be more nice than not and still know that I have control. It's not HIM that's the problem.
Sorry, was just going off of what you were saying and what you seemed to think was the problem. Sounds like you've got it all figured out - unless you had another question?
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