Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Bit of Experimentation

O is, and has always been, a completely tricky case when it comes to bits.

We know some of the things that were done to her in the interim between her old owner and myself. We know she was being ridden by people with no concept of how to not royally tick off a sensitive red mare - trail riders who didn't even know their own leads yet. We know they wrote her off as "crazy," and put enormous shank bits on her (pony sized ones, apparently, but still with giant shanks) and tried to "teach her sliding stops." A rider who doesn't even know which lead they are on, but who still thinks they can teach a hotheaded animal how to sliding stop... well you can imagine how well that went. Basically they cranked on her mouth hard enough, for long enough, to make her angry enough to utterly collapse into total shutdown mode. Which is how I ended up with her, more or less unrideable, for $500. 

She had huge scars in the corners of her mouth from whatever cranking and yanking they did to her, and scarring on the bridge of her nose. I knew from day one that bitting - and everything, really - would be a challenge.

And it was. Every day of it was a challenge.

Though a lot of experimentation, we discovered a few things:
1) She is REALLY weird and titchy about metal - sometimes she likes it, sometimes she hates it
2) Jointed bits overstimulate her - she gets to jingling and clacking and short circuits herself
3) Going bitless completely freaks her out - but she does like her long shank hackamore quite a lot
3) Her favorite mouthpiece by far is the Happy Mouth mullen mouth - it's simple, lightweight, a little bendy, and very soft on the mouth

Bodywork, chiro, teeth done by a specialist - none of these things changed her behaviors. Believe me, we tried! 

She drives well in the Happy Mouth eggbutt. She can be a bit evasive with it - namely she likes to still dirtbike into her turns and splatter over onto her shoulder. This is something she likes to do under saddle as well, so it's not a unique problem, and more of a body-type problem than a bit problem.

I decided to go ahead and order the Zilco Flexi-Mouth liverpool - same exact mouthpiece as her Happy Mouth, but a different flavor plastic. She was less enthusiastic about this bit than her regular snaffle, but there was quite a bit more finesse to it than the snaffle and things were harder to evade (AKA she found she could actually bend right after all).

The look says it all... she was not particularly impressed with this one but she was tolerating it:

So I thought I would try something else. What could I use that would stop her from using her favorite evasions, give me some finesse, and keep her happy? My friend Sandy suggested a Glory bit, saying her fussy horse who also rides in a Happy Mouth mullen mouth loves his Glory bit and drives exclusively in it. I thought it was a really good idea!

STB Eventer was awesome enough to send me hers to try, just to see. I figured she'd love it - it's a sweet metal, ergonomically shaped for some tongue relief, and simple.

The first drive was pretty good. She threw her head once or twice and stopped herself dead, but then settled into it and relaxed.

Second drive was a total and complete disaster. We went for a short jaunt down the road, and while the warmup walk started out well, the trot was an utter disaster. She spent half the time throwing her head, which caused the bit to slam around in her mouth, which freaked her out, which shut her down, which sent her shooting backwards in a panic. Want to know what is not fun? Being in a big wooden box with a horse attached to it that is running backwards. She also would randomly go from trotting to veering to the left for no reason, head cranked off to the right. It was bad enough that I went back to a walk on a nice long rein, turned our butts around, and headed for home. We ended on a good note - that nice relaxed walk - but given how much more dangerous a misbehaving driving horse is than a misbehaving riding horse, I was not about to get all crazy and try and work through it otherwise. There are other ways to do that.

Yesterday morning, I pulled out my lunging equipment and the Glory bit. I wanted to see if it was me and my noob-handling of the reins while driving, or the actual bit itself. I warmed her up, set the rigging of the Faux-ssoa on the snaffle (not the curb!! Never the curb when you lunge!!), and set her off.

And I had this:

A horse who was actively pitching a huge hissy fit. When she wasn't bucking like a rodeo bronc, she was slinging her head, hitting herself in mouth, doing the random veer-to-the-left thing, and then trying to throw herself on the ground. The top photo was set on the chambon - I tried that too, and it didn't help.
Well. There you go. We managed to end it on a very nice note but it was only due to the fact that I have had this little red firecracker long enough to know how to carefully de-escalate her.

