July 16, 2019

Product Review: Comparison of Bombers Happy Tongue Loose Ring Curved/Straight Bits and Similar Shire's Bit

Let me preface this post by saying that I'm not a bitting expert.  I'm going to be able to show you some comparison photos and tell you in my own non-expert words how my horse went differently in each of these bits and that's it.  I could be totally wrong in some of the stuff I'm about to say.  But I have had a request for a comparison post, so let's do it!

Top: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Curved.  Middle: Shires knockoff.  Bottom: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Straight.

Shires Knockoff
Leah let me borrow this bit while I waited (and waited, and waited) for my clinic bit to arrive.  It has some similar features to the real thing, such as sweet iron, loose rings and a center port, but that's where the similarities end.  The mouthpiece is the same round diameter from end to end without the subtle carve-outs the Bombers bits have.

Connor did like this bit well enough, definitely better than his old bit (Neue Schule French link Baucher), but he also got his tongue over it once.  Additionally, given his low palate and thick tongue, I have to wonder if the non-flattened somewhat pointy port was poking him in the top of his mouth. 

The Shires mouthpiece is slightly oxidized here, which all of these bits will do if they're sitting around and not in use.  Bombers says to "lightly scour" the bit and rinse clean if that happens.

The port is almost as high as the Bomber bits, but because of the consistent round diameter of the Shire's, there's less room for his tongue under the port (as opposed to the Bombers, which you can see the top and sides of the port are flattened compared to the rest of the bit). 

I have a feeling if you have a horse with a smaller tongue and higher palate, this bit would work just fine.

Happy Tongue Loose Ring Curved
This is the "default" version of the Happy Tongue Loose Ring, and is the "less strong" version of the straight bit Connor preferred.  It's curved forward, so that if you lay this bit on a table, most of the bit doesn't make contact with the table.

It's the one in the center
When we tried this bit at the clinic, Connor reacted to it almost the same as his NS Baucher.  He wasn't quite as comfy and pliable as he was in the straight version, and the clinician saw it immediately.  My barnmate let me borrow it; she'd ridden her Arabian gelding in it at a show once and he had a "meltdown" - not sure if it was the bit's fault or not, but I got the impression she thought it was and she wouldn't be trying it again.

The brochure describes this bit as being "softer on the bars" and "slow to exert tongue pressure" just like my straight bit.  The difference is the curve, which put the front of the bit further down his tongue (toward the tip).

Top: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Standard (has forward curve).  Bottom: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Straight (does not have forward curve)

This bit was an improvement over the Shires, which was an improvement over the Baucher. We had some great rides in it, but he also did get his tongue over once - and I wonder if it's because of his short mouth + the forward curve.  More on that in the next section.

Happy Tongue Loose Ring Straight
This is the first Bombers bit I rode in at the clinic and the one I ended up buying.  He feels amazing in this bit, and hasn't even thought about getting his tongue over.  Whether that's because he physically can't with this bit or because he doesn't feel motivated to, I'm not sure.

The best way I can describe riding Connor in this bit is the contact just feels "comfy".  He does mouth this bit a lot, but not in a "tongue whipping out of his mouth" way like he does when he's uncomfortable.  He also is more willing to elevate his front end in it, especially at the canter, although I can feel him trying to scheme ways to get around this charming and helpful aspect of this bit.

The brochure I posted yesterday describes the straight as being "slightly stronger" than the curved version and "suits a horse with a short mouth," which Connor definitely has.  Which got me thinking...

Short mouth = the distance from the opening of his lips to the back of his lips

In the moment when he gets his tongue over the bit, it's absolutely because of my bad riding, but I wonder if the combination of the French links I've always ridden him in plus his short mouth made the evasion easy for him to start in the beginning, anatomically speaking.

Raising the bit a hole after he gets it over always puts an end to the problem for the day - what if that had everything to do with where the center of the bit sat in his mouth?  And what if that's also why he gets his tongue over in the curved but not the straight version of this bit, because it sits further up the tongue?

If that's the case, French links may never be an appropriate choice for his mouth anatomy, which is mind blowing to someone who always considered the French link loose ring to be the gold standard.  I'm not writing them off for him entirely, but it's giving me something to think about for sure.

July 15, 2019

New Bit is Here!

After six weeks of waiting, my new bit finally arrived on Friday!

Shame it won't stay this color blue forever
It's still amazing, although the instant forehand elevation he gave me at the clinic isn't quite as dramatic right now.  I have a feeling he's trying to figure out how to get around the new bit and me not letting him lean on me anymore now that my first instinct is to go to my core when he leans on me rather than my hands.  Turns out carrying your own head is, well, hard:

I don't normally do this in a review post, but the bit came with a very descriptive guide on the tag, describing the action my bit takes on the mouth and also quite a bit about Bombers bits in general, so I'm going to share that here in pictures.  Reminder that if you're reading this on RSS you may need to click through to my actual site for clear pictures.

My bit is the Happy Tongue Straight.  We tried the curved at the clinic and it was clear he went better in the straight.  I did end up borrowing the curved for three weeks from a barnmate though while waiting on my straight.

Coming soon - a comparison post between the Shires knockoff, the forward curved Happy Tongue Loose Ring and the straight Happy Tongue.

July 8, 2019

Tack Room Reorganization: Part 1

Since we moved into this barn, one of my only complaints has been the tack room.  When this place was a Western Pleasure barn, as it was originally designed to be, it functioned well, but now that a bunch of eventers have moved in and everyone has two or more complete sets of tack, well...

This is actually from before my barn moved in.  Picture a bridle explosion on the left and you have it, lol.
Western-style metal hooks were high quality but just not the right shape for English tack.

