In the Snaffle

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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Although in general I’m finding myself feeling an increasing preference for the hackamore, I decided to start Piper in the snaffle. My main reason for this is I don’t know how long we’ll keep her. From a versatility perspective, the snaffle is more practical. Also, since we’re not thinking of her as a horse we will keep permanently, the extra time it takes to train a horse when they’re started in the hackamore was a consideration.

I decided this a while ago, but it wasn’t until today that I actually put a bit in Piper’s mouth for the first time. I did this after we’d already done a lot of groundwork, and I’d climbed into the saddle once but hadn’t asked her to go anywhere.

Piper took the bit easily enough. Then she did the thing all horses do when they feel a bit for the first time. She spent quite a few minutes trying to drop it out of her mouth. I waited until she got used to the sensation, then spent some time familiarizing her with the idea of yielding to the bit the same way we’d been practicing yielding to the rope halter. She was more distracted with the bit in at first, but we just practiced all our things. After a while she was feeling pretty soft and attentive. I got her to the point that she was flexing laterally quite softly, backing and coming forward off the slobber strap, going nicely in circles in both directions, and giving me a soft feel when I held both reins up near the horn. At that point it seemed time to get on.

This ride started out better than the last in that Piper was far more comfortable about the idea of moving from the beginning. This was great a first, and we tooled around a little. I’d let her go straight for a few steps, then tip her hind end under, and we’d start again. Then she got pretty focused on the gate that leads out into the pasture. We had a few minutes of struggling where everything I did only briefly distracted her from her goal of getting closer to the gate. I employed some Bryan Neubert style pulls (slow but firm) when she was trying to get near the gate, then tried to go soft and passive when she was moving away. It took a couple minutes, but she soon realized trying to get to the gate wasn’t all that comfortable. At that point, I guided her easily back to the center of the arena.

From there, I had Brian walk in a circle on Laredo. Piper and I followed just inside. This helped a lot with getting some more consistent forward movement. As we went, she got more and more responsive to the bit. By the end she’d tip her jaw as soon as she felt a slobber strap lift.

Of course, the control I have of her feet is completely primitive at this point. I was joking to Brian that it feels a little like being drunk. I’m so used to Steen, whose feet I can put anywhere. With Piper, we have only the roughest of strokes laid in at this point.

I rode for about 15 minutes. Then the tractor came to deliver hay to the herd, and the commotion was visible through the door. I figured that was as good a time as any to call it a day. So I stepped down.

Tomorrow, Piper will get her feet trimmed, which is excellent as we don’t exactly know when last that was done. And it also looks like we might be through the insane cold for the year. It’s certainly more relaxing to be out at the barn when the temperature is above freezing.

Horseback Hours YTD: 18:05


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Is there a particular reason you waited until after mounting the first time to try the snaffle? Just curious. I probably would have put a bridle on a few times and worked on flexing and yielding to the bit from the ground. Different theories and all, I'm just wondering about the why. Interestingly, Trekker took to the bit right away. He picked it up and held it right from the beginning, like he'd been doing it all his life. The saddle was a different story, however. Always interesting to see how different horses react to different things. And yeah, I… Read more »