Yay! Imogen and I have tackled and conquered yet another first for her - first bridling! Yes, you heard me right! Bit and everything!
I posted a question this morning on my Facebook asking everyone for input on what to do with an incredibly earshy horse. Immy has undoubtedly been eared many times in her life, and while she allows me to touch her poll and stroke her ears now, she is not keen about letting anything else touch her ears. (Applying ear twitches regularly is a REALLY good way to turn your horse into a terrified, headshy mess. Just sayin'.) She has overcome SO many other fears with relative ease, but this one is deeply ingrained and will probably take a long time, if she ever fully gets over it. As for now, she just needs to learn that nothing I am going to do is going to hurt her, and that she can trust me to touch her ears without it ending up with them painfully twisted and yanked around. As for my information request, I had lots of of good ideas from lots of different folks, but what I ultimately decided to try first was a combination of things. Immy currently does not tolerate having a halter pulled over her ears without much head tossing and complaint (although you CAN get it done), so there was no way her first bridling was going to include pulling a headstall over her ears. The bit would get jerked around in her mouth, she'd get hurt or scared, and we'd have a huge mess on our hands. It was time to get creative.
There are a few criteria one should have squared away before bridling for the first time. One should be able to handle a horse's ears and head without the horse pulling away, one should be able to touch the horse's mouth and teach them to open up without them pulling away, and one should have taught the horse to lower his or her head on command. We are largely on track for all of these, with some hitches, but it was time to start playing with the idea regardless. I had no intention of actually getting a bridle on her today. But just as I had no intention of getting a surcingle strapped on as quickly as I did, she completely outdid herself and made it so easy that it just happened!
I started with two things: a plain eggbutt snaffle, and a headstall with bit clips. As I had no delusions that today would be the day that I'd be pulling a bridle over her ears, I decided to do the "Tedi route" and put the headstall on without the bit, then see if I could then play with possibly adding the bit. Tedi was one of the school horses that I grew up on, and along with his many other silly quirks, he was violently earshy. In order to get a bridle on him, you had to unbuckle it, carefully maneuver it over his head, then put the bit in and rebuckle the bridle once it was in place. With Imogen, I first started with the headstall sand bit, and placed it on her with not much fuss or inquiry on her part. Gently, I clipped one side of the bit to the headstall, and offered up a cookie with the bit. She opened up, took in both, and actually lowered her head in response to the feel of the bit! I clipped it to the other side, and voila! Bit IN!
She made it very clear that she had not ever worn one before. She mouthed, chewed, slobbered, mouthed, and chewed some more. She tried to halfheartedly spit it out, put her tongue over it, pulled her tongue back under it, and then finally picked it up properly and held it where it belonged. That is all pretty standard for first time bridling. By the end of it all, she was happily hold it still in her mouth without complaint, and removing it after our lunging session was just as easy. Awesome.
She was all dressed to the nines today.... I even switched up her saddle pad to a bigger, floppier one to add to the desensitization process.
Is it just me or has she gone from a scrawny momma to a bit FAT? She is starting to muscle up and lose the mom-belly too, but I'm thinking she's getting a bit TOO round, if you know what I mean?
Anyway, nice blanket huh? I thought so too, until we started lunging... that's when all hell broke loose. Much to my dismay, the blanket started to slide sideways under the surcingle while she was trotting. I realized at the same time she did that the blanket wasn't going to stay put, and before I could slow her down, she sped up. She was unresponsive to my cues for walk or whoa, and kept on going in her biggest and most impressive trot. This, unfortunately, had the effect of making the blanket slip further and faster, until it was almost fully underneath her belly and barely hanging on. I tried to reel her in to no avail, resulting in her bouncing up on her hind legs and taking off again. Thankfully, a second reeling attempt was successful and she stood quietly while I removed the offending blanket and continued on with just the surcingle. Slippery wool blanket + nice clean slick horse = bad news. No harm done, thankfully, and crisis averted - she went on to have a fantastic lunge session. Next time I will be sure to put on a blanket that I can safely strap to the surcingle!
Next up, I'll write about a few of our small technical difficulties with lunging - namely her high energy level and her desire to GO right off the bat, and her ending "whoa" and wanting to stop and turn and walk right to me as soon as she is done (I make them stay on the circle and walk to them instead of the other way around... just a personal preference). More on that later! Other than those minor things, she is doing AMAZINGLY!