A Bit o’ Fun

Just kidding, finding the right bit is more annoying than it is fun.

Here’s what we’re working with: I almost always ride Francis in a French link elevator with my reins on the second ring. He is very happy and soft in this bit, I can have gentle hands, he prefers the clarity of leverage over mouth pressure, overall it works really well for him. We like it and have no real need to switch it up.

We have a happy horse in this bit which means we have a happy rider

Except, of course, that this bit is considered unconventional in the equitation and hunter rings. Which means that we HAVE to switch it up.

We’ve been using a plain pelham for the last year, a la this:


It’s been…fine. Frankie historically is not fussy about his bits and this is no exception. The only one he’s really shown a vague dislike for is a slow twist, so we keep the mouthpieces smooth now. I rode him in a plain full cheek snaffle like this one for the first 2 years I had him and it worked well enough.


So my hope was that the pelham would be similar to that, with a little bit of the leverage he seems to prefer. And again, it’s fine. No theatrics, nothing awful, just kinda dull and leaning. It’s a good thing those courses are less twisty turny than the jumper ring, because I feel like I have a much slower line of communication with this bit.

It’s not a big deal if I’m just popping in an equitation class now and then, but I do enjoy them and want to continue to give them a go with Francisco. So I decided that it’s time to find something better than “fine.” I want something actively good.

The first place I started was by testing the mouthpiece. I picked up a French link full cheek snaffle to see if this mouthpiece might fit more happily in his mouth, similar to his elevator.


I do like this bit a lot, especially on the flat. I don’t have the same brakes that I do in the elevator, but I have a surprising amount of adjustability and softness that I never had in a snaffle before. I think this is partially due to Frankie’s continuing education since we last tried the snaffle, but I also think that this mouthpiece is a little gentler and encourages some more softness for him. My only qualm is that I have to make any adjustments on course 4 strides out instead of 2 since it takes a bit longer to communicate – and let’s be honest, I’m not good enough to always know what I need to do a full 4 strides out. So a step in the right direction but not quite where I want it. (Side note – I’m having Frankie’s half-leaser use this bit with him. He’s easier to get to know in a snaffle and I always hesitate putting leverage in hands that I don’t know as well.)

The next one we decided to try was a shaped Mullen Happy Mouth pelham:


I know some horses love the single piece and some are not fans. So far Frankie seems to be a fan! He’s soft and forward into the bridle, and I have that little bit of leverage to help me communicate. He has such a dull mouth that it really doesn’t make much sense to use harsher mouthpieces, so backing that off to something softer for him makes sense to me. My trainer doesn’t absolutely love it, but this is what we’re tentatively using for now.

Of course, I then asked my trainer what she’s been using on him in her training rides, and she responded that she’s been using no noseband and this KK Ultra loose ring and he’s been very happy.


So I’m going to see if I can find this in a D to try out (loose ring is technically allowed I believe but is not The Look(TM) at the moment). Of course it’s a fancy expensive one, so I’m looking for a used one (please let me know if you have anything for me I will happily buy it off you!!). I keep my noseband pretty loose anyways, but hey maybe I’ll just take it off altogether for the jumper ring. Let his nose fly free in the breeze. I would really prefer to put him in a snaffle that he likes for the eq/derby rings – I think having a bit that looks stronger visually (like the pelham) sends a signal to the judge that he’s a stronger or heavier ride and that isn’t the case at all. So we’ll keep working on it to make sure he’s comfortable and can hear me.

Basically the verdict is that my horse likes a center piece to jangle, except when he likes a single piece. And he likes the clarity of a little leverage, except when he goes better in a snaffle.



Olivia, you ride a strong horse.

Lesson recap time!

Since the Beast has been making a habit of dragging me around over fences in our last couple lessons, I decided to pop the Pelham in for our lesson yesterday. Ain’t no way I was dealing with that crap any more.

We had a nice warmup WTC, lots of no stirrup work (ow) and lots of work on extending and collecting our canters. I focused on sitting deep in my saddle and squeezing her up into the bridle to attempt to get her to soften into the collection. Definitely a work in progress, but being able to engage that curb rein when she got strong helped a lot. I also made a point of making Addy wait until I gave her the cue to canter. Picking up my reins, changing direction, going around a corner: none of these are cues to canter. She’s gotten much better at waiting instead of anticipating, so I’m going to have to stay consistent with that.

On to jumping! We trotted over a crossrail a couple times and this went surprisingly well- she didn’t try to launch over it, just trotted nicely to the base and cantered away. Very civilized. Then we started building up a course:


Our first was: A-B-C-D-E. Up the stone wall, down the other stone wall/oxer, up the quarter line, and down the oxer. Lots of long approaches!

