One of the things I realized the last time I rode with Nicole is that I've never really worked consistently with a snaffle bit.
When I was a kid, we rode western, with long, loose reins and a curb bit. It's just what we did. I rode Queenie with either a curb bit with a roller or a mechanical hackamore. I couldn't show in 4-H with the hackamore, so most of my practice with with the curb bit, but we both preferred the hackamore when we were out and about, if for no other reason than Queenie could graze if we stopped. Queenie was green broke (meaning you could get on her, but she hadn't been taught many manners) when I got her and I spent our first winter together teaching her to neck rein and stop in a halter and lead rope in the snow. She figured it out pretty quick. By that August, we showed in four classes at our County Fair - halter, western pleasure, bareback and trail. We received four blue ribbons and two red rosettes (blues meant you could show at State, the rosettes meant we were the top second in the class) in the four classes. By my second year of showing, we added the western reining class to our schedule, which included a slide stop and flying lead change, and always placed in the blue. She was right where I wanted her and we really enjoyed both the 4-H program and the posse I rode with when I became to old for 4-H. We went from riding in a halter to riding with a curb bit. The closest I came to using a snaffle was the very short shanked tom thumb I rode her in for a while. I also rode her with a piece of rope around her neck, or in a halter, or sometimes in the pasture with just my hands pressed against the sides of her head.
I've never tried to figure out with her, the stuff I'm trying to figure out now.
Riding with a snaffle, especially when working on leg yields, flexing and turning, collected trot and canter, requires contact between horse and rider, both with the legs and with the bit. Teaching a horse, even one as smart as Ashke, what I am also trying to figure out has been interesting to say the least. Nicole has been invaluable in talking me through some of the stuff she grew up learning, while I am also struggling to unlearn the stuff I grew up learning. It has been especially challenging since I am riding in a saddle that is neither western nor english, but a compilation of the two.
But back to the bit thing.
Ashke finally feels comfortable with the bit I purchased. It fits the size of his mouth just perfectly, and although I would have thought it sat in his mouth too low, based on what I learned as a kid, it is exactly where it needs to be for him to be comfortable. (That theory of one to two wrinkles at the corner of the mouth that I was told over and over, is bogus. Cinnamon showed me a better way to test the bridle and said that each bit will fit differently than others. What I needed to do was find a bit that fit Ashke well, which we have done.) So, this bit is the Rockin' Raised Snaffle bit recommended by Mark Rashid, and is 4.5 inches wide. It gives us about 1/8th of an inch at the corners of the mouth, and once I had it at the correct length on the bridle, Ashke hasn't fussed. One of the issues I had with the other bits, and the reason I ordered the 4.5", was Ashke could open his mouth and the bit would slide half way out. It was just too huge. Even the 5" one. My boy has a delicate nose.
So the thing that I am working on in the arena is keeping contact with his mouth, while remaining soft. To teach him soft and subtle cues. He responds really well to leg pressure and is incredibly sensitive, so I am being as cognizant of that as is possible. One of the things I have learned is to keep my hands as soft and steady as possible, down next to his neck and to keep steady pressure on the outside rein, while communicating through movement with my inside rein. It's tough, because I am so very right hand dominant that I really have to concentrate on what I am doing. Of course, that kind of takes my mind off how I am riding the canter, if I am focusing on my hands.
Maybe some day it will all come together. Maybe some day I will take Nicole's advice and take a dressage lesson. One of my hesitancies is still not trusting a trainer to tell me what to do in a way that won't damage my relationship with Ashke. I trust Nicole, because I've seen her train Cali and I know she's more interested in improving my relationship with him than in perfecting something for the ring. She's more interested in helping us acheive balance. And I mean balance in our gaits, balance in his body, balance in his ability in both directions and at both leads, balance between the forehand and his rear, balance in my cues and how I ride. Balance.
On the trail, the lessons we are working on in the arena help with what I am asking him to do outside. It helps to know how to calm him and refocus his energy when he gets really up and wants to go. It's nice to know he understands the leg yield when walking past rocks he wants to get skitty with. I understand how what we are working on is going to help with what we want to do. I had no clue when I was a kid, being focused more on the going part of riding, but I get it now.