Tommy has started the journey of proving that he is a trustworthy partner in both the arena and along the trail. For the first few months under saddle, I used to have to lunge him in a warmup to let him get his juvenile bucks and giggles out before I swung a leg up over him. Now, we saddle up and head on down the trail at a nice collected western pleasure jog. All business and no silliness - it's absolutely fabulous.
There have also been two other transitions happening in a years time as well. We have transitioned in the leg aid department from: (1) no spurs for the first 8 months (2) to slip on nubbies for 2 months (3) into gooseneck shank spurs now. I have alterior motives for switching to shanks at both ends. Which brings me to the other transition:
Head gear changes. The first month under saddle was dedicated to the sidepull. I've used it on every horse that I've started. It's similar to a hackamore or a stoutly made halter, only with a more direct rein connect to either side of the nose for a more "non-confusing" approach. I prefer the sidepull over a hackamore because the reins are located on either side, instead of a big rein mass underneath the chin. Young horses seem to understand the direct concept of going right and left with it better, and since there is no bit they can concentrate on carrying the riders weight for the first month. I won't start anything with a bit, as I've always felt that it was too much for a young horse to stay focused on for the intial first few times. I know that there are a lot of people who start out with a snaffle, but it's my personal preference to start without one.
The next transition was into a regular ring snaffle. Tommy worked with it in his mouth and gnawed at it the first two weeks that it was introduced, but soon got comfortable and stopped fiddling with it. Generally most young horses will chew at it to begin with. He learned to give to a stop and backing pressure with it, and also the beginning stages of collection. Most of my snaffles have a sweet iron or copper mouthpiece, I kind-of like them that way. We spent several months working in the snaffle.
And here we are at the present time. This is the third step in Tommy's transitional journey. It's a Kerry Kelly snaffle mouthpiece bit with shanks. And he ADORES it! I introduced this bit to him two weeks ago on one of our trail rides, and he took to it like it was a lollipop. (*And I am so absolutely thankful for that! See the below side note.)
When I first introduced this bit to him I unhooked the reins and put them on a halter that was underneath the bridle. I just let him pack the bit around in his mouth without any pressure from my hands, and to let him get used to how the heavier shanks felt. I was amazed that he didn't fidget or mouth with it at all. Halfway through the trail ride I hooked the reins onto the shanks and it wasn't a problem. He acted like an old broke horse that had been using it all his life.
* Side note: For anyone who has struggled with a horse that is un-accepting to a new bit, it's a real joy to have a good student like Tommy that is willing to pick it up right away. Nettie has been my ultimate project in finding a bit that is enjoyable for her. The main problem boils down to a lack of collection, and I have to work a lot more on that. When Nettie gets cranky with something in her mouth, she will toss her head all over the place - instead of bending into it in order to take the pressure away. I've tried about a dozen different bits with her, and am still working on lateral flexion and getting her to accept new things in her mouth. It has been a learning curve, to say the least....
But there is still one more fourth step yet to go for Tommy, but he is getting there at a good pace. The final step will be a transition into a full bridle "finished" horse, with a solid shanked mouthpiece. It will probably take another year or two of work, but we'll get there.
Under the Oregon Horseman Association rules, a horse that is 6 years of age or older cannot be shown in a bosal or snaffle bit in an open class - (they are limited to entering only green horse classes). And I'm fairly sure that the Washington Horseman's Association rules are similar, but they have a lot more breed specific regulations thrown into the mix that I haven't taken the time to read just yet. So, with that said - we're getting prepared ahead of time to play by the rules. Next year is going to be interesting for the both of us. =:)