Just to be careful, the vet came back on Friday to draw more blood so tests of some organ functions could be done - including liver and kidney. He has been drinking a bit more that normal, and when he was sedated last month to have his sheath cleaned (by our regular vet) he took an unusually long time to recover from the sedation - more than 5 hours - which is not at all normal for him. All of his blood work turned out to be normal, which was good news. I guess we'll never know for sure what caused him a problem - I suspect just an upset tummy.
The arena got dragged, and so Maisie and I were able to use it for work sessions on Thursday and Friday. To help achieve my objectives for the work, I made a bit change. Before I talk about the bit I used, I should tell you something about my feelings about bits and equipment.
I'm not anymore a believer in "gadgets", although I did a lot of riding in the hunter/jumper world where gadgets to "control" the horse are the norm. For example, when we got Lily, our trainer at the time thought she should be ridden in either a jointed pelham or a double-twisted wire snaffle, with an incredibly tight figure 8 or flash noseband and a tight standing martingale. Even with all that hardware, Lily was extremely hard to control. In those days, I was a bit junkie - if there was a bit that existed, I owned it. I had a variety of pelhams, martingales, snaffles, some with severe mouthpieces, draw reins, and nosebands designed to clamp the horse's mouth shut so it couldn't "resist". I never thought that it was possible to ride (read control) a horse, particularly a hot horse, without stuff like that.
These days, I do things a bit differently. Now please understand - I wouldn't presume to tell you how to ride your horse or what equipment to use, although I have strong personal opinions about such things. I do believe strongly that horses should develop self carriage, not be forced into a frame (because this usually produces false collection instead of real softness), and I also believe that most harsh bits and devices are used to coerce the horse as a short-cut to quick results - it's the easy route - or just because people learn to do things that way and don't ever think to do things differently. The very slow process of doing careful training without gadgets is one I'm afraid many people don't have the time, patience or confidence for. I also want to be able to hear what my horse is telling me - if a horse opens its mouth in response to rein aids, I want that to be able to happen because it tells me that there is a hole in my training or that I need to change something about my interaction with the horse. If a horse pulls or bolts, I need to work with the horse so that it doesn't need or want to. And so on. For that reason I don't use martingales, standing or otherwise, I don't use flash nosebands (or even nosebands at all most of the time), and I don't usually use any bit other than a snaffle with a smooth mouthpiece (no twists or wires), although I use a variety of snaffle mouthpieces.
I also believe that any bit, even a simple snaffle, can be used in a way that causes pain and even permanent damage - either deliberately by people who believe that torturing horses by punishing them in the mouth with the bit is OK - or unintentionally by people who don't have enough training or skill to use the reins in a soft way. I also believe that just because a bit is comfortable for one horse doesn't mean it will be comfortable for another horse - each horse's mouth is different - shape difference, tongues that are different sizes, differently shaped palates. Fat mouthpieces are not always more gentle than thin mouthpieces - horses often strongly prefer one to the other. I also believe that a properly fitted double bridle (snaffle bridoon and curb bit) on a well-trained horse and in well-educated hands can be sensitively used in upper-level dressage, and that certain western curb bits, again in sensitive hands, can be used to communicate subtle cues to working and reining horses. Similarly, although spurs can be misused to punish a horse, spurs worn by someone with a quiet and educated leg can effectively communicate subtle clues.
That said, I still have a variety of snaffle bits (I resold some bits and threw away those, like the twisted wire bits, that I didn't want to sell to anyone). Mostly the different mouthpieces are to accommodate the different likes and dislikes of different horses. There's the simple jointed snaffle - these are both Mylars:
Then there's the Mylar comfort snaffle, which comes in a number of mouthpieces - this is the basic one - it's a great bit for many horses:
And here's yet another Mylar, with a port and slots for the reins:
And just to prove that I don't only use Mylars, here are several double jointed snaffles with lozenges in the middle (the gold ones are KKs):
Here's an interesting one-piece bit with a port, which I haven't used that often:
As you can see, I'm still a bit junkie - but then I have a lot of horses! Now back to Maisie and our work sessions - here's the bit we used - it may look a bit odd to you if you've never seen one before:
This bit is a Rockin S Snaffle. It's a bit like a D ring, a bit like a full-cheek - but the two most notable features are the rings to attach the cheekpieces (a bit like a Boucher) and the separate D for attaching the reins. It comes in three different mouthpieces - this simple jointed snaffle, a three-piece mouthpiece, and a very interesting three-piece ported mouthpiece that I haven't had the chance to try. Due to the cheekpiece rings, the bit is very stable in the horse's mouth. The wide O rings provide effective cues to the side of the horse's face. It can't pinch the corners of the horse's mouth. The D to which the reins attach allows for clear use of an opening rein - the position of the bit doesn't change.
I'm a firm believer that bits don't fix training problems. For some horses, however, this bit just seems to be more comfortable, and some horses seem to also be able to understand more clearly what you are trying to communicate, particularly as they are learning to soften. I would think it would be a great bit for a young horse. That said, for some horses, it does nothing at all. Maisie has always been very "fussy" about her mouth, particularly about bits and also her response to rein aids. Some of this was dental and chiropractic - that's mostly fixed - and some was me. I was moving my hands around too much as she was constantly moving her head and so she never had a clear idea of where I wanted her head to be as we worked on softening - when I quieted my hands a lot of that went away. She usually doesn't go well in a single-jointed snaffle, but this bit works well for her, I think because it's very stable in her mouth.
Here's what she looked like as we set out. Do you like the mixed tack - close contact saddle and Western headstall with split reins? - we're eclectic! - and besides, I think she looks pretty!
And here are two close-up shots showing how the bit sits:
My objective was to continue her conditioning work at the trot, and also deal with her tendency to want to be too forward by being able to turn her, which I can't easily do on the trail. Shoulder-in can help with this, but she's not fit enough to do it properly yet. I would like her to maintain a regular cadence, and to maintain a medium trot unless I ask for lengthening or shortening of stride - she isn't fit enough yet to do either. If she starts to speed up, I would like her to come back to me with a rein aid that is a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 (with one being the softest and 10 being the strongest). If she doesn't respond immediately to the rein aid, I don't increase it to a 2 or above (all that teaches her is to respond to that stronger aid), I turn until she adjusts her own pace. I made the bit change in part so that my opening rein aid for turning would be very clear and so I could combine it with a gentle inside leg to outside rein aid.
We had two very good work sessions - she is always a bit less forward in the arena, so that made it easier. We warmed up at the walk - doing both a long, low, free walk and also some work on softening. We did lots of figures and patterns at both the walk and trot - going up the center line and quarterline and across the diagonal to work on straightness, and also circles and serpentines. By the end, I was able to ask for a little inside leg to outside rein, particularly in the corners. She isn't fit enough yet to do much more than that or actually soften at the trot.
We achieved my objective - enough good trotting for conditioning, and the few times she wanted to rush and didn't come back to my light rein cue, we turned in a circle and she rebalanced and went on at an appropriate pace. The test will be how she responds when the weather cools down this weekend, and on the trail!