Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Death of the Join-Up?

Yesterday this link to research done by the University of Sidney was floating around online:

Researchers urge rethink of 'Monty Roberts' horse training method

Below you can find my response to their findings and observations:  

The data did prove that you do not need to act like a horse to be successful, but also that pressure and release works (which we already knew).  I would like to (as the article suggested) know what the researchers themselves consider to be humane treatment when initiating contact a 1,000lb prey animal. 

I will admit that the Join Up really does get miss used by the public.  I'm sure many horses think their owners have brain damage because they just keep doing the same thing over and over.  I myself use it only until I can catch the horse, and I don't use it unless I need to teach a horse to be caught.   

What it did prove (according to me) is that robots are as good or better than humans at training horses because they offer no emotion to influence, add to, or confuse the horse.  The talk about being a good leader or herd boss is really all for us humans to better project a cool, calm, and collected image to the horse.  All the talk is just a mind game used to convince owners to loosen up and stop being a doormat.  The horse could careless on how a person presents themselves, they just react to how you do it.  Even after 10 years together if this week I presented myself as a doormat Pie would treat me as such.        

It proved that you just have to speak clearly and consistently in order to "speak horse".  I'm quite certain that if they had continued the experiment using only pressure and release they could taught the horses just about anything.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 4: The truth about snaffle bits

The Snaffle Bit.  

Every horse owner has one or has used one at one point in time, and it is widely (and blindly) accepted as the softest and most humane bit available.

In the book "A Whole Bit Better"  By Dale, Ron, and Bob Myler a snaffle is described as a ring bit, "The rings may be round, oval, or shaped like a "D."  A loose ring allows the mouthpiece to rotate around the ring; a fixed ring does not.  Both the headstall and the reins are attached to the ring.  When pressure is exerted through the reins, the bit pulls with the same amount of pressure backward on the horse's mouth; thus a ring bit is often called a direct action bit."

Simply put true snaffle bits are direct action, non leverage bits. 

Meaning that pound for pound your horse feels the exact amount of force you use.

A snaffle is only a snaffle when the mouthpiece, reins, and bridle are all attached to to the same ring. 

A snaffle bit may have any type of mouthpiece.

All of these bits are snaffle bits because the mouthpiece, bridle, and reins all attach to the same ring. 

 Just because a bit is called a snaffle does not mean that it is humane.

Direct Rein Bits work by contacting the palate, bars, tongue, and lips.

The mouthpiece and the amount of pressure used by the rider determines the severity of a snaffle or direct rein/action bit.

A straight mouthpiece can create a nutcracker effect on the tongue and bars.

While a more curved mouthpiece will not immobilize the tongue.

Which would you put in your own mouth?
                          1                                                                                                      2

3                                                              4

I have used 1, 3, and 4, based on each individual horse's preferences, but never number 2.

In closing a snaffle is a direct rein bit.  

A snaffle is only a snaffle if the mouthpiece, bridle, and reins are attached on the same ring.

The severity of a snaffle bit is determined by it's fit, construction, and amount of tongue relief provided. 

A straight bar mouthpiece like number 2 (disregard the twist, looking only at the straightness of the mouthpiece) is more severe 1, 3, and 4. 

Bit number 3 is more severe than bits 1 and 4 due to the amount of tongue relief available.

A twisted mouthpiece is more severe than a smooth mouthpiece.

A smooth twisted mouthpiece is less severe than a square, or fishback twisted mouthpiece. 

The thinner the mouthpiece the more severe.

Stay tuned for Curb/Leverage Bits coming soon.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Keeping a good horse honest

Yesterday my friend came by to deliver a chicken (long story) and while we were outside talking near the horses Charlie immediately came up and offered to join the conversation while Pie (unlike her normal self) choose to stay back and did not offer to come forward.  Busy enjoying the conversation I put her odd behavior out of mind until walking back from closing the front gate. 

You see Pie is a attention hound, and she loves people.  She will drive you crazy with "moral support" when working outside, and she actually asks to be caught.  Needless to say I found her indifference troubling.

Then I realized that Pie had never seen my friend or her car before and had assumed that I was about to give a riding lesson.  She has to do it time to time and when Charlie was recovering last fall and winter she had to take over his riders all of whom were beginners, and she does not enjoy teaching beginner adult riders.

Pie likes a skilled rider or someone small enough (kid) that they do not bother her with their aids.  She likes a confident rider with a decent seat, someone who understands and uses leg cues, and someone who works with her instead of holding her back.

Charlie on the other hand seems to really enjoy giving beginner lessons.  A former ranch horse in the states of Montana and Wyoming, he appreciates a rider who only wants to walk and trot if that.  In a soft as butter bit and good fitting saddle he doesn't mind gripped knees, and heavy hands.  He loves the attention though, he soaks it up like a sponge.   

So what does any of this have to do with keeping a good horse honest?

A good horse must enjoy their job to stay honest. 

Any horse repeatedly put into situations they do not like will start to act out.  Pie put into a busy beginner lesson program would probably turn into a very bad horse very quickly. 

Now does this mean that because Pie hates beginner lessons she will never have to give one again? 

No, If I need her to she can and will give a great beginner lesson. But knowing that she hates it and in the interest of keeping her happy and honest long term I will not ask her to give one unless absolutely necessary.  I would much rather have a happy horse ridden by a few than a super pissed horse ridden by many. 

Long story short, in order for a horse to remain good and honest they must like the work that they do.  A unhappy horse will act out and possibly become dangerous over time.  Negative changes in behavior, personality, and habits when trying new sports/situations may mean that your horse does not like what you are doing.  While this does not mean that a horse should be exempt from anything they do not like.  A horse will never excel when forced and unhappy.