I was pretty happy with this- Beastly got a little strong in places and took some flyers, but overall was fairly responsive. The quarter line was set to a long 3/short 4, so I just let her open her stride a bit more and carry me for the 3.

We played around with different combos of that for a while, and then gave this course a try: H-F-G-B-C-D-G-B-A. Pink outside vertical towards home, up the outside line in 4, down the stone wall, up the quarter line, down the outside line in 4, up the other stone wall.

Honestly I’m 99% sure we had another course in there somewhere but I already forget so we’ll focus on this. Our first attempt at the first jump was a launcher from downtown because Unicorn got super psyched about it, so we came around and started again. She still got psyched, but we got to a much more reasonable distance. We had to hold a bit going up the outside line because it was set for a short-ish 4, but it wasn’t so bad going away from home. We got nice and close coming down the stone wall, made a nice turn to the quarter line, and recovered our canter nicely around the short end coming to the outside line. This was really tough to fit the 4 in because we were heading towards home, and took a couple tries for me to get it without resorting to the pulley rein, but we got there. Then we got nice and close to the base going up the other stone wall too.

Phew! Overall, I was super happy with this course. It definitely had some sticky moments, but I felt like I was calling the shots instead of climbing up Addy’s neck and hoping she wouldn’t take a flyer. I’ve been really bad about tipping my upper body forward and getting light in the saddle lately. This works in the hunters. This works for lots of horses. This does NOT work on a big ol’ draft cross who gets REALLY excited about jumping. I made a point to sit up, sit deep, keep my leg on, and close my hand to make her wait to the base. Thrusting my hips a little forward and using my core as an anchor made a world of difference in getting Addy’s attention: I finally felt like she was cantering under me and ready to go where I asked instead of carrying me around and occasionally checking to see if I was doin’ OK up there.

My trainer seemed happy with how I rode this too- she liked the quality of our canter between jumps, and was super happy that we waited to the base instead of leaving the stride out. That’s exactly what we want for the jumpers! Pretty Girl has a huge step, so I never want to be that team galloping around trying to make time. We don’t need to do that. If I can get Beastly packaged up under me, we can be efficient with our turns and careful with our jumps. The time will take care of itself if I give my girl a good ride. It was also pretty gratifying because my trainer said to me, “Olivia, you ride a STRONG horse. She will drag you around if you let her. You didn’t let her in that course, and even though it wasn’t perfect, you made the best decisions you could make based on what you had to work with.” I’m still cheesin’ about that one. Addy definitely has been challenging me a lot lately, but I’m so excited that I’ve been able to keep up and continue progressing. I definitely feel like a much stronger rider than I was a couple months ago.

In other exciting news, Beastly and I are going to our first ever rated show!! I’m pretty sure it’ll be her first ever rated show, and my first in roughly 10 years. We’ll be trailering in to HITS Culpeper for one day and doing two jumper classes- level 0 and level 1 (0.8m and 0.9m). I was a little disappointed because I so badly wanted to do the Low Adults (1m) but Trainer made a very good point- this is Addy’s first rated show, and we want to create a good experience for her and not overwhelm her. Does she have the scope for 1m? Absolutely. But there’s going to be so much going on, we’d rather keep the jumps a little lower and have this be a confidence booster for her. We have all the time in the world to move up. I’m glad my trainer reminded me of this, because my tendency is to kinda rush into things. It’s hard to remember that my pretty pony is VERY green when it comes to shows! Anyways, I’d love any advice that y’all have for surviving the jumper ring at HITS.

In even MORE exciting news, I have a brand new pair of Pipers thanks to Allison from Pony’tude!!! They’re in such a cool (discontinued) color and I’m always thrilled to add to my collection. I’ve got a big Smartpak post coming up soon where I talk about all the gear I’ve gotten recently, so keep an eye out for that!

I’ve got another lesson this afternoon, so get pumped for yet another lesson recap tomorrow. Get into it. It’ll be awesome.

A Warm Welcome Back to VA


I may have mentioned it in passing once or twice or ninety kajillion times but seriously. She’s the bomb dot com (do people still say that? I vote yes.).

