Ashke and I have a problem.
I have tried on several occasions to ride in the arena without the running martingale and have ended up stopping and putting it back on. Whenever I try to ride without it, his head comes up, he's fighting my hands, his mouth is gaping open and I feel like I have zero control. The problem with the martingale is that he still does those things, but they happen with his head down and tucked against his chest. Because he is fighting the bit, he ends up clenching his jaw and running faster, braced against the bit and not listening any more. Or maybe my signals are confusing. I'm not sure which, I just know I hate how it feels.
I think he does too.
I rode a lot with a mechanical hackamore when I was a kid. Queenie worked in it really well and was responsive to the commands. I preferred to be off her mouth for the majority of the time, and it was so much better than trying to introduce an ice-cold bit into her mouth during the winter. I didn't start to use the hackamore until she was proficient at neck-reining and I couldn't show her in the hackamore, but she seemed to prefer it for regular riding.
I've been thinking about using something similar for Ashke. I am not nearly soft enough on his mouth and I think he is super sensitive to pressure, all of which does not bode well to increasing his give while I am riding him. It ends up making him fight against the bit and lessens my control. The last thing I want to do is increase the pressure or pain in his bars and tongue, instead I am thinking of going bitless. A lot of endurance riders use bitless bridles, and in some cases, are riding bridleless. I would still school him in the arena to make sure we understood each other and he understood my requests (commands), but I think we both would be happy for me to be off his mouth.
Just like when his saddle was bothering him and I made figuring it out a priority, I think the bit is bothering him.
I did some research on the web trying to discover all of my options. Here they are and the pros and cons.
Hackamore: bosal and mechanical.
Both of these options use leverage and pain to control the horse. They can be more brutal than a bit and horses have had their jaws broken by the leveraged force applied by the mechanical hackamore. The bosal can be used to start a young horse but the mechanical hackamore can only be used on horses that know how to neck rein.
These are probably the most common bit used to start young horses and the bit that I have chosen twice to use on Ashke. I had a eggbutt sweet iron and copper snaffle that Ashke hated. He refused to mouth the bit and as a consequence his mouth was dry and hard. I switched to a copper D-ring snaffle bit. He seemed to like this a bit more, since he works the bit in his mouth a lot more than the eggbutt, but again, it's not the best fit. I don't know if it's because his mouth is narrow and shallow, or if he just doesn't like having a bit in his mouth. I don't know if I really want to spend another $60 on another bit if there might be another option.
These are leverage bits that increase the pressure on the horse's mouth and jaw in proportion to the length of the shank that the reins are attached to and the height of the shank the curb strap is attached to. I hate curb bits. They suck. I wouldn't use one with Ashke.
So, in searching the internet and reading forums, there is a small group that believe in using bitless bridles. Most of these people seem to be the same ones that believe in Parelli's Natural Horsemanship work. The people who are completely opposed to bitless bridles are the same people who believe Natural Horsemanship and the Parellis are nutjobs.
I am much more of a Mark Rashid fan. He falls closer to the Natural Horsemanship group than not.
In looking at the issues they discuss in diagnosis, I really think Ashke would be happier without the bit. I figure I can try the bitless bridle. If it works, I'll keep it. If it doesn't, I will send it back. It comes with a 30 day guarentee.