The ride began as normal. We warmed up and trotted around as soft and round as yesterday. Then the conversation turned to the tack shop sale this weekend. And I remembered that I had been considering getting a new bit, something between my currently-working-wonders pelham and our previous bit, the super soft, double jointed KK snaffle with a bean in the middle. I needed something dressage legal, and something that would help transition us back to the KK, because in my mind, that is the ideal dressage bit… the test of the horse accepting the bit. As I had experienced, it is quite easy for Liam to evade that bit. If we could ride a test correctly in that, it had to be because we were working together and communicating, I had to be using all my aids correctly and he was accepting them and responding to them. What if, now that we’ve made some progress with the pelham, I got him a Happy Mouth loose ring snaffle, a little more bit than the KK but still just a snaffle, and the same piece in his mouth as the pelham has?
We’ve only used the pelham about a week now, maybe 5 rides, but I wanted to see if switching to a Happy Mouth snaffle might work. I leaned forward and unbuckled my curb rein, dropping it on the mounting block as I rode by. Now Liam had the snaffle in his mouth with the single rein attached, and the curb chain hung uselessly under his chin. If I didn’t need the curb rein, this should prove it, Liam wouldn’t know the extra rein wasn’t there until he tried to evade the bit and got away with it.
Well, it took about 5 seconds for that to happen! He walked off nicely, went into a not-quite-as-round trot, and then into a most uncomfortable canter! He was strung out, laying on my hands and falling in around the corners, head up, nose tipped to the outside, racing on. I couldn’t sit quietly in the saddle, or rebalance him, or slow him down. It was just a mess! I pulled him up, and put the curb rein back on. Instant different horse. He settled right into the contact and I had my soft, round horse back. We cantered on and it was lovely. What happened???
My friends watching were as surprised as I was. It appeared Liam preferred the pelham! Maybe it took away some uncertainty. Or maybe it encouraged him to use himself in a way that, although harder on muscles that are not used to it, really is a more comfortable way to carry himself. We realized that as he gets fussy in the snaffle and I am unable to correct him without stopping and starting over, it creates a downward spiral. He gets off balance and on the forehand, which makes him nervous, so he gets hollow and starts rushing on, which makes the ride uncomfortable for me to sit so I can’t use my body as effectively to help him, and the more he goes this way, the more I struggle to get some control back, and the more he resists/evades, the more we fight this way until we stop, regroup, and repeat. In the pelham, we avoid all the drama. He carries himself in a more controlled and balanced way, which makes me more comfortable on his back. The more I am able to use my seat, leg, and weight to help keep him balanced, the happier and more confident we both are!
This would all be great, except that the pelham is not dressage-legal, so I cannot show in it. I can keep using it for a little while in hopes that my original plan will work and that I’ll be able to switch back once we have new habits more firmly developed. Otherwise, I am not sure how to get the same ride out of him in a regular snaffle!
Did I mention yet that I found a new trainer I may start working with? I am so excited, and it may be perfect timing!