I have just finished a rather sloth-like week. My only explanation is the July like weather that decided to park itself over the mid-Atlantic region – not ready for mid-90s at the start of June. All I have wanted to do was hide indoors and do a lot of nothing. This weather has not inspired me to walk the dogs, or work in my flowerbeds, or ride my horse. I did ride three times with two of those rides being lessons with Ms. C, but it would have been nice to have a gradual warm up rather than immediate searing heat. By scheduling lessons, it forced me to commit to some serious riding. We now have less than two weeks before our first two-day dressage show.
I have been struggling a lot lately to get an effective half halt in the canter. Heck, some days the trot is a challenge as well. Ike, as you know, is a big boy and there is a serious amount of strength in those long limbs and giraffe neck. When you add the power of the canter to that strength, Ike can take advantage of my lack of strength and blow through any attempt of a half halt. There are days that my arms burn and ache from the exertion; I feel cramps in my fingers and pain in my elbows and shoulders. Ugh. It is so very frustrating since our progress is stunted by my issues. I have been at a loss on what to do other than use large doses of ibuprofen to mask my pain. The joys of middle age are more of a pain in the butt.
Then Ms. C had an idea that took hold during the first of my two lessons. She left the ring and a short time later emerged from the barn with a bridle in hand and suggested that we switch because of the bit on that bridle. I’ve been riding Ike in a basic loose ring single-joint snaffle. This other bridle had a Myler Level 1 Bit in place. Not knowing much about it, but trusting Ms. C, we switched bridles and carried on with my lesson. We gave Ike a few minutes to adjust to the change. The new bridle had no flash, so Ike walked around with his mouth gaping open and tongue hanging out as he played with the new bit. Ms. C was laughing so hard that I thought she’d collapse in a fit of giggles. After this short adjustment period, we put big man back to work. Interesting. Ike definitely felt lighter in my hands. With our regular bit, he has a tendency to lean on the bit even when I politely give a half halt. With the Myler bit, he seemed to carry himself rather than asking me to carry him…maybe that is why my arms ache…
I was intrigued by the difference with the Myler bit, so I did some research while hiding from the heat. Level 1 and Level 2 Myler bits are approved by the USEF for dressage competition (DR121.16.A). The Level 1 bits apply evenly distributed pressure over the tongue with very little bar or lip pressure. They are recommended for horses just starting with their training. The bars of the bit are curved (known as a “comfort snaffle”) to allow for more space for the tongue under the bit. My research didn’t show any negatives, but before committing to a purchase (they are a bit more expensive than my $25 snaffle), I set up a second lesson with Ms. C to try the Myler bit another time.
For my second lesson, we put the bit on my bridle that has a flash. [Note to self: Ike keeps his mouth closed with the flash secured – do not buy a bridle without a flash. I don’t think the judge would appreciate Ike sticking his tongue out at them.] My second lesson was even more successful than the first. Ike appeared to hear my half halts and responded correctly in both the trot and canter. It was nice to be able to execute a half halt and see and feel a difference in Ike’s stride. I had no aches or pains in my arms during the lesson which was a nice bonus. Ms. C noted that Ike appeared lighter in his movement because he can look heavy when he leans on the normal snaffle. I can assure you that he is heavy when he leans. The key with this bit is making sure that you keep your hands soft and following. Not hard to do when your horse doesn’t have a death grip on the bit. The order has been placed for a Myler Level 1 bit of our very own.
So while I may not have ridden all that much, our work we did accomplish was quite positive. I am feeling much better about my ability to communicate with Ike. I wouldn’t say that a different bit is the magic elixir we need to boost our scores. But, if it does allow me the means to better communicate with my horse in a positive way, then it seems to me that it is a step in the right direction in achieving better harmony and more thoroughness and maybe even an extra point or two in our scores. We will find out on June 15th…
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p.s. For those who might be wondering how the DEET is helping our tick situation, it appears that strategic use of the DEET bug spray (wiped on Ike’s ears and nose, sprayed on Ike’s neck, lower legs and tail) is helping keep the ticks at bay. Haven’t seen one in over a week. Seems well worth the $7 spent.