I decided I needed to do a bit of experimentation - literally. Today I broke out the lunging equipment again, and brought out three more bits: a double jointed loose ring with Cyprium, the Liverpool with the same mouthpiece as the Happy Mouth mullen mouth but has a different flavor plastic, and the actual Happy Mouth mullen mouth itself, also knows as the Bloo Bit (it was Gogo's bit, it has baby blue plastic). I have a second Happy Mouth mullen mouth that I usually drive her in; the Bloo Bit is used for lunging since it is getting pretty old and ratty. EVERY horse loves that dang thing though. I tend not to lunge with a noseband anyway, but not having a noseband definitely gave me really good insight into just how quiet she would be with each bit.

The verdict on all four bits:
Glory bit: bucking, throwing head, trying to throw herself on the ground
Loose ring double jointed snaffle: curled behind bit, clacking bit, bolting
Liverpool on the snaffle setting, same mouthpiece as her usual mullen mouth but a different plastic: throwing head, gaping mouth, sticking tongue out
Happy mouth mullen mouth eggbutt snaffle: quiet mouth, goobers, stretchy, forward

Huh. Well, there you have it. The mare has clearly chosen her bit.

It was really interesting to see just how differently she reacted to them. Obviously the Glory bit was a huge disaster, so I wasn't going to try that again - instead I started with the Liverpool. She has been driving decently in the Liverpool (not perfect but decently), but then again, I use a noseband when I drive. Today with the Liverpool on the snaffle setting, she was gaping her mouth wide and rolling her tongue out of the corners of her mouth. I've NEVER seen her do that before and thought for a second that the other bit had fried her brain for good! Since it was on the snaffle setting, I wonder if the bit just wasn't rotated quite the right way in her mouth and if that was bothering her - it sits different with the curb engaged. Still though, it was pretty clear that even though it was the exact same mouthpiece as the Happy Mouth, it has a very slightly different configuration and different tasting plastic, and she wasn't very happy about it. Next I tried the double jointed loose ring - I hadn't put her in one in a long time, and now I remember why: she curled up behind the contact, started to rattle and clack the bit, short-circuited herself with all the movement in her mouth, and took off at a dead run. Last up was her usual Happy Mouth mullen mouth (the Bloo bit). I was very curious to see what she would do, seeing as she was a little wired from the changes in bits - I was almost starting to wonder if something wasn't wrong with her, and that whatever it was was causing her to behave erratically. The second I opened her up for the Bloo bit, she sucked it right up into her mouth and sighed. She then trotted off like a lady, quiet and goobery and forward.

You can't help but appreciate a mare that is going to tell you exactly what she likes and what she dislikes. (And what she seriously hates, apparently). While I'm sure I'll want to go back and play around a bit with the Liverpool (or maybe another Happy Mouth with a full cheek, or something similar), I will keep her in her usual Happy Mouth mullen mouth. It really is the perfect fit for her spicy little brain.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pay It Forward!

I have a long post about bits coming up, but there currently is a more pressing matter to write about. Since I've been broke and sad and homeless and unemployed, and have been through similar struggles with friends and family, this story particularly resonates with me and I hope we can all do something to help.

Longer term bloggers will remember Bre and Greta, who hasn't blogged in a long time - she's been busy with college and Greta is mostly retired now. While Bre lives in queer-friendly Austin, this is still Texas, and things with her family have gone very sour due to her sexuality. She now finds herself estranged and with hardly any money to her name. Most of us have been through the broke-college/post-college-kid phase so we know what it is like, and others who went through growing up queer will understand exactly how crappy and hard it can be. Bre needs our help while she gets through this period in her life - she's a fighter and she'll be fine, but right now she needs help to make sure she keeps her heart horse. It is not her fault that she ended up in this situation and she and Greta should not have to suffer and pay for someone else's harsh and misguided judgements.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Girls, in a Nutshell

P and O are pretty much completely opposite personalities. I've talked about it before, but sometimes it cracks me up to think about how utterly different they are from one another. O is quick to look at stuff, lose focus, be playful, zoom around, and spook (goofily) at stuff. All of that nonsense is beneath P - she wants to eat, and meander, and NOTHING concerns her outside of that.

Now, I have a photo that perfectly sums up their attitudes towards life.

The girls, in a nutshell: O is very concerned about A Thing over there, and P is, well, not.

That about sums it up perfectly!

I also happened to catch some video of their personalities - O loves to buck, leap, and play, and P just... kind of doesn't care about anything, and doesn't feel the need to ever go faster than a casual saunter.

