The past two weeks I have been reminded by the mares I ride that horses REALLY appreciate being comfortable. The past few months I have been using the Micklem multi-bridle with snaffle bits (Dr. Bristol egg-butt and today a copper roller eggbutt snaffle.) The mares I ride do appreciate the multi-bridle, though I have had to modify some things to keep them comfortable.
Two weeks ago I changed the reins I use with Mia. The old ones I use are well broken in and I have several newer pairs that need to be used. So I grabbed a pair and put them on the bridle. All of a sudden Mia, though still cooperative and obedient, started showing old bad habits that I thought we had dealt with. especially the head dive to yank the reins out of my hands after I relaxed my contact. It also seemed to irritate her when I shortened my reins by spreading my hands, something that had never happened before. This week I finally realized that my reins were shorter (sometimes I am so tired it takes me a while to notice everything), and when I checked I found that I had put my PONY reins on the bridle. This had irritated Mia enough to change her from the new and improved Mia to the old Mia with some objectionable habits. Needless to say when I got home I changed the reins again, this time to HORSE length ones. I expect that it may take the next two weeks for Mia to realize that she no longer needs her old defenses, as it may take me that long to get my hands used to using the horse length reins on her again.
I had never expected that the simple change of rein length would cause such a change in a horse. I am sure that trying to adapt my hands and arms to the shorter rein was part of the problem, but I also picked up the feeling from Mia that she resented the shorter rein because she felt she had less room available for her head movements. Mia is a mare who values an illusion of freedom.
With Cider I had been experimenting with some bits. Since Cider did not seem to like the bit clips for the multi-bridle, last week I decided to try my full cheek Dr. Bristol which had worked well on her in a regular bridle. This time it did not work well at all. She obeyed reluctantly and made it clear that she WAS NOT HAPPY with the new arrangement. Her mouth stiffened, and she was just not as cooperative as before.
This week I tried my beloved copper-roller snaffle, even though it is a bit too wide for her ( by a 1/4 ".) She did not care that the bit was a little bit too wide. Cider was a happy mare today as Cider thoroughly approved of her new bit! Happily rolling the copper roller, her mouth softened back to her regular marvelous mouth as far as contact was concerned. I did have to remind her what the aids for a halt meant (I usually have to do this with her whenever I change tack), but she kept her mouth closed. She also came back to me softly whenever I asked her to slow down, cooperating immediately with soft aids. I really appreciated this as Cider and I often have extended discussions on slowing down her trot, especially going down hill. No such problem today.
And when we untacked Cider today, her eyes gazed benevolently upon us. Soft, relaxed, contented eyes, much different from her usual look of "I'm sort of pissed because you made me work." This is not the first time that I have made a horse REAL HAPPY with this bit. I first tried it on my first horse, Hat Tricks. At that time I had owned Hat Tricks for around five years, and every time I bridled him I needed to put my finger in his mouth to open it. But the second time I used the copper-roller snaffle Hat Tricks voluntarily opened his mouth when I brought the bit to his mouth. I never had any trouble bridling Hat Tricks so long as I used this bit. He liked it above all others. The only reasons I don't use it exclusively now is that it only comes in one size (5") and I do not feel the horse's tongue as well as I do with the Dr. Britol snaffle (which comes in several widths.)
I am beginning to believe that horses perceive discomfort almost as strongly as pain, especially the hot-bloods. Some little irritation with a bit, or the fit of a bridle, with a level of irritation that us humans quickly learn to accept (think braces), can cause as much "misbehavior" as pain. If this irritation is not corrected, the horse's "misbehavior" can escalate just as much as "misbehavior" caused by pain. Check for injuries in his mouth. If your horse constantly fusses about his mouth, or is very resistant to the rein, try a milder bit, one that fits him correctly. You may have to retrain the horse a bit, as the previous training was done in a state of pain, but as long as the horse relaxes you can afford to go back a few steps. Check the browband, is it wide enough so that the crown piece is not right up against his ears? These simple steps are considerably cheaper than veterinary inspections, chiropractors, massage, new saddles, etc. that are often recommended as the first steps to correct problems. Remember, irritation can cause the same symptoms as pain. Of course if there is no improvement, then call in the specialists as there could well be a physical, dental, or veterinary problem. I just think that it is worthwhile to check the bit/bridle interface with the horse's head first.
I am looking forward to riding Mia next week with the horse length reins. A happier horse is easier for me to ride! Mia won't explode like a lot of horses when irritated, scared or hurting, she just whispers her discontent, but I miss her usual willingness to move. I am starting to get much better movement from her, even when she was irritated. I am experimenting with STOPPING the MSM, as I think that the hemp powder will be enough now. Of course if she gets worse, I will do the MSM again. Now, if it just doesn't rain on Wednesday morning so I can see how everything works out!
Have a nice ride.