Tooling around

My philosophy when it comes to dressage and riding in general is pretty classical. I believe in creating a solid foundation of basics, and try to be disciplined in not skipping steps before progressing to the next thing. Sometimes my insistence on perfecting the basics of dressage holds me back from practicing new skills, but that’s another story for another time.

In general, I abhor tools that help riders cut corners. I’ll never be impressed by the horse that only goes ’round’ in side reins, or in an elevator bit. (Side story- when I first started riding Ivan I spent months retraining him in a snaffle, because his former trainer/consigner was trying to sell him as a 1st level horse in an elevator bit.) However, there are times when these ‘tools’ can find a place in a classically influenced program.

After many discussions with my dressage trainer, we decided to try riding Foster in draw reins to improve his canter transitions. Traditionally the weakest part of our tests, Foster loves earning 6’s by using his neck to pull himself into the transition, causing him to go momentarily hollow before coming back into the bridle. It’s been very hard to train out of him, because conformationally his underneck is a very big, strong muscle (though much smaller than it used to be). While he is not trying to be disobedient, I struggle physically with showing him how not to engage those muscles for balance. The use of draw reins in these transitions helps me maintain a round topline and connection, and I am quick to release and praise him, hopefully teaching him that this is the correct approach to transitions.

Coming back into the bridle

Coming back into the bridle

My last lesson was in draw reins, as I wanted a professional to watch the way I rode and confirm that I am using them in a correct way. I feel quite clumsy having so much in my hands, but I feel I’ve got the hang of it now. The plan is to ride in this way for 4 rides before taking them off, because obviously I don’t want to create dependency on them. This weekend was ride #2 in the reins, and I’m anxious to see how he goes in that first ride away from them.

Round canter is round

Round canter is round

Similarly in the jumping world, I have been exploring new bits. Generally I ride in a full cheek Waterford, which solved the issue of Foster’s bracing and rushing a couple years ago. Now that I feel like I have solid brakes, and need something with leverage to break the poll. I previously tried the Waterford Baucher, which made Foster break at the poll but also lowered his neck and sent him on the forehand. At the advice of my last lesson, we discussed a Wonder Bit, and I finally was able to try the below model yesterday.


Color me impressed- he was uphill, softer, and engaged, and I felt like I had good control without going overboard. I set up some fun jumps in the arena, including a faux (tarp) liverpool and fan oxer and played with bending lines and collection/lengthenings. Everything rode really well, and I’m hoping to repeat the experience and make sure it wasn’t just a fluke!

photo (8)

So overall, it’s been a weekend of experimenting and twinging our regular program to incorporate new tools.

11 thoughts on “Tooling around

  1. I totally support the tactful use of draw reins in dressage. There are points where they are the least combative way of showing the horse the right way to do something. And this is coming from someone who had to rehab her horse through his aversion to contact, bred by some previous overuse of draw reins.

  2. I agree with you, it’s better to do things ‘properly’ in the first instance, but there are times when you need to use extra aids to get to a stage where you don’t need them! I’m also looking at a new jumping bit because traditionally oscar runs through the shoulder into jumps – excited to read more about your experience with this one!

    • I’m looking forward to trying the bit again, for sure!

      My last horse did something like what you described to fences- one exercise we tried was leg yielding to the fence, so that they only have one straight stride to the center of the fence before they jump. Just a thought I had!

  3. i think tools are appropriate when used correctly. megan from ‘a enter spooking’ left an insightful comment on my post about a similar topic: “Here’s what I do with artificial aids that are illegal in the show ring: ride in it one day, then ride the next day without it. If the horse is better the following day without it, it works and you should use it on occasion/regularly to fix the problem, riding enough without it to not become dependent on it. If the horse is worse the following day, it’s a bandaid and you shouldn’t use it at all.”

    anyways good luck with the new stuff!

  4. I’m in the same boat as Austen- I’m pretty sure Chimi was ridden in draw reins incorrectly and it’s been a process teaching him that the bit is ok! Heck he gets praised for sticking his nose out 😉

    Susan had VT use a german martingale with Little Bit to help her understand roundness. As soon as Bitty understood the concept she was back in normal reins- sometimes you really do need help b/c they are so much bigger and stronger than we are!

    • Aww, Chimi! Gosh, so difficult when they have been taught to avoid contact- thankfully he’s in good hands now!

      And that’s really interesting regarding Little Bit- I didn’t know that!

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