Wednesday, December 26

Isn't that harsh?

If you've been around horses long enough, there's a good chance you've been questioned on your choice in equipment at some point. For those who are not familiar, whips, spurs, and bits can seem like torture devices; and they can be, when used improperly. However, when coupled with correct training, these are valuable tools for refining communication with our horse. One piece of equipment that's particularly scary looking is the spade bit. With its straight mouthpiece, high port, and braces, it certainly looks intimidating!

Spade bit with braces. Source

I compare the spade bit to a pair of tall stiletto heels. The average person should not wear them. It takes practice and strong ankles to avoid a disaster, but someone who can pull them off, WOW! A spade bit is not for the inexperienced horse or rider. It is not a means of controlling the horse. The spade bit is a finely tuned communication tool. It takes years of training and a rider with soft cues to use a spade bit properly.

A spade bit is considered a signal bit, as the horse feels the bit begin to rotate in their mouth, they know to collect up and prepare for the riders coming cue. This is different from a snaffle bit, which is used to actually move the horses head and neck in order to show them what the rider wants. If a horse needs guidance on how to position their body, they are not ready to be ridden in a spade bit. It's also different from a curb bit which uses leverage to communicate the posture that the rider would like the horse to take. For some excellent photos and a more in depth explanation of spade bits check out this article by Mark Bridges.  These bits were used originally by cowboys spending long hours working from horseback. Their work required the horse to be easily guided with very little movement from the rider's hands. Here's a video of a bridle horse in training. He is being ridden in the 2 rein. He still has a small bosal hackamore in addition to carrying and receiving signals from the spade bit.

This is another great video showing the mechanics of the spade and explaining a little more about its function.

Hopefully this information has helped you better understand a piece of tack that is commonly misunderstood. I know I learned a lot :)

Monday, December 24

To Help or Not To Help

I have a truck. I drive it from A to B. I love my truck and try to care for it properly. However, I do not know much about care beyond putting in gas, checking oil and tire pressure, and which noises mean get it to the mechanic ASAP. I'd say my knowledge of cars is about the average horse owner's knowledge of horses. In general, they can accomplish basic care, but on occasion, they may miss something very big and important. When someone tells me something about my truck, I am always receptive and grateful. After all, I love my truck, and I can't afford a new one. Why then, are so many horse owners less than receptive to advice regarding their big furry pets?

A friend of mine relayed a story that illustrates my point. She was out at the barn on a windy, chilly day. Walking past one of the saddling areas, she noticed a horse secured in the crossties by the bit. She felt obligated to let the owner know the potential damage that could be done to her horse, and, rather than being thanked, was given a less than polite response to the effect of, "mind your own business".

This owner may or may not have known the risks she was taking. Should her horse move and feel the pressure from the crossties on his bit, he could flip over, break his bridle or jaw, or even sever his tongue. Maybe these risks to her horse were worth it, but did she think of the risk to others? What if he did break the crossties and go bolting across the property? What if he spooked a young horse in the nearby arena? What if his panic caused another horse to run through a fence and get injured?

In my training to be a riding instructor, we discussed liability issues at length. In Washington state, horseback riding is considered an inherent risk activity. By engaging in activities on or around horses, you are acknowledging the fact that horses are big dangerous animals and that you could be hurt by one through no fault of anyone. However, if someone is negligent, they are no longer protected by inherent risk.  The gal teaching the class explained negligent behavior  like this, if you can foresee a problem and you choose to continue the same course of action, you have accepted liability for your actions. So, the question is, was my friend out of line to say something? In my opinion, she would have been negligent not to. Even though it was not well received, she did the right thing.

Around the barn, we often receive unsolicited advice. Some is helpful, but most of it is somebody's personal opinion and may or may not even apply to the situation at hand. So, when to help and when not? I try not to butt in with my two cents unless it would be negligent not to. This means many times, I leave the area cringing and biting my tongue. Sometimes, I'll ask the person if they'd like a tip from my experience. Coming from this angle lets the person decide whether or not they have to hear my opinion, and, oftentimes, it makes it easier for them to receive what I have to say. Seriously, nobody wants to feel like they have been doing the wrong thing with their horse. Just like a parent doesn't want unsolicited advice on how to raise their child.

On the flip side, I always say yes when somebody asks if they can give me a tip. After all, their experience is different than mine. What if they hold the key to the problem I have been struggling with? Yes, it's hard for my ego; I don't like to feel as if I don't know everything, but it's ridiculous to act as though I do. Also yes, often the advice is completely useless to me; either I've already tried it, it doesn't actually apply to my problem, or I've chosen not to employ that method for any number of reasons, but this knowledge is still useful to have. I'll put it in my toolbox for a different situation, thank the person, and move on. Next time you feel your defenses coming up, remember, we're all just fumbling along in this pursuit together.