Mares... what would I do without them!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Daily Grind

Winter is happily plodding along here in north central Texas. It hasn't been bad, or cold, or crummy, or wet, or much of anything really at this point. We've had days in the 80's, and days in the 40's, but mostly everything lingers in the low 60's during the day and mid 40's at night. I finally broke down and bought poor O some blankets that actually fit her - the Rambo that fit her last year got destroyed by Tre, and the Tough-1 peace sign sheet that also fits her is THE most unbreathable piece of garbage I've ever put on a horse. NEVER will spend money on that kind of trash again.
I found a used 75" Hug heavyweight, which hopefully will keep the shoulder rubs at bay, and also found a 75" used Weatherbeeta sheet. I've had really good luck with Weatherbeetas over the years, I have two that are fast approaching a decade old and still kicking. They're just, you know.... HUGE on O. The red plaid medium weight turnout seems to fit ok enough, but it's still too big... I'll have to be on the lookout for a medium too. 

Also, apparently this year winter = FOG. Last winter it was Snicy Death, the winter before was Warm Sunny 70s for Five Months, winter before that was a mix of things. This winter seems to be 60's and FOG EVERYWHERE EVERY DAY. Every Texas winter is a total surprise.

O had Sunday and Monday off (and Sunday was the local driving club's holiday party, and I got two pretty amazing show hats in the little Secret Santa type gift exchange!), and then got back to work on Tuesday with a lunge. I started her off in the Faux-ssoa, but she REALLY wanted to stretch, so I stopped her and rigged it up at the chambon. 

Moment of enthusiastic head-shake

After her canter, she got SUPER zoomy and braced against the chambon with her head in the air and her nose poking straight out. She kept going roundy round in this fashion for a little while; when she didn't relax, I stopped her again and re-rigged it back to the Faux-ssoa position, and she was excellent. When we turned around, I kept her at the Faux-ssoa position until she wanted to stretch, then put her back to the chambon. It was kind of complicated but actually worked really well. It was quite a workout!

Today was a fitness day, albeit a short one. Just to stretch her out and get in a short drive, we did a short mile up and down the road on a long and floppy rein. I'm not quite sure how to do fitness in a cart beyond roadwork - most of our fields are rutty and bouncy, and not really drivable, not to mention full of cows and things to spook at (and opening/closing gates). I made the mistake of deleting the MapMyRun app on my phone awhile back, and now my phone is too full of junk to download anything else. I will have to think of something else.

I have to say, trotting down the road on a long floppy rein in a nice cadenced trot was SO enjoyable. Looking back at just how far this mare has come, I have to say that this is not something I ever would have thought possible earlier in the year.

Paparazzi can go away now please

Check out how the old saggy bat is looking! She is now officially at 7 months and looking BIG. Granted, she has no topline at all so gravity isn't exactly helping, but for her age (fast approaching 19), she looks great. I am a little bit stuck on trying to decide if we want to breed her back to anything next year. Given her age, I'm running out of time to make that decision. I guess it largely depends on what she ends up producing!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

It's All About the Navy

There are a lot of colors that look really poor with a copper chestnut colored horse. Most everything I can think of is terrible with that color. When I picked the painted cart over the Meadowbrook, I had no idea that I was about to stumble upon the BEST color for this horse EVER. 

Navy. Navy is really the perfect color for her. Baby blue is a second best choice - everything I own is baby blue, after all! - and very conveniently, the pin striping on the cart is baby blue. 

I've been meaning to get new harness pads for some time, seeing as my old ones were really great and soft but were getting quite old and had squashed down considerably. The breastcollar pad was also straight, and the actual breastcollar is curved, so it wasn't a great fit. (Also it was sized for a pony. Not sure why that happened?) Anyway, I searched for awhile, found these bad boys, and ordered a pair in navy.

The ad claims they are the "best money can buy." And they weren't lying... these pads are LEGIT. They're an inch and a half thick with firm but forgiving foam, have all the right buckles and velcro in all the right places, fit my harness perfectly, and are lined with this funky naugahyde material that doesn't soak up any sweat. I literally picked the saddle up off her back, and while her back was all sweaty, the pad was bone dry. It was great! My old pads were really getting kind of stinky from all the sweat, and wearing out with all the washing.

