Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shouldering the Load

The worst part of trying to write a blog is the stupid title.  It pains me when I write titles like the one above.  This post is not about carrying things or being burdened, it's just about shoulders. But I wanted to keep my titles somewhat interesting and not too dry.  I have no idea why.  I mean, we're all horse people.  And horse people would mostly know what I meant when I titled it "Controlling the Shoulders"  or "Bulging the Shoulder" and they might even read it anyway.  Well, at least I'm not writing poems about my experiences....oh wait, that would make things even more interesting, wouldn't it?  So today, I give you my new poem.  It also may explain why I'm not a professional poet.....

Shouldering the Load
by Mona Sterling

Down the long side, the pony sucks back
Sometimes she spooks and gives me a heart attack
I push her forward, I'm wearing spurs
When her rhythm is right, it's like magic occurs.

She's learning to come right into my hand
I'm learning to give when she yields to demands
We've come really far, of that there's no doubt
But she keeps on bulging her shoulder out!

The outside rein?  What's that you say?
Push her too hard and she just runs away.
Inside leg to outside rein
My arms are starting to feel some pain

Her neck goes upside down
As we go round and round
Our shoulder in turns into a fight
At this rate we'll be doing this all night

She wiggles and throws her shoulder out
My outside rein does not have much clout
And now I"m riding too much with my hands
And I'm not even sure the pony understands

So round and round and round we go
Drifting out, falling in, sometimes going too slow
My aching arms are a telltale sign
that I'm doing it wrong, the problem is mine

The pony and I don't have a clue
about exactly what we're supposed to do
But we kept on trying, at least we stayed
and Mona Sterling was not afraid.

Drop inside shoulder?  Yes please!  Bulge through outside shoulder?  Sure, try to turn, suckah!

Now that you've had to scrub out your retinas from having to read that, I have a quick question for all of you.  It may turn into a long discussion....bits.  I'm currently riding in a super cheap, plain jane, O ring snaffle.  The pony alternates between too heavy and too light and she's awful about moving her shoulders.  Would a different bit (NOT a harsher bit, just a DIFFERENT one) have an effect on this?  Please discuss so I can learn something!


  1. I believe that every horse has a bit that he prefers. So for that reason alone it might be worth trying "something new". There are about a million kinds of snaffles out there, with a millon different kinds of mouths in a million thicknesses. Does she have a little mouth? My Arabian did--4 3/4", and I have a bunch (Baucher french-link, full cheek single broken, eggbutt with lozenge, etc) if you want to borrow one to try. It took me months to find out that the only bit he was happy in was a low wide port kimberwick (which I hated, but his opinion was more important than mine).

    It's amazing what a difference dropping your outside rein down an inch or three makes for straightening the shoulder through turns!

    You might also find this vid interesting (your dressage trainers might hate me)--it's for reiners, but heck, they know turns! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbNfEaWApdk

  2. Maybe.

    Toooooooo many variables to say for sure.

    Certainly, if she dislikes something about the bit, putting her in one she likes more might help her carry it and go to it more happily. On the other hand, everything described could very easily just be training/riding/strengthening stuff.

    I know of no way to know what bit a horse will go best in other than plain old-fashioned trial and error. With a side of checking out the critter's mouth, but even then, not every horse reacts the way he's "supposed" to react. That's why it's so tempting to keep trying one...more...thing just in case it's the magic bullet!

    Current fashion seems to be for double-jointed bits with a bean in the middle -- the Herm Sprenger style, yes? Which seems to work well for a lot of horses! I own a couple of fancy-schmancy $100+ bits...but the one my guy goes best in is the fat single-jointed loose-ring special I pulled out of the school horse tack box at random.

    All you can do is try a few of the basic styles and see what you get. I'd say, though, that if you do, give it some time and a couple of rides before you declare victory! A lot of horses will go great in something else the first ride because it's _different,_ which may or may not turn out to be the same thing as actually _better._

    1. Gotta agree with Hannah on this one....as someone who's also contemplating a bit change for different reasons. They DO go different and often better when you first change the bit...and then just after being thrilled you spent $100 on this magic device, they go right back where they were. : P Sometimes it's just the change and they get over it.

      Moon-pie rides in a double jointed, love the softness, but his big tongue and low palate (typical QH) suggests a small mouth piece. Tessa? May or may not like the double joint.

      That being said, I can almost promise my coach would say that a bit change won't affect the shoulders. Not the way you want it to. In the end, it's training and fitness. Two things that take a freakin' long time and a lot of poems. ; )

      Question...do you ride your circles like a circle, or a series of many straight lines? I'm thinking back to when my coach had me ride Moon in many tiny straight lines to keep him from over bending, and then to lift and reposition my reins to the outside when he'd drop the inside shoulder. It was all about the lifting of the inside rein lifting that shoulder back up...I'm sure much more technical and complicated then that, but that's kinda all that stuck : P : ) See what your coach says! I'm sure Tessa will get it eventually : )

  3. I know that bit selection is not the be-all-end-all to our success, but it does surprise me how often it's overlooked or discounted. I wish I had a more in depth knowledge of horsey-mouth-anatomy, but I don't. Aside from a few tips from a friend who's savvy in that arena I've always just played around with my favorite snaffles noting what seems to be most comfortable for each horse. Their mouths can vary so much that what's comfy and soft for one pony is annoying to another. I've *always* had great success with a big double jointed looose ring snaffle, but my current mare is much (much) happier in a single joint D-ring.... I guess I don't actually know if she's happier but she's softer in my hand and keeps her jaw much more relaxed - which is about as happy I think she can be with me tugging on the reins... :)

  4. How does she go in side reins? Is she quiet or does she have the same problems? I don't think the shoulder problem will be fixed with a new bit, that has much more to do with getting her body to a point where she is capable of that. Being a wiggly little arab that will take a loooooong time. But, if she is not happy in that bit with you out of the equation, you might try experiementing a little bit. Width, number of joints, cheeks, and placement in the mouth can all affect how a horse reacts. For a horse who tends to be wiggly, I like bits that have more of a solid feel in the mouth. Not necessarily a mullen mouth but something like the Myler comfort mouthpiece that doesn't have a really wiggly joint or even just a D ring that doesn't move around in her mouth as much.

  5. Bits don't fix problems per se, but they can cause problems. Horses have very definite preferences, and some of that is due to mouth shape, and tongue size and palate height. If your horse has a low palate, a three part snaffle, with a lozenge or French link in the middle, can really improve things. Thicker bits aren't necessarily better/gentler - a horse with a large tongue may prefer a bit that is thinner or with a curved/ported mouthpiece. You have to play around with things and try them out - most horses will let you know loud and clear when things are right.

  6. Agree with the other commenters about every horse likes something different. I switched my Diva to a 3 piece about a month ago and she is steadier in the contact, than she was in the single jointed.

    Sand gave good advice on trying to lift the inside shoulder - my daughter learned this on her TB that did not like to bend and now it is working on my mare. Just lifting the inside rein helps so much.

    Really like the pic! Her head is lowered and you look great :)

  7. I have heard that arabs tend to go better in a French Link (or other jointed bit) because they often have smaller mouths. Dunno how true that is but I did find my mare likes a thinner french link. I don't think a piece of equipment is a magic "change pony for the better" wand but with a sensitive horse they generally develop distinct preferences.

  8. My answer is "Maybe" - I would at least try the same bit type but in D-ring or Full Cheek. I would ride in each different bit for at least 10 or so rides or more before you change again unless the dislike is immediately apparent.

    I would also look at yourself - are you straight - are you dipping your shoulders? (yah I went there *grins*)