Happy Horse = Good and Honest Horse   




Friday, July 13, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 3- Resistance- The root of all bits

 Resistance- the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.

A few common examples of resistance in horses:   

Getting behind the bit
Running through the bit
Dropping the shoulder
High or tossing head
Gaping or busy mouth
Unyielding neck
Tipping the nose to the outside
Pushing out against the reins 

Resistance is direct result of:
Lack of Training

Now you must be asking yourself why I'm talking about resistance in the middle of a biting discussion, because we as riders often use bits to fix resistance, and that the more resistant a horse is the harsher is bit that should be used. 

(yes that is a bike chain bit, these are from our evil bit collection)

Bits can create resistance through poor fit, pain (from the bit or from needing dental work), fear,and lack of training.

Good bits can wear out and cause resistance.

Damaged medium twist copper half cheek snaffle

Pain, poor fit, and lack of training create resistance undersaddle, and a harsher bit should only be used after all other aspects have been explored. 

A bit is never a subsutite for training.

Stay tuned for snaffle bits!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Now instead of dogs imagine horses

I really could not have said it any better myself.  This is very much worth the read and is absolutely true of every equine relationship.  Who are you? Andy or Barney?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 2- Anatomy

What about bits? 

This is something that has always bothered me.  We worry about, discuss, and research; feeding, saddle fit, and hoof care and yet we are more than happy to shove any random piece of metal in our horse's mouth and ride around. 

Why are we willing to take someone else's word and recommendation without any understanding of what we are actually putting in our horses mouths?   It's time we start talking about bits, and the discussion starts right now.  

Egg Butt Snaffle- immobilizing tougue, clamping nutcracker effect on bars, mouth open in resistance 

Loose ring snaffle- pushing through soft pallet, nutcracker effect on bars

I did not just wake up one day and decide that I wanted to know everything possible about bits.  My father's lovely mare was the true inspiration and the beginning of my journey because no matter what bit you put her in mouth she would fuss/fiddle with it constantly. Which after trying every bit we in the barn lead my Mom and I to start looking for a solution, and what we found was a wealth of information and as a result some very happy horses. 

In order to begin to understand bits we must first understand a little basic anatomy. 

Artwork by Cathy Sullins
8yr old mare paint mare

It looks like you have plenty of room for any size bit until you get to the real life photo.  When taking this photo we were astonished at how much room the tougue actually takes up.

While all horses have the same structures (plus or minus wolf teeth) no two mouths are alike, and individual characterists can play huge role in finding the correct bit.  
Would both these horses do equally well in the same bit?

Probably not, the one on the right will require much more tougue relief than the horse on the left.

Factors to consider when choosing a bit-
1. Head shape- Generally the courser a horse's head and muzzle the meater the mouth and tougue, which calls for more tougue relief.
2. Age- A horse's mouth changes constantly throughout it's life. So the bit that works perfectly at age 5 may hurt by age 15.  Check out for a great general write up on equine dentition.
3. Past History- Some horses may have permanent damage from previous bits causing them to not respond to certain types of pressure. 
4. General Dental Health- Young horses may be cutting teeth causing them to react negatively to certain bits at certian times or older horses may have loose or missing teeth.  

Is your young horse being naughty, maybe it's his teeth.
Common ages for tooth eruption.
Type of toothNumberDeciduousPermanent
IncisorFirst (central)birth to 8 days2.5 yrs
IncisorSecond (intermediate)4.5–6 weeks3.5–4 yrs
IncisorThird (corner)6–9 months4.5–5 yrs
CanineAbsent3.5–5 yrs, some around 6 yrs (if ever)
PremolarFirst (wolf)Absent6 months to 3 years (if ever)
PremolarSecondbirth to 2 weeks2–3 yrs
PremolarThirdbirth to 2 weeks2.5–3 yrs
PremolarFourthbirth to 2 weeks3–4 yrs
MolarFirstAbsent9–12 months
MolarSecondAbsent2 yrs
MolarThirdAbsent3–4 yrs

 Unlike hospital sock bits are not one size fits, and should be considered and fitted on a individual basis. 

Stay tuned for Part 3- Resistance

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bits and Bitting Part 1- One of these pictures is not like the others

For the last few years my Mother and I have done a biting presentation as a part of many of our clinics.  This month I will adapting our presentation into multiple blog posts. Today we start by gaining some perspective about how bits affect our horses.

At first glance what do you think this horse is thinking?


What do you think this horse is thinking?


What do you think this horse is thinking?




Horse 3:  "Oh boy, What are we going to do today?"

Which horse do you think is focused in a positive way on his rider and is willing and ready to try and learn?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post where we follow up by talking about bits in general and signs of resistance.


My tack collection obession explained

My trailer bridle rack, holding some of my favorite tools.

 My tack collection obession explained.   

I get it honest.  You see I grew up in a tackaholic horsehold.  Much as other women collect and cherish jewelry or shoes, my Mom was and still is all about bits and leather.  Growing up with her (a skilled amateur trainer) I was always taught to use the right tool for the job, and that the right tool may be different for each horse so it is important to have options.  So I grew up with a tackroom filled with bits and bridles of every kind imaginable with all being useful and important in some form or fashion.  Some pieces were there because she wanted to study them further, others because she wanted to try them, some were there because they were great and just not needed at the time, and others still were there simply because they should never be used again (abusive/inhumane bits, we collect them to educate people and to keep them away from horses).

Simply put every piece in both our collections has been collected with care and consideration.  So the next time you think our tack rooms or trailers are cluttered just remember that for some horsepeople every piece has a purpose.

P.S. - Thanks Mom you did raise me right.  (I think she has finally figured out how to access this thing)