Don't you just love that? The color of the cart and shafts is so deep and subtle, and the harness pads match perfectly. I'm sure I'll upgrade to a new breastcollar for shows, since mine is just a big old school flat strap of leather that has gotten a little rough on the underside (prior to me owning it), but I think the navy saddle pad will look amazing. It doesn't stick out, just very subtly matches.

I was punished by the God of Helmets for not wearing my helmet with really really exciting windblown hair that was sticking straight up like Alfalfa, which is now documented forever in these pictures. I got the hint, God of Helmets.... I'll wear it next time.

That video is super, super boring... sorry about that. Hopefully the amazing music makes up for it somewhat.

She started off fussy and titchy. I set up a basic cones exercise and ran through it a few times, but she was tossing her head around so much that I finally dismounted and put the reins back onto the first slot (I had moved them up to a less leverage-y setting). She was MUCH better after I did that... who knew. I think she just doesn't love this bit... it's ok, but it's not her favorite. At a friend's recommendation, I'm going to try a Glory bit on her - she drives her own fussy Happy-mullen-mouth-loving horse in one exclusively, and she says he loves it. A few other folks say their horses love them too. I think O might as well - sometimes she is weird about metal, but this offers tongue relief, and that might be something she is really craving. We'll see!

I'm also working hard to figure out *exactly* where the sweet spot of balance in this particular cart is. It looks like I am riding smoothly along in that video, but in reality it is A LOT of work to keep the cart riding that smoothly. My position isn't quite so straight while I'm trying to figure it out, I'll have to work on that! If you lean too far forward, or sit up too straight, or don't get right where you need to be, the cart bounces all over the place and slams you in the back. When you get it just right, the shafts just kind of float along in their tugs, and become very lightweight to carry. It's tricky to keep it there!

This past week we did two dressage work days, a cones day, and two lunge days, one in the chambon and one in the regular Faux-ssoa. I may do more of that instead of long lining, although long lining is also super helpful. We will have to see.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

End of November Analysis; December Goals!

Geez is it the end of the month ALREADY? I think I say that every month, but it really surprises me every time it comes up. We had a really excellent November, full of goal-achievements and fun (and vacation!), and once again have accomplished all of our goals and then some. 


O-Ren Novemeber Goals:

1) Successfully get through our SECOND SHOW!
 Success! A BIG success! Not only did get just get through it, we cleaned up and took home a slew of first and seconds AND were Champion in the Horse division, AGAIN!

2) Get on a better schedule - last month things got crazy and we didn't keep one very well. This month, once back from vacation, she needs to be driven 3 times a week with 1 lunging and 1 other training day, no exceptions!
 Success! Or well, mostly. The week I got back, I worked her all four days (which was all I had) and showed, the following week she only drove once but lunged twice (which made me reevaluate my schedule), and then this week she drove four times and lunged once. Given my schedule, that's great! I have a pretty rigorous training schedule set up for December - we'll see if we can stick to it mostly!

3) Keep hunting for what kind of vehicle we'd like to upgrade to!
Success! And then some! Not only did we locate a great little cart, but it has been purchased and is now sitting in our cartport under a blankie!

4) Get a new whip and work on whip training!
Just got the new whip in... now whip training can begin in earnest!

5) More work with the chambon... it's very helpful!
 Success! We did lots of chambon work - I like the chambon a lot, but I also think we need to do more regular long-lining. We'll add that in this coming month!

 Pangea November Goals:

1) Watch her levels of comfort as we get into wetter weather
Haven't needed to worry about this one thankfully... it has largely stayed dry, and she is moving like  a million bucks (for her). She even came galloping in this morning for breakfast!

2) Her dietary needs will change in January... do more research on what she will need!
Success! But, I need to fine-tune this!


O-Ren December Goals:
1) Keep a tight schedule and stick to it! (Needed days off for either of us and changes due to weather acceptable of course!)
2) Whip training - teach her how to move off the whip
3) Figure out ways to life-proof the new cart - to keep it nice while in use!
4) Start working more on dressage tests and cones exercises
5) Transitions transitions transitions - keeping a steady and quiet contact throughout upwards ones!

Pangea December Goals:
1) Same as before - watch her comfort levels, especially as she gets bigger!
2) Fine-tune dietary needs, starting in January changes will begin!
3) Next rhino shot!


Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be cruddy and dismal, so today I decided to get the new cart out for a spin! I was worried that she might be a little scared by the weight and the big-ness of it, but she was totally fine - although slightly confused about the additional weight for a second, until she figured out how to push harder to start forward. She definitely has solid brakes with it though!

