Since my trail ride with Sheldon I’ve been trying to find ways to get him to relax and stop constantly chomping on the bit and grinding his teeth. Seriously, sometimes he’s moving his mouth so much that it’s a wonder he can still remember how to walk! With most ex-racehorses, I just focus on keeping their feet moving and letting them find a rhythm but Sheldon is a challenge because he shuts down when he gets worried.
I’ve made great strides at reducing his girthiness — the SmartPak clearance section had a very nice Professional Choice girth with double elastic ends. It’s a nice soft girth with plenty of “give” and it’s completely fixed my problem with tacking him up. I’m able to sneak the girth up slowly and, along with a few carrots, it’s made tacking up a whole lot easier.
His mouthiness is harder to fix.
I started Sheldon with a loose ring double jointed snaffle. Not too thick, not too thin. He’s fine with it on the lunge line but if he gets just a little bit anxious he starts to flip it around in his mouth and grind his teeth. I’m using a Micklem bridle on him to help keep the bit stable but leaving the bottom strap fairly loose so he doesn’t feel trapped.
First I tried changing his bit.
I thought that a PeeWee bit might work for him. It has a thin, sweet iron mullen mouthpiece that leaves plenty of room for the tongue and which is comfortable for a lot of horses. It is advertised as a bit ideal for a horse with “mouthing issues”. Too bad that Sheldon didn’t read the brochure! He just hated it. I tried riding him in it twice and he never accepted it at all and became quite balky. Instead of simply freezing and refusing to move, he started backing up!
So, I tried a bitless bridle. I figured that trying something completely different might override any of the problems that he has with bits. I thought the Dr. Cook’s bitless design might work on him. However, I never got the “submit” response that is described on their website. If anything, he seemed confused by the oblique aids. However, riding him sans bit definitely resulted in a more relaxed mouth and gave him something to think about. I’ll probably go back and work with this bridle again and see if I can get a better result by teaching him how to lower his poll when pressure is applied. Interestingly, when I tried this bridle on Kroni, he took offense at the pressure on his poll. Sheldon did not.
Today I tried a hackamore. Once again, it helped to keep his mouth quiet but he was not thrilled about the curb chain. He kept his head and neck very high and hollowed his back — the set up was making him anxious. I was not able to get him to relax so after about 10 minutes I switched him to the Micklem bridle used as a side pull.
So far, this has been the most successful bridling solution. It’s not perfect but he’s relaxed in the mouth and he started to drop his neck and relax his back. We got some very nice trot sets in it today and there was no backing up! He even offered me a few canter steps, which is something he hadn’t done before. Definitely the bit has been overriding his “go button” and making him balky. Steering with the side pull design isn’t great, but it’s not all that much better even with a bit so maybe we just need more practice.
Probably I find the ideal of riding in the sidepull more challenging than Sheldon. The “control” comes from pressure over the nose. While some horses are very sensitive to it, for others, it’s just a minor annoyance. I’ve tried riding Freedom in a sidepull and discovered that I had basically no brakes at all; so far Sheldon hasn’t tried to do much other than stop or back up so maybe having brakes isn’t that important. It’s the “go” that needs work.
The other thing I changed was his saddle. I don’t usually change more than one thing at a time (hard to know what works that way) but I thought that his reluctance to move forward could be saddle fit. I had my A/P saddle fitted to Sheldon after he arrived — but just because it technically fits doesn’t mean that he likes it. Today I rode him in my Wintec Pro Jump. It has a slightly more forward balance point and I think he found it more comfortable. I am very careful with him to ride lightly as I think he’s not used to having a rider really sit on his back but the A/P saddle does position the rider differently.
I was very pleased with Sheldon today and hope that he’s just as good tomorrow. Now that the holidays are over I should be able get him back into a regular program.