Stressing/Anxious About Bit
So, Potomac stresses about the bit. I'm certain it comes from 5 years on the track, and being stressed every time a bridle went on to work hard/race. I get this.
He's become so relaxed since I got him, and he's not a high strung horse. He's very laid back. But as soon as the bit goes on his mouth, he starts stressing and prancing and becomes more difficult to handle. That typical prancing you see TBs do as they're being lead out for a race.
When I lunge him, he's awesome. Responds great to voice commands, lunges on a line nice and relaxed, and behaves beautifully. I lunged him with a bit today (first time in a month he's had a bit in his mouth) and he was a different animal. Constantly chewing on the bit, head up high in an allert, stressed pose, hardly listening to me. It took 30 min. of lunging to get him to settle down and start listening to me. He did settle down with the side reins on, and did eventually settle down and lunge well...but never as relaxed as he normally is. Even in the barn, on the cross ties as I was washing him off he was jumpy and antsy and never calmed down until he was back out in the pasture with his buddies.
What's the best way to help him over his bit issues? I know I can get "training" bits to help give him something to play with, but it's not going to help his mental mindset and relax. What can I do? Just continue to lunge him over and over and over until he settles down? I'd like to start riding him, but am not about to get on him the way he stresses w/ a bit in his mouth. Should I consider a bitless bridle? I'd like to do dressage with him, though, and don't know how much we'd be held back w/ a bitless bridle.
Thanks for any help/input!
I personally just switched Ice to a hackamore set up. The difference was startling, he could actually focus! Although he doesn't become antsy/forward, etc. he just constantly chews and gapes and stretches (if you look in his profile, you can see his winners circle photo is of him doing it). With a hackamore his mouth is completely quiet....when we put it on he even licks and chews, like he should when we put the bit in there!
At present, I'm pretty certain that the FEI does not permit bitless bridles to be used in competition. I would try getting a Myler flavored bit and see if that helps his acceptance of it, or try a rubber bit.
I would just keep working him with the bit. Reward him every time he relaxes and don't push for more until he does relax. It will take some time, but he should eventually get over it.
Okay, thank's y'all. What I was thinking of doing is maybe going bitless for a while, get him relaxed to being ridden, and then reintroduce a bit down the road...maybe months, maybe a year or two?
How long have you had him? People experienced with OTTB rehab say it can take up to a year to cool them down. If it were me, I'd be thinking about just more time on the lunge with the bit. Maybe even skip the side reins for a while, if he goes okay without them. Then reintroduce them gradually.
May I ask how long he's been off the track?
Some horses need to have a good splid 6 months to a year of turnout (visits, grooming okay) to let their systems relax and adjust and come down off any "supplements" they may have been on while at the track.
It's not really a stress from being off the track. He's been off a good 3 months, and is totally relaxed in every way. He lunges great, and is fine until I put a bit in his mouth. Then he's like...okay, gotta work and work = go FAST. All the bad habits TBs develop on the track come through then. He's become a GREAT horse until I put a bit in his mouth. To him, bit = go FAST! It's more a matter of trying to get him comfortable with the bit, to relax with it and not associate it with going fast any more.
A friend just suggested leaving him in his stall to eat and drink and chill for a few hours w/ just a bit and headstall, or bit attached to his halter. This would help him to relax with it and not associate it with work. She and another friend both said it's how the settle their young horses to a bit. What do y'all think of this? it kinda makes sense as this is how he's acting w/ the bit.
I think maybe working with him in the bit during free lunging if you guys have a round pen might be the thing to do. Just put the bridle on, and then work on his whoa and transitioning gaits in the round pen....it will also serve to get him more acclimated to vocal cues!
^^^ I agree with sam.
If you have access to a round pen, I would put the bridle on (no reins) and put him in it. (Stay with him to supervise. If he looks like he's thinking about doing something dangerous, make him move.) Let him wander around for ten or fifteen minutes before you ask him for anything. Let him just carry the bit, and work on things he already knows.
(That's just what I would do with one of mine.)
^^ I agree with the above post. Just let him get used to the bit while he is doing his own thing. Try not to start lunging him straight after you put the bit in his mouth, because then it may strengthen his excitement with the bit. Instead of trying to cool his mind and stop him from associating the bit with hard racing, working him everytime you put the bit in his mouth will just associate the bit with working again.
If you can, maybe try and go out random times of the day to give him a few treats, and then put the bit in his mouth, give more treats, walk him around as relaxed as you can, then take the bit out.
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