Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New gadget

First: update on that apartment. There is a train that runs basically through the backyard. At 4 a.m. Every morning. So, maybe not "anything" for my equines. But I did decide to keep an eye out for other apartments in the area. Down-sizing wouldn't be a bad idea after all.

Before we begin, I know there are some DQ's* following this blog, and based on the little amount that I know about dressage, I know you may not like this post that much. A brief digression into the "little that I know" about dressage. When I was in high school, I was the captain of our school's riding team. As captain, I was required to compete in at least one event in each discipline. So, I entered the lovely little mare that I was showing in the children's hunters in a few dressage shows that were hosted by our school. The poor thing. I can just imagine what went through her pretty little head: "Uh, where are the jumps? Don't tell me I am supposed to jump those little white things? Why am I the only horse in this hack? Another circle? Seriously? There's no one in front of us." I remember one test in particular which I thought was lovely but received rather thinly veiled insults from the judge. At one point, she told me that I needed to work on getting my mare to use her hind end more and reach under herself, which was true. So I agreed, and said I had been flatting her in draw reins once a week to help with that. The judge smiled up at me and said "Why don't you just give her a lobotomy?"

So, I've gotten the impression that dressage folks aren't too keen on our hunter/jumper tools and gadgets. Let me be careful to say that I do not agree with the program where a horse "lives in draw reins" or has so many complicated pieces of hardware on his face that he looks like Edward Scissor Pony. At some point, it just becomes counter-productive. But I do think gadgets have their place in a training program, when used with discretion and common sense. So... hopefully the DQ's won't turn away from your computers in horror, and may simply be wagging your fingers at me admonishingly or shaking your heads in pity... but here we go.

The bit we are currently using is called a double-jointed rotary. It looks like this:

The rotary link allows both sides to work independently of each other. You can purchase one at, which is one of my favorite online equine shopping destinations because they always have great sales and discounts (I am mildly infatuated with not paying full price for anything. I love the thrill). Tucker has a pretty soft mouth, but he tends to lock up on the left side through his jaw. The beauty of this bit is that for a horse like Tucker, somehow this bit keeps him more even on both sides and makes him stay soft regardless of which direction he is bent in. It also makes the transition smoother when he changes his bend. I'm not 100% sure why, but it works.

The gadget that I want to tell you all about today is one developed by Anne Kursinski, called the instant gag. It's available here, if anyone is interested. It works with your regular snaffle bridle, and gets attached to a second set of reins. Here's a close up of how it sits with Tucker's full cheek.

The biggest benefit I've found with the instant gag is that Tucker self-corrects. Since my snaffle rein is still attached, the gag rein really only comes into play when he tries to lean or (worse) root the reins out of my hands. He's typically good about contact, but sometimes it gets kind of hard keeping his extra long package together and he'll protest. The instant gag also works similar to a poll rein, in that if he tries to come above the contact, he feels pressure on his poll. This typically only happens when he's "stargazing" (to steal a phrase from Jeff Cook), but the instant gag gives him a nice reminder to come back down to earth.

What's great about the self-correction is that it avoids the overreaction to being corrected by the rider. The upside to having an over-acheiver is, well, he's an over-acheiver. He's a trier. Big time. The downside is that he's like a little kid that never gets yelled at, who burst into tears when he does. (I might have been that kind of child and I might have raised a horse that is exactly like me. But that's a whole nother can of worms better suited for a therapist to deal with than my trainer.)

So when Tucker roots the reins out of your hands, and you half halt to correct him, the head flies in the air, his body goes tense, panic ensues, and he generally gives you the "WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME??!?!?!" reaction. Poor guy. He so wants to be good. Such a sensitive soul. The great thing about the instant gag is he leans, feels pressure, comes back to where you want him. "Huh, I guess I shouldn't do that" instead of "OH DEAR LORD PLEASE DON'T HURT ME I DIDN'T MEAN IT I SWEAR." Calm down Tucker dear, please, just canter. There's a good boy. Mommy loves you. You can see how this is mildly amusing at first but becomes kind of terrifying in the middle of a five-stride line. We're working on getting him to just take a deep breath and get over himself. The biggest obstacle in the way of that goal is that I need to just take a deep breath and get over myself. This is not at easy as it sounds. As many of you know.

Anyway, I have ridden in the instant gag twice and I am loving the softness. It's also teaching me to be really soft with my hands to avoid him over-flexing at the poll, which is a really good thing.

*DQ = Dressage Queen, for the unequestrian reader. And it's not an insult, I mean it with love.


  1. Does this mean I have to start a blog about me and Boom? It would have been a lot more exciting if I had started it back in the days when he tried to kill me once a week lol. Love it so far! You (or is it Alicia) have great suggestions on equipment, I had never even heard of this instant gag before, passed right over it in the smartpak catalog thinking it was an eventing thing. Still want to try those layered reins you told me about too, you should post on those as well. Keep up the good work!

  2. hahaha...I have no beef with being a DQ...although I think I am much more of a princess then a queen :P As for bits...I do only use snaffle bits in some form for dressage. Gen was a loose ring with a french link, X was just a loose ring, and Texas is a loose ring with a fat link. However I have seen you ride many times and know that you are not abusive in any way or a short cut kind of a person. If it works go for it!

  3. I think that Tucker and Boom should schedule their trail ride soon, and then we can have a post about that! Maybe Texas can join us and then it can be a multi-blog gathering!

    And you're right I should definitely post on the layered reins!

  4. Oh... and the equipment suggestions are all Alicia. She just tells me about stuff and I say "Yeah go get that! Let's try it!" An upcoming post will involve an extra long ace bandage. Stay tuned....

  5. I've done combined training, and hunter/jumper and a lot of other things - my hunter mare has even worked cattle! I used to use a lot of gadgets of all types, and had lots of different bits (yours looks a lot like one I often use with a lozenge in the middle), but now I don't, for reasons that are too long to explain here. I'm happy to read of your horse life, even if I might not always do things exactly the same way you do. From the little I've read, you seem like a person with the interests of your horses at heart, and that's enough for me. Ride on!

  6. Thanks Kate! A hunter mare that works cattle -- she sounds great! I hope you keep reading and enjoy the blog.


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