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Snaffle or Curb Do you know the Difference????

Posted by letsgoride on April 14, 2014 at 10:35 PM

As a horse person, I have heard a lot stated about bits and bitting. A lot of what I have heard and has been published is very good, and a lot of it is written in error and steeped in misunderstanding. The topic I'd like to address in reference to bits is the difference between the two types of bits: the snaffle and the curb



There are a lot of misconceptions out there surrounding this issue. The two biggest is that all curb bits have a solid mouth piece and all snaffles have a jointed mouth piece. This is perhaps partially due to the fact that many tack supply catalogues sell "western or shanked snaffles" (i.e. Tom Thumb). When there is no such thing. The configuration of the mouthpiece, or if it has shanks, has nothing to do whatsoever with figuring whether a bit is a snaffle or a curb. For instance a "Kimberwick" is often classified as a snaffle when it is in fact a curb.



A snaffle bit is a simple, direct action bit. However much backward pressure the rider exerts on the reins is exactly what the horse feels in his mouth. It may or may not have jointed mouth pieces. The pressure from the snaffle bit is directed to the corners of the horse's mouth, the bars, the tongue, and sometimes the roof of the mouth, depending on the shape and conformation of the horse's mouth.

The curb bit, however, is a more advanced and very complex bit. Essentially it is a leverage bit, meaning that the pressure is directed to the entire head (poll, chin and mouth). The amount of backward pressure the rider exerts on the reins is multiplied by a number of factors all relating to its design.

I could go into all the complexities of the mechanics behind the curb bit, but that's another lesson for another day. Until then, Happy Trails!


Rider Exercises

Posted by letsgoride on July 27, 2013 at 5:05 AM

Here are some real great ways to stretch and supple the rider when not in the saddle:

Stretch back Muscles and Hamstrings:

Good old Toe Touches- stand up straight, roll forward and down slowly trying to touch the floor with your fingertips. Hold to a count of 12. Roll up slowly.

Loosen Ankles and Stretch Calf Muscles:

Sitting in a chair with calves vertical lift toe off floor by flexing ankle. Hold for a count on 12. Then release and lift the other toe.

Ankle Circles both directions:

Rotate your foot to the left 12 times. Rotate your foot to the right 12 times.

Strengthen Arches:

Holding a door frame, stand on one foot. Raise up on toes so your are standing on the ball of your foot, lower back down. An average person should be able to do this 25 consecutive times without losing strength. (Added advantage of strengthening calves and thighs)

The Step Stretch:

To stretch tendons and develop the sensation of having weight in the heels, stand on the bottom step of a stair and slowly stretch down into your heels. Hold the wall to keep from falling. Don’t bounce because bouncing can cause muscle tears.

If you don’t have stair you can purchase a foam half round. It works as well as a step, and it’s portable.

Stretch the Calves:

Stand about 3 feet from a wall with feet flat on the floor. Lean forward a place hands on the wall. Hold for 15 seconds. Do not over do this. Adjust the distance your feet are from the wall according to your own body.


Is It Ever Too Much??

Posted by letsgoride on July 27, 2013 at 4:55 AM

Anyone who has done any reining, dressage or the like knows how monotonous it can get. Riding the same pattern over and over and over again is never a good thing. Why? Because it creates undesired results and will become counter-productive. Any professional will tell you that too much repetition in training will cause a horse to anticipate rather than respond to the riders' cue, or turn a horse sour. This is true for other aspects of training as well.



Natural Horsemanship training methods offer people different ways of working with their horses so as to gain respect and establish leadership, in simplified game-type exercises. They are easy to do and the results come quickly. Unfortunately, people are able to execute the exercises or "games" easily and in a sense "correctly", but they really have no idea what they are really looking for. The exercises either become "tricks" or obsessions and the whole point is lost. Too much of anything can be a bad thing! Too many circles will create a horse that won't go straight, too many straight lines and the horse won't bend. Too much saddle work and the horse will grow to resent it and become hard to catch. Not enough riding and out of boredom he becomes disrespectful on the ground. There is a difference between establishing leadership and becoming a broken record.


I watch people doing round pen work with their horses and it's all I can do to not fall asleep. Eventually the horse will act up and that just further convinces the misguided handler that they need to do more round penning. When in fact they already had it and because of lack of education, experience or feel they didn't know it. The ground work is no longer productive when it is creating resistance, irritation or boredom.