It's small, but that wasn't the problem: it's more that we aren't using the space efficiently.  So my barnmate and I asked our trainer if she'd let us go nuts on the tack room, and she said yes.  Barnmate is a Six Sigma ninja, and I thoroughly enjoy organization projects, so of course we've over thought this to death.

Still before everyone moved in

Her wish list:
  • Better strap goods organization
  • A place to store girths
  • A place to store helmets so that they can air dry rather than getting gross in our tack trunks (that's actually what started all of this)
My wish list:
  • Bridle racks wide enough to store everyone's anatomic crowned English bridles
  • A tack cleaning station
  • A saddle pad storage/drying solution
  • A bit storage solution
  • Better utilization of the space near the ceiling for long-term storage of things we don't use often
It's definitely a long term project, but yesterday we went to town on Phase 1.  First we cleaned out the tall cabinet and moved it out in favor of a short cabinet that will become a tack cleaning station. 

It was HOT in there!

We removed the existing strap goods racks and hung up 20 bridle racks to replace them.

We also put up helmet holders, so that our helmets can air dry in the open.  (This is about as dust-free of a tack room as I've ever seen, so that's not an issue).

Some of the smallest things we did made a big difference, like gaining an extra 5" of wall space by moving the saddle racks closer to each other and the wall.  They were originally placed for big Western saddles, but we don't need as much room to maneuver our saddles.

That was as far as we got on day 1!  Next up is rehanging the old bridle holders as strap goods holders around the corner from where these pictures are taken (the tack room is L shaped), creating some bit storage, organizing bottles/medicine, hanging girths and finishing the tack cleaning station.  Eventually we'll add those shelves by the ceiling too.

The only thing I don't know if we're going to be able to do is find a place to dry/store saddle pads, but I won't be too upset if we don't get that one done.  Gotta compromise with these small spaces sometimes!

July 4, 2019

Schockemohle-in-Progress Update

We're a month out from the clinic and parts of my clinic order have arrived.  (She did say it would take that long, which is fine)

That's not quite accurate.  The entire bridle has arrived, minus the reins, but the noseband arrived with a flash, so we're exchanging it for one without a flash, and rocking the western look in the meantime.

LOVE this crown design!  It lays so nicely over the top of the head.

I had hoped to replace the throatlatch with a smaller one, because he's on the last hole on both sides.  The throatlatch comes tagged and barcoded separately from the crown, albeit in the same bag, which made me think you could swap that part out, but sadly they don't sell them separately.  The horse crown is definitely the right size, so we'll deal.

Look how much room the little guy has for his ears, I'm so happy.

I'm going to do a proper review of it once I have the whole bridle, but even with all the hassle, I'm so happy with it.  Remember the whole reason I went down this bit/bridle fitting clinic path was because I knew the PS was too tight on his head, and then at the clinic I learned it was also resting on some sensitive nerves:

The properly fitted Schockemohle, compared to the PS, is practically loose over the top of his head. 

I'm not throwing PS under the bus here, I'm just saying mine wasn't the right size for him, and I don't think there was anything I could've done differently to get it sized correctly.  The straps are not sewn in the right place on the noseband for him on the cob, but the cob is already too big in diameter on the last hole, so the horse size wouldn't have worked either, even with a chin pad.  Bridle fitting is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more complicated than I ever realized.

Our temporary loaner bit
Finally, the bit hasn't arrived either, but a barnmate had almost the exact same Bombers bit lying around, just with a forward curve to it.  We rode in that one at the clinic and it wasn't as dramatically life changing as the straight version, but it's still better than the baucher for him.

Our real bit
It's nice to know our improvements lately have NOT been due to my tack changes, BUT it's also nice to realize how much more comfortable he is in this new setup.  There have been multiple times lately when I thought he got his tongue over the bit, to the point I actually stopped him to check, only to realize that the lightness and movement I felt in the reins was due to him softly mouthing the bit with a relaxed tongue.  He hasn't even thought about getting it over in any ride with either of the Bombers bits, and that's a ringing endorsement from Connor.

Happy, happy pony

July 3, 2019

Lesson Wrap-Up: Leg Yields

It's happening.  We have really turned a corner, and this stuff is sticking!  I mean literally, for the first time ever, I can see a future in which this horse does Third.  Like, we're not there yet, but the way I'm riding him now, it seems possible for the first time.

Connor: "Why is riding so much harder all of a sudden and also why is it this humid!"
I had my first lesson in a month last night and my trainer was just delighted, saying things like "This is what I always knew was in there!" and "You look so much more in sync with him" and "He looks like he's between your back and the reins more now" and "When you do it [leg yields in this case] right, it looks like you're dancing."

Dancing.  Leg yields.  Us!  Who knew!

I was excited to work on leg yields last night, because 1. ours have always been passable-not-great and 2. they're just hard enough to challenge me without being so hard that they threaten my ability to focus on my position.

Rolling with half of my new Schockemohle, long story

At first she identified that he was going sideways too much and that the rhythm broke down when there weren't enough forward steps.  She also identified that on the right rein LY'ing left he liked to swing his HQ to the outside, and in the opposite direction he tried to lead with his right (outside) shoulder in a big way.

On the right rein, she had me come around the corner thinking haunches in, and then contain him on the left until he had taken a few straight/HI steps before asking for the leg yield.  She also had me think about letting the left shoulder lead a bit instead of the HQ, which led to beautifully flowing LY's (for us).

To the left, my right thigh being off the saddle (and me sitting off to the left) was the whole cause of him darting out the right shoulder so heavily.  Just remembering to sit correctly and apply my right thigh made a huge difference here.

It was such a good ride.  I joked that I'm going for the Mary Wanless Most Improved Award at the October clinic (that I officially signed up for last week). That's not a thing, but it should be!