Day 25 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Morning feeding: It was a fairly cool morning and many of the other horses were a bit rowdy, but Phil remained level headed and super polite.

Still very much a colt…..

I tacked Phil up. The “girthy” behavior has disappeared and bridling is a pleasure using the head down cue. I used a different bridle on Phil today. It was one of my custom made training bridles w/yacht braid reins and a sweet iron snaffle bit. Phil could not resist shaking the tassels (from the yacht braid reins) under his chin. The leather chin strap/bit hobble (used to prevent the snaffle from pulling through his mouth) and slobber straps were a new added weight/feel. We headed out on the trail and Phil shaking his head trying to grab the tassels was really annoying. About half of the colts I start under saddle find the tassels very fascinating. I did not correct Phil and just held the reins steady so I would not teach him that when he jerks his head he gets a release from me when I lose the reins. The lesson was on me today. I had to remain cool and stay focused on a steady grip on the reins. When Phil jerked the reins to flip the tassels I held steadfast and let him bump against himself. It is a human reaction to jerk the reins back from your horse; instead train yourself to let your horse bump against himself. Previously, I noticed Phil had a hard mouth/face in the bridle. I wanted to work on flexion, but clearly this was not the time when Phil was in “colt mode.” When we returned home we went to the round pen. His focus was better in the round pen. I did a lot of flex and release to soften up his neck and work on softening his mouth. He softened faster and faster. He even would soften, bend and stay in position until I rubbed his nose. His head was low and relaxed. He easily gave me his nose, but he was stiff through the shoulder and he didn’t offer his face. This is ok, celebrate the little victories.

Note: I refuse to bit up a horse to get a quicker response. I feel that this is just like sticking a band aid on a sucking chest wound. I feel if a restraining device is the chosen method to get the desired results then most likely there is a HOLE in your horse’s education or yours. Instead of using tie downs, martingales, torture bits, etc. I’ll go back to ground work and try to figure out where I went wrong with my teaching. I know everyone is anxious to “work their horse on the bit” (I say this loosely) and it is tempting to rig up a martingale, but the reality is once the martingale is off your horse’s head pops back up and his back is hollow again. A long term strategy would be to slowly build your horse’s top line, promise him you’ll stay out of his mouth and ride with soft hands, ride with an independent seat, and teach him to reach for a release with vertical flexion. The goal with my lesson today was to ask Phil to become soft in the bridle and “give me his face” with only 2 fingertips pressure or less than 2 ounces.

I had a different halter on Phil. This particular halter has a lot of adjustments and rings under the chin for the lead that make noise. Phil stood on cross ties shaking his head and making all kinds of noise with the rings. He was driving me crazy, but I chose not to fight this battle; he was not misbehaving in my book in any way. The halter kept him busy while I cleaned his sheath, so it all worked out.

Head shaking: I do want to mention head shaking. This was something that Phil’s previous owner commented about to Elizabeth. Young colts will typically chomp on the bit, shake their heads, travel with their heads cocked to the side, and even travel in zig zag lines. This is completely normal. If you ignore it you’ll find within weeks these behaviors disappear. Just do not let your horse yank the reins from you. Hold steady and let your horse bump himself. If the behavior worsens and is accompanied by crow hopping, bucking, ducking, bolting, etc. you may want to check tack fit. You may also want to rule out any health issues or rider inadequacies.

Evening feeding: During feeding I was catching up on chores. Every time I entered Phil’s pen he acknowledged me with “two eyes.” This is wonderful!

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