MARES! and learning to receive the bit

From here on it's all about bitting! Here I'm long reining.

From here on it’s all about bitting! In this photo I am long reining.

Back in the cowboy days the only acceptable horse for work was a gelding. Mares and stallions were for breeding and making more geldings. Geldings were more even tempered therefore consistent. Stallions were always looking at the mares. Mares to varying degrees of severity had their time in the month when they were moody, but “time of the month” or not mares are generally more irritable.

I was challenged by this ill temper in my mare Fanny at a Cowboy Mounted Shooter contest. An old horseman watching the action commented, “What that mare needs is some wet saddle blankets!” That means lots of riding time. Fanny is still a little crabby especially when she’s fresh, but not nearly like she was in those days. Tara is much like Fanny. Though she’s safe enough to ride, she’s strong-willed and can be crabby but she’s not mean. The daily rides I have been giving her are already evening out her moods.

Bitting or receiving the bit is where most of my efforts are going right now. I’m using a snaffle bit. I want her to accept the bit lightly, responsively and without resistance. She shows resistance by swinging, bobbing her head around or bashing into the bit. She receives the bit responsively sometimes but easily gets into an argument with my light contact and pushes back into the bit. I keep light pressure on her mouth until she drops her nose, giving to the light pressure, which includes bending her face toward vertical at her pole.

Sometimes she has trouble understanding what I’m asking and then the crankiness sets in. The problem switches from not understanding to being irritable. My goal through all of this is to be consistent and not let her boss me around, but still keeping my hands, which are the conveyance of my instruction, flexible rather than rigid. I make every effort to be as gentle on her mouth as possible while still maintaining some correction.  Gradually she will habitually respond lightly to the bit’s varied communications.

You can imagine that this process of bitting is an art requiring just the right touch. The old farmboy method of “just make her do it” might seem to go quicker, but will cost the horse’s sensitive mouth and finesse in the long run.

You can see her lower neck muscles bulge as she pushes against the bit.

You can see her lower neck muscles bulge as she pushes against the bit.

You can see the pleasing arc she bends her neck at the pole. She finds out quickly that all she has to do is to drop her nose that she herself had inflicted by pushing against it.

Now she has a pleasing arc as she bends her neck at the pole. She finds out quickly all she has to do is drop her nose to relieve the pressure she herself has inflicted by pushing against it.


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