Zelda is an enthusiastic foxhunter. I am grateful to have a horse that so obviously loves her job! Up until this year, I’ve hunted her in her “every day” bit, which is a
mullen mouth snaffle (Pee Wee Snaffle). However, this year, she started to get strong. And, even worse, she started to root.
Rooting is when a horse pulls at the reins, often leaning down and jerking suddenly. Zelda started to do this when she thought we weren’t going fast enough. Picture cantering along and having a head the size of Zelda’s giving you a good, sharp tug and you will understand why I was starting to get some lower back pain!
One of the fixes for rooting is to make your horse go forward, but that doesn’t always work when you are hunting as you need to stay in your place in line. So, I started to think about bits.
Zelda has a soft mouth; she isn’t pulling hard on the bit but when hunting, she can get heavy in front and a bit flat. My goal was to find a bit that was gentle enough that she didn’t curl up behind it, yet emphatic enough so that she was a bit more respectful and balanced. I prefer to hunt on a loose rein; I don’t like to be hauling on my horse all the time, but I need my horse to respond quickly when I need to stop (think about hound running in front of you as your galloping along and you get the picture).
When you “pick up the telephone” as Le Goff says, that horse better answer your call.
– Denny Emerson
That’s one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of how a horse should react to a bit. You need to have that answer and you don’t want the phone to keep on ringing.
There are a couple of “go to” bits for a horse that leans — a friend of mine gave me the Happy Mouth two ring elevator bit. The top ring attaches to the cheek pieces, which keeps the bit very stable in her mouth (Zelda likes that), the mouthpiece is soft and drapes over her tongue (Zelda likes that, too), and the rein attaches to the second ring, which gives me a bit more leverage. I like this because magically, she has stopped rooting! It’s not so much bit that it backs her off, but it has given her a reason to behave better and it lets me ride her more softly.
What bits to you use for those times when you need to “bit up”?
There is much to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day, especially when you start the morning with a foxhunt. For the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to spend the morning hours chasing the scent of foxes (no real foxes involved) through historic Concord, Mass., before heading home to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family.
There is no one who describes the balancing act between a great dinner and a great hunt than Cooky McClung, and I have linked to her column in the Chronicle of the Horse below.
Of course, I realize some people do not foxhunt on Thanksgiving Day, although I have no idea what they do with all that extra time after the turkey is in the oven.
I am lucky in that my family doesn’t mind having Thanksgiving dinner a little on the late side. I am lucky to have such a wonderful hunt horse. And I am lucky that the Thanksgiving Hunt is literally around the corner from where my horses live, so I save all that time by not trailering.
This year I was on the fence about hunting. I hadn’t ridden since Saturday and it was cold and damp on Thursday morning.
I’m glad, though that I went. Zelda was amazing and, despite the snow showers, we had a wonderful time!
After putting Zelda up and leaving her some extra Thanksgiving hay, it was back home for an afternoon of cooking and a great meal.
I will admit that I didn’t do it. I do ride without stirrups on occasion, but not w ith the dedication I had when I was younger and my trainer made me do it!
But if you want to see why it’s important to be able to ride without stirrups, watch Mark Todd ride more than half of the Badminton Course in 1995 with just one stirrup (I can’t imagine how off balance he must have felt).
Todd says that as he rode towards the lake on Bertie Blunt, “I almost felt like bursting out laughing at the thought of galloping down to one of the most difficult fences in the world with only one stirrup.”
It is oh-so-easy to get ahead of your horse when you are learning to jump. And then you are just one step away from jumping the fence without your horse. I suspect we’ve all been there, lying on the ground on one side of a fence while your horse stands on the other side and looks at you questioningly. It’s a surprisingly hard problem to fix because, as Denny points out, your natural tendency is to lean forward.
Many years ago when I was riding at an event at Pleasant Hollow (anyone out there remember that lovely venue?) I managed to jump the first fence of the course without my horse. Of course, my trainer got that fall on video and I had the pleasure of watching it over and over again, analyzing my fall in slow motion! Still, although I could see what went wrong, it was harder to fix it.
My trainer had an ingenious solution: She had me ride another student’s horse. One that was a fabulous jumper except, he would not leave the ground if you got ahead of him. It made him a great teacher!
Since then, I’ve also learned the “trick” of using a neck strap. Many of the trainers whom I’ve ridden with in the past few years are proponents and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Looping a finger through the strap and remembering to lean back a bit keeps me more centered and stable. I’ve also learned that it’s sometimes better to get a wee bit behind (especially if you are holding onto that neck strap) than to get ahead.
How did you learn not to jump ahead?
This annual event always brings a smile to my face. I can only imagine how much the ground shakes as these magnificent horses gallop by! This year’s race was won by Midge, ridden by with Noel Fehily.
The fall hunt season is drawing to a close but you would never have known it was November 19th today. It was nearly 60 degrees with bright, clear skies. What a treat! It was one of those hunts where you ride back to the trailer after two hours and wish you could go a bit further.
Zelda had a really good time today. She’s gotten much smarter about hunting — she is staying more balanced and is easier to rate — but she was so excited to be out that she was literally bouncing. It’s amazing to me that the same horse that swears it’s impossible collect at a canter when schooling dressage, can practically canter in place when she’s in the hunt field.
The best thing about having a horse that can canter that slowly? I almost never need to post. And her canter is very comfortable.