So I hadn’t ridden since my lesson last Wednesday because I jetted off to my home state of little Rhody. Three big things: bridal shower (elegant and gorgeous and classy and fantastic), bachelorette party (insanopants ridiculous fun and we’ll leave it at that), and MEETING MY NIECE!!!! She was such a perfect little bean, just wanted to snuggle and stare. Seriously, her eyes are gigantic and she’s a big one for prolonged eye contact. So curious about everything and happy and always hungry and loves her mom and dad so much. Basically she’s my mini-me. Leaving was incredibly hard, but at least I’ll be up in only 3 weeks for my brother’s wedding and I’ll see her then!

Anywho, I got back Tuesday night after my flight had been delayed a couple times. Wednesday was super cool at work (got a promotion that I totally wasn’t expecting!!), and then confirmed with Owner Lady that both of us had been out of town and Addy had gotten a nice little vacation.

I geared up for a rodeo.

I knew I’d be fine since Pretty Girl never pulls any shenanigans that are unsafe, but I was ready for a wrestling match to get us on the same page.

Nope. Whether she was feeling mellow from the mental break or the heat or whatever reason, she was perfect. A little fast at times, but sat right down and waited for me as soon as I asked. It helped that I was trying out a different bit- jointed pelham with double reins. I relied mostly on the snaffle rein, but that little leverage when I needed it was super helpful! She didn’t fuss about it at all, I was just able to reinforce my requests a little more strongly. It meant that I had to keep my leg on especially strongly to back it up, but I try to do that anyways. It will take a little getting used to since I haven’t had to manage double reins in almost 10 years, but throw me in the deep end! We’re using this at the show this weekend. Learn by doing, right?

Anywho. After a great WTC warmup we started popping over a crossrail with a focus on waiting to the base and straightness after. This was very civilized. We then moved on to trotting in the crossrail in the other direction, and cantering out a broken line in either 3 or 4. I think you can guess what we got. I’m sure if I had wrestled we could’ve gotten the 4, but she was being nice and soft and not rushing through at all, so I didn’t feel the need to mess with her. It wasn’t a long or discombobulated 3 at all, so we were happy with it.

From there, we built up our course!


As a special treat, I even managed to take a picture of the course in the ring so you can see what it actually looked like:


So. We had warmed up A-B, and we built from there: A-B-C-D-E-F. Broken to outside vertical, back over the stone wall, bending to the brush jump, then up the outside oxer. Lots of bending lines and long approaches.

The first 3 rode well again, and the long approach to the outside vertical went well on my second try- just had to remember to package up and hold my reins instead of letting her pick the pace. She came around to the stone wall nicely, and the bending to the brush went well. I was overriding pretty defensively since I expected her to get wiggly/try to duck out of some of these new jumps, but she was perfect! I was able to back off and get some more natural distances. The approach up the wall to the oxer went better on our second try when I held her straighter with my legs instead of letting her worm her way to it.

Then we built up the course a little more! A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H. Same thing as before, just adding the brick wall and turn to the rolltop at the end. I shall take you on my virtual course walk:

Trotting into the basic crossrail
Out the pink gate in 3
Up the single outside vertical
Roll back over the stone wall
Bend out in 5 over the brush (which was low in height but SUPER wide. I’m pretty sure that’s a whole tree under there)
Up the single outside oxer
Down the brick wall
Rollback up the rolltop/barrels.

And let me tell you why I love this horse so much: she jumped all of these jumps like she had seen them a million times. Granted, she’s seen most of them a LOT, but the brush and barrels were both new to her. She stayed super straight to the brick and stone walls, even though there were no standards, and she came around the turns waiting for my cue. Once I figured out my reins I was able to have her sit and wait for me instead of running to a long spot, and it meant I was able to move her up when I needed to. Packaged pony = adjustable pony.

We had to do the bending stone wall-brush over again to get that more comfortable- I rode it like I was asking for 6 strides, which made the 5 nice and flowing instead of coming up too much on the brush. That’s right. I have to ask for an extra stride when I don’t want her to leave one out. Goofy, but such is life.

All in all, I was tickled pink with our work yesterday. It was one of those rides where it felt like we were really on the same page and working for the same things. I’m feeling much more confident about our show this weekend! It will be a hunter show (we’ll do the 3′ working hunters) which isn’t ideal, but my goal is to get her out at least once a month and this is our only chance in June. I think exposure to a show environment in any form is better than none, and she still needs show miles. I’m pretty sure she’s only been to 6 shows ever, including the 4 I’ve taken her to, so my broke pony is still kinda green in the show ring! Luckily nothing seems to bother her.

Including me putting a bit in her mouth upside down.

My trainer spotted this before I could hop on, laughed her head off, then snapped a picture and told me I needed to share this on my blog. So supportive.

What has your horse surprised you with lately? Do you have a showing “game plan?”