Day 31 – Phil’s Courage’s Journal

Tacked Phil up only today I used a haltermore. A haltermore is a rope halter made into a bridle only there is no bit. It does not use poll pressure like the bitless bridles that can create dangerous habits such as rearing in uneducated hands. The noseband is wrapped so it doesn’t have the “bite” of the rope halter. I had this custom made with a 22 foot mecate. I use this to start the colts, so there isn’t any worry about a bit in the mouth. I also like the mecate available so I can dismount and do ground work if I need to work through a situation from the ground. Phil has a hard mouth, so I hope to soften him by creating a trust that I’m going to stay out of his mouth. I can easily see OTTBs developing hard mouths since the horse balances himself on his jockey’s hands. A horse with a soft mouth is very important to me. He has done fairly well with my soft hands, but I wanted to see if I could get more relaxation, a lowered head, and rounded back without the worry of the bit. Since Phil has had 30 days of ground work he is familiar with pressure/release, so the haltermore will not be that difficult for him to figure out. Many clients always ask “Aren’t you worried your horse is going to run away from you without a bit?” The answer is no. If I have done my homework correctly my horse has enough respect for me that running away is not an option. I have also built in “spook in place” and I have the ability to disengage the hindquarters at any time. Any horse can be ridden without a bit or bridle if you have put in the time on the ground properly. I did some ground work and worked Phil through his transitions in the round pen. When I felt he was focused I mounted and started with flexion.

More colt behavior. I am asking Phil to flex further and further. I am now asking him to flex to my toe. He still is only flexing at the neck and hasn’t given me his shoulder yet. This will come as he becomes conditioned. Phil took this as an invitation to grab my toe with his lips. I returned with a quick jab of my toe to his mouth. I did not hurt him, I just made him uncomfortable. Many people think this game is cute until their horse takes the game a little too far and bites their foot. It is best to discourage this behavior on the first attempt. Make sure you do hit your target or it does become a game to your horse if you miss his nose. He will be quicker and smarter than you next time. It only took one discouraging jab on each side and Phil got back to business.

I navigated Phil in figure eights again. This time the turns had to be tighter since we were in the round pen. I also had loose horses around the pen which is a good test to see if Phil was going to focus on me or the other horses. Phil stayed focused on me which shows I have made great progress developing myself as Phil’s Alpha. No impulsion issues, no focus issues…..time to stop. I dismounted, loosened the cinch and let Phil relax in the shade as he was ground tied.