There are many horses that I do not ever do formal groundwork with and some that I only work periodically, as a reminder of his manners. But each and every time I handle a horse, at every moment, I am "either training or un-training the horse" (George Morris). Just bringing the horse from his stall to the grooming station can be an opportunity for training, and for some it's all that is needed (because the fundamentals have already been established). Once a horse is fully trained and can perform the required skill anywhere, at any time, he only needs maintenance of his training and conditioning rides to keep up with competition.


It is perhaps more common to do groundwork in order to improve your relationship with the horse, get his focus and respect, develop a line of communication between you and your horse and teach him good manners. If you and your horse do not have any of these issues, you probably don’t need to do much. An occasional groundwork session is always a good idea to ‘tune-up’ both you and your horse’s skills and it is fun to just "play". Its when it becomes an obsession where problems arise.


It is an old-school of thought but one in which I believe very strongly: whenever you have trouble with a horse getting something, STOP. Go do something you and your horse can perform easily. Come back to it later when the both of you are in a better frame of mind. After all, you can only teach when your student is willing to learn. You can not force it. For example, let's say you are having issues performing a 20 meter circle because your horse drops their inside shoulder and dives in. The resulting "circle" is more of an oval. The best thing to do is to do a couple of straight lines with transitions! Sounds silly, but what's happening is your horse isn't using his haunches to push and lift the shoulder. Obsessing on the "bending-line" will only further the problem.


Our horses are mirrors they will reveal where we rushed or skipped through the fundamentals, sometimes years later. To become frustrated or even angry with your horse is about as effective as banging your head against a wall. A horse is a product of its handler, the way he behaves is how he has been trained to behave, he only does what he knows he can. It is often hard for us to admit that when problems arise it is almost always operator error.


Knowing how to ask and when to release is what trains the horse. Most people will release at the wrong time or in the wrong way (too early or too late, not enough or too much). In the beginning it may not be very obvious, but later on it will resurface as something much bigger. Once you have asked a horse to do something, if you don't follow-through; you have trained the horse to ignore you. On the other hand, if you keep drilling something that is incomprehensible to him, by putting more and more pressure (even non-violent pressure) on the horse his mind will just shut down, you have taught the horse to be frightened. He will be reactive to you, but he hasn't learned the skill you were hoping for, and you are not a respected leader.


Parelli, John Lyons and Clinton Anderson (to name a few) all have great systems for training horses. They are great because each has a system that virtually anyone can follow. However, there is no one system that could ever account for all the variances and intricacies of horses. The judgment and horse sense you need to train horses comes from the experience and wisdom gained from working with many, many different horses.


Of all the training systems, programs and techniques in the world, the one thing that they all have in common is that ability to give a timely and significant release to the horse and the judgment to know when to press your horse and when to back off. You only have 3 seconds with a horse to reward, release or correct, in order for him to make an association between his actions and the release/correction. It is a well-documented fact that the sooner within that three seconds the release/correction comes, the more meaningful it is to the horse. So by the time you have to think about what the horse did or what you should do to correct or reward, you are well past the optimal time period for training your horse.


Remember, every time you are handling your horse you are either training good or bad behaviour If you are running into problems over and over again, or the problems are getting worse, the best thing you can do for your horse is to seek the help of an experienced professional.


My Time At the Races

Posted by letsgoride on July 27, 2013 at 4:40 AM

*** CAUTION have tissues ready! ****

It all started when yet another trainer screwed me over and left me stranded. My future was looking rather bleak, and my usually optimistic outlook on life was beginning to waiver. Out of the blue I received a phone call from a buddy of mine. He was in Iowa working on the race track and told me there was work available. Well, the timing couldn’t have been better if it was planned. After tying up all my loose ends, I found myself on an Amtrak train heading to Iowa. When I embarked on this adventure, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never imagined that it would leave such a lasting impression and have such an impact on my life.


It was a huge leap of faith, to just pack up my bags and go somewhere I’ve never been, very little money in my pocket and without any friends or even family less than 2000 miles away. For a job I “might” get and “maybe” there is still a room available. (There wasn’t any rooms by the way, but that’s another story for another time)


I arrived in Osceola Iowa in just under 50 hours. Thankfully my buddy was there to pick me up from the so called “train station”. If that’s what you would call a boarded up brick building sitting on a slab of cement, so over-grown with weeds that you can’t help but assume that if it weren’t for the weeds the structure would have completely collapsed long ago. There was a small gas station/diner in the distance and a few houses near-by. The scene looked a little too much like something out of Deliverance for me. I quickly loaded my bags into the car and we headed over to Prairie Meadows in the hopes of landing me a job.


