I got on Liam as usual, determined to have a productive, dressage-focused ride. We were going to work on our transition, staying soft and reaching into contact, and our half halts, and our haunches-in… and all the other things we’ve been working on lately.
But as we warmed up, he trotted around for me and I became very aware of how his head went up every time I asked him to bend in a corner, and how everything fell apart if I asked him to step over off the rail. If I just let him go along the way he wanted to go along, he head stretched down into soft contact and he was relaxed and quiet, but as soon as I suggested he should do something that he didn’t feel like doing, he quickly and effectively changed the plan. He knew how to evade the bit, and he knew when he threw his head up that I had no control. And worse, he knew that I knew. And by the time I got him back straight and on the bit, he had gotten away with not doing whatever it was that I had originally asked him to do. Then we started the whole process over. Suggestions I had been given on our trail ride last weekend came back to me.
He had been doing the same thing. I wanted to him to follow another horse, he wanted to be in front. I attempted to half-halt, to slow his stride, to put him on the bit and get him to relax into line… he didn’t want to. His head was up in the air, he was trotting sideways. We were fighting, not relaxing. And my friends had told me that I needed to try a stronger bit, or a running martingale, or a bit with a curb chain, anything to give me a little more control in those situations because he knew *exactly* how much he could get away with, and we both knew that there really wasn’t much I could do besides manage his antics to the best of my ability.
I remembered seeing my old Happy Mouth pelham in my tack trunk when I cleaned it out over the weekend. And I had an extra pair of reins I was planning on returning, but maybe I shouldn’t. I hopped off Liam and went to get the other bit and extra set of reins.
What a difference! When I first put it on him, he gave me that, “Uh oh. Mom’s up to something and I have a feeling it’s not good” look. He kept a suspicious eye on me, but soon licked his lips contentedly, approving of the apple-flavored plastic snaffle bit in his mouth.
“Tastes better than metal!” he thought, still wondering about the two sets of reins hanging from his new bit.
What he was about the learn was that a pelham has two sets of reins because it has two different functions. One rein attaches to the side of the snaffle bit just like regular reins do, and this is the rein I do the most with. This is also the rein that he can work into contact on like he is used to. The second rein attaches below the snaffle bit, and this rein gives leverage. When I pull back on this rein, the piece that it is attached to can rotate back, causing the curb chain to put pressure under his chin, and also causing that other end of the bit to rotate down and forward. The other end of the bit is attached to the cheek pieces of the bridle, which in turn around attached to the piece that runs over the top of his head. So by applying very light pressure to the curb rein, I get leverage that applies pressure from the chain under his chin, and also pressure from the bridle up behind his ears. Take a closer look at how that works:
When I climbed aboard with the new bit arrangement, we spent some time just walking, so I could get a feel for carrying two reins in my hands, and so Liam could feel his new bit. Slowly I picked up contact on the snaffle rein and asked him to walk into the contact. I held the curb rein slightly looser than the snaffle so that he wouldn’t even know it was there unless he threw his head up in the air. Which, of course, he did. And the curb rein applied pressure, and he started to freak out. I put him on a small circle and pushed him forward as he briefly considered upwards as an alternative, but when he went forward and his head came down, the pressure released… and I heard the gears grind a little in his brain. It didn’t take long for him to figure out the new deal.
We had a beautiful ride. And a successful one. After we did some very nice trot work, I asked him to pick up the canter. We were on the left lead, the harder one for us. But without him hanging on my hands, his canter felt entirely different. I think it was actually 3 beats. And I could sit to it. Easily. And I could sit up. Without the whole weight of his front end in my hands it was quite effortless to sit up straight. And he felt more balanced too. And then when I wanted to stop, I just hardly asked with my seat and ever so lightly squeezed the rein. He came down to a trot, then a walk, then a halt. One after another, no hanging on the reins, no plowing on like a freight train down a hill. Just polite and obedient. Amazing! We will have to play more with this tomorrow!