 Boy we sure have come a long way from this in just a few short months....

You can see that she was fussy with the contact - she is NOT happy with the amount of curb that the first rein slot on the liverpool offers. It is way too much for her. Next time I will move it up to the next setting, which offers *very slight* leverage when engaged but otherwise sits like a regular snaffle! Our field is rutty and bouncy, so I get jostled around a bit (in any cart), but otherwise it rides great - SO much springier than the other cart, which was kind of jarring both our kidneys out I think!
Also, all the little animals running around in the video were my two catahoula mutts and about 5 cats... I should have included the footage of all of the cats suddenly galloping off in one direction together across the screen!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Little Red Corvette

Wow what a day!!! I think O is going to hope that I don't have any more days off anytime soon... I messed with her ALL. DAY. LONG. So many things got done today and I am exhausted!

Yesterday in the mail, two packages came for me, both things I had ordered. One was a driving whip - a nice one, a little shorter than I thought it would be but it has a nice long lash - and a liverpool with the same mouthpiece as my Happy Mouth mullen mouth. It's made by Zilco, but it's basically the same thing.

Santa came early!

Eager to try everything out, I headed to the barn in the early morning, fed the girls, and left them to munch hay for a little while. I pulled out my cart, switched out my snaffle for the liverpool, and off we went to do some dressage work.

Mom y u do dis

I put the liverpool on the first slot. There are a lot of different ways to attach your reins to a liverpool; I might try the next mildest next time. Mostly it's trial and error, seeing what she likes and what is too much vs. not enough.
She's a very interesting case in that the more you put the pressure on her, the harder she pushes back against it. She doesn't relent to pressure, she sulls up against it. She is an absolute buttermouth with a light touch on the reins, but if you pull hard on her mouth, she will clamp down, root to the spot, and completely lock up against you. I liked the way that the liverpool gave me a really solid feel - no reins sliding around the rings of the bit - but it took her a minute to realize that she could still continue to be nice and light without consequence. She was kind of ehh for about a 1/2hr, and then we had a nice long walk break to let her regroup her mind and relax a little. Once she had done that, she was very happy to goober up, take a contact, and be a little rounder than she has been. And, who knew - she can bend to the right after all! She just kind of forgot how with a snaffle I suppose! We did a of transition work, and ended on a really good note.

I had a few clients to do, so I left for awhile and got that done. On the way home, I got in touch with the lady I was buying the new cart from - we decided I would come pick it up today!!

Before I did that, I decided that it was high time to clip O. It has been very warm lately, and she has been getting pretty sweaty during workouts. I hadn't decided on what theme I was going with, and mulled some patterns over in my head while I bathed her and prepped her for her clip job. A hazy idea popped into my head... she's a zoomy mare, zooming around... she should have some flames, but flames are hard.... maybe she could have some racing stripes... yeah... like, a little sports car...

Because I am stupid, I decided to freehand the entire thing, and used big huge clippers with giant wide blades. It therefore did not come out particularly well, but it's pretty cute anyway:

Little Red Corvette! And that's not an E, that's a chomp mark from another horse - she likes to hump the fence and let the other horses bite her when she's in heat.

I guess, considering the super wide blades (that are at least twice as wide at the stripes) and the freehand job, it's not terrible. But remind me next year to tape it and use smaller blades - imagine how much better and cleaner it would be that way!

Once that way done, I released the wild beast (who galloped away bucking), took the divider out of my trailer, hooked up, and headed out to pick up the new cart! Getting in and out of their property and loading the cart were all little puzzled to be solved... it was tricky, but we got it done. Let me tell you what though - I will be making a serious effort to figure out how to get my cart into the bed of my pickup. Taking the divider out of my trailer was a HUGE pain in my ass, and I tried for 30 minutes to get it back in without any luck. Given my wrists and shoulder, I shouldn't really be doing that anyway, so eventually I just gave up! SO infuriating. Getting the cart in and out of the trailer is hard enough as it is - it nearly mowed me over when I was unloading it. I will have to get creative in order to figure this one out. 

I let O check the cart out after dinner - she didn't care, and was happy to stand between the shafts and look at it. 

Whatever, can you please leave me alone now

She'll have tomorrow off, and then we'll go for our first drive in the new cart on Monday!!