I was pleasantly surprised to land the first job I inquired about working for a small time trainer in barn E1, with only six head. I was the only help, so six horses were more than enough work. The steady pay check was what I was most concerned about and when the “steady” became less and less reliable, I went on to another trainer whose luck had all but run out and was in desperate need of a descent hand.


The horses over in E6 were in bad shape when I got there, bad attitudes due to bad handling, stalls were in terrible condition which caused health problems and poor feeding management. No wonder they hadn’t won any races! I got to work right away and quickly got everyone on the right supplements, cleared up the thrush and abscesses, and was adamant about cleaning the stalls thoroughly. The other grooms didn’t like me very much. Until they noticed how the horses’ whole attitudes changed, they began to act like race-horses! Before I arrived they were hard to saddle nipping, kicking and sluggish in training. Now they looked forward to going to the track to train, would get “racy” in anticipation for the up coming race and became easier to handle. By the end of the meet, we were winning every race we entered!


I have worked so hard for so long and for so many different people. Time and time again, all the extra effort I put forth went un-noticed or even worse, became expected and always seemed to be unappreciated. I wasn’t asking for much in return of all the hard work I did, I still did it knowing it wasn’t required. A simple pat on the back and a “job well done” would’ve be nice. I could feel myself getting jaded and noticed that my work ethic was beginning to decline, I just didn’t see the point anymore. That all changed on the race track. Everyone knows how hard it is to find a good-hand, and the impact having even just one will have on your barn. I earned the reputation of being an excellent hand and soon had offers from several different trainers to run their “shedrow” (barn). I wasn’t doing anything different from what I’ve always done- I just wasn’t being taken for granted anymore.


I have learned so much and have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and work with even more amazing horses. All of which have had a profound effect on me and how I see life. What’s more incredible is the effect I’ve had on the horses. In one way or another, the horses I had in my care preformed better. Some were on the brink of auction, some were broken down and some were just misunderstood. Because, I took the time to figure them out where others before me had not, I witnessed the transformation each horse made. They all came back stronger than ever.


On the much anticipated flight home, I couldn’t wait to see my horse. I must admit I missed Obie more than anything; my family and friends were only a phone call away and I called often. The reason I was returning home was I couldn’t ignore my aching heart any longer. In 19 years I hadn’t spent more than a couple weeks away from my boy, but a couple of years had passed since I first embarked on this journey. I worried that he wouldn’t remember me. I know he must have felt that I had abandoned him and it just broke my heart to wonder if he ever looked for me at the sound of a car coming down the drive, or how many times did he look to find that it wasn’t me before he stopped looking at all....? He would always whinny at me as I drove up and would be the first to arrive at the gate to great me with a warm nuzzle and soft nickers. I couldn't wait to see him and feel his warm breath on my neck as I hug him....


Alas, I was right to worry, when I finally got to see Obie, he was different. It wasn’t that he was naughty, he just wasn't the same. He didn’t come running when I called him at the pasture gate. No more nickers or whinnies to great me with. When I would try to hug him he would push me away or stand there stiff like he didn't know who I was. He just seemed sad, almost as if his fire went out. (if you know Obie, you know how hot he can be!) He just didn’t seem to care anymore. For as long as I have known him, and I was present at his birth, he has always had an opinion and,boy-howdy, he let you know it! For him to be so “blah” was rather un-nerving.


I knew I just had to give it sometime, he would see me around more and eventually he would forgive me and let me back in. I was right. After a few months I found myself at the barn pretty late one night. I decided to go get my boy out and ride around bare-back while I waited for my ride to arrive. It was a dark moonless night and as I walked out to the pasture I promised myself that I wouldn’t go looking for him if he didn’t come when I whistled. So I just figured I’d be walking back to the barn since he no longer came when I called his name. I called his name once right before I opened the heavy metal gate and stepped inside. I whistled and hollered his name again and stood there listening for the sound of thundering hooves....... nothing. “OOOOOBIIIEEE” I yelled once more and whistled as loud as I could and I waited...... just as I was turning to exit the gate I heard the thunder of hooves and could faintly see a white horse running toward me! I cried happy tears that night, as I wrapped my arms around his neck and buried my face into his mane I inhaled deeply, oh how I’ve missed that smell!! I cried. I couldn’t hold back and didn’t even try. I missed him more than words could ever say, and I know he missed me as much. So yes, I cried. Big crocodile tears streamed down my face as I promised him that I’d never leave him again. And I cried even harder when he nuzzled me and softly nickered. I got my boy back that night and I’ll never lose him again.....