Thursday, December 6, 2018

Kavalkade Bridle Review

Eyes off the mud, friends. We're focused on the bridle here. The bridle, and the cuteness. Always the cuteness.
This summer I purchased the Kavalkade Isabella Bridle. I had been searching high and low for a vendor of monocrown drop nosebands, to no avail. Giving up, I decided this monocrown drop noseband bridle was a similar cost to a custom noseband and pulled the trigger. What follows is a history of the ways I've used this bridle and a scattered review of its qualities.

To start, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the bridle out of the box.
New tack is always so exciting!
The leather wasn't as plastic-y as I had assumed it would be. In fact, Kavalkade impressed me with how nice this bridle really is for the money. It has a lot of features found in far more expensive models these days, including padding on the crown and noseband and a slight anatomical cutout around the ears. It also comes with reins, which I did not actually plan to use.

Like a kid playing with the box instead of the toy, I found the velcro keepers wrapped around the bridle the best part of the whole thing. I've actually used them a ton to keep my double bridle from tangling with the other strap goods on my bridle rack. Maybe don't buy this bridle for them, but they are really handy, so don't throw them away either!
Padded cutout monocrown and uber fancy browband.
Many of Kavalkade's bridles seem to come with some kind of over-the-top bling browband, and this was no exception. I did like how narrow the browband was, as well as the deep curve to it. Honestly I figured it would look good on both my horses and didn't mind it. (#bringonthebling) I do find I don't like the stainless steel keepers on the bridle, however. They make the whole thing feel much too busy in my mind.

My initial plan was to pull the drop noseband off this bridle and put it on Bast's Eponia bridle. I would then put the plain caveson on the Kavalkade and it would become Pig's new snaffle bridle. Until this point I'd been riding him in the double or his old Frankenbridle. I figured he'd appreciate having something new to himself.
It fits the orange boy!
I was pleased with how well the Kavalkade fit Pig from the start. The leather seemed to break in well, and didn't rub his ears. Plus the browband made him look very classy.
Soooo classy.
The buckles on the drop were a bit too narrow for the Eponia straps, but I made them work without damaging anything. Evaluating the fit of the drop on Bast was initially quite difficult because of how stiff the noseband was right out of the box.
I think it's maybe too wide over his nose? Or something. Basically it sits weird.
After adjusting it somewhat to my liking I took Bast for a spin in it. As he was just coming back to work, I had no comparison between the Eponia flash and the drop. He seemed to accept it better than the Micklem I had tried last fall, however. I left it on the bridle in hopes it would help him figure out how to better accept the hand.

Then we went to a show and I put the nicer looking Eponia flash noseband on the bridle again. No one needs that many clashing metals and styles in their photos, after all. I noticed no real difference in Bast with the flash vs the drop, so I left the flash on the bridle and continued his schooling as normal.

Until...
RIP cheekpieces...
Bast accidentally tangled his reins around his leg while walking out of the ring one night, and both cheek pieces on my Eponia snapped right at the buckle. I was really devastated by the loss, as all the buckles on the Eponia are rose gold and therefore impossible to match. (Eponia is looking for a set for me as we speak, and hopefully can ship them to me soon!)

Down a bridle, I thanked myself for hoarding them. Quickly I reassembled the Kavalkade with its original setup and fit it for Bast.
Not a bad fit here, either!
Somewhere in the last year, Bast's face has lengthened. This isn't surprising as his teeth had yet to all come in when I bought him. Thankfully, now he and Pig use just about the same holes on their bridles. This means very minimal adjustments are required to have them swap bridles! The bridle fit quickly and nicely.
Drop noseband doing its job, and not looking too ugly.
After riding in the whole setup for just over a month, I'm pretty happy. I see some minor fit issues that could be addressed. The noseband could use less width over the actual nose. I plan to bring it up a hole, which may address this or may interfere too much with my snaffle. The keepers on the noseband like to slip off, which drives me nuts as the ends flap in the wind. Also the noseband strap comes perilously close to Bast's eye.
Note: Raised the noseband up since writing this and am much happier with the fit. However, straps are still super close to his eyes.
This is common with most drops, but can be mitigated with the fit over the nose. I'm not really sure yet how to fix this issue, but Bast doesn't seem too concerned by it for now.
Ugh. Strap so close to his eye, and keeper undone AGAIN.
For close to $130, this bridle was overall a win. It doesn't look cheap. The leather is stiffer than some, but feels like it should hold up to quite a bit of abuse. While busy, it's not an ugly bridle. I do enjoy the lack of bulk behind the ears and the ease of cleaning, though.

If you're in the market for a less expensive monocrown drop option (and there are not many!), I can recommend this bridle. I may continue to school in the drop even if I get the Eponia cheek pieces. I feel like it's such a helpful tool with a young horse learning about contact. I can feel how much he's improved and begun responding to my hand over the last month. Once he's educated we can go back to the plain or flash noseband instead.
The unicorn approves of this bridle. And Liz, I suppose. ;)
Have you ever used a drop on your horse before? I put one on Pig for many years before he was ready to go into the plain caveson and the double bridle. It proved very useful when it came to steadying the bit in his sensitive mouth. As I said, I think they're more useful and educational for a young horse than a flimsy flash. So let me know of your experiences with a drop below!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Galloping Gals and Thunderous Thoroughbreds

I love alliteration... and this cranky old horse.
When I pictured Pig's retirement, I never thought he would immediately find himself an old man out to pasture. Unfortunately this is exactly where he is today, due to a combination of his mental and physical issues and my lack of time. Thankfully a year of full retirement seems to have settled him into his new way of life.

He comes strolling up to me in the pasture with a happy look on his face. The fact that I dutifully bring him in and feed him probably helps keep this adorable and useful habit going. His bump-life has continued unabated. It horrifies my barn manager to see how many cuts and scrapes this horse can accumulate in a single week. He may or may not have given himself a bruised cannon bone and a splint this year. Who even knows how he does these things. As he's retired now, the only thing I care about is functional soundness and his mental joy. It's almost enjoyable to treat his bumps and scrapes and laugh about his accident prone self now that his soundness isn't as important.
Don't have to be particularly sound to take this dog and I on a walk!
Speaking of soundness, I've decided Pig only has a few gaits left to him. He can walk, stiffly. He can do a slow balanced canter. And he can gallop. We won't talk about the trot. I like to pretend he's gaited, though Liz generously reminded me that "Lame isn't a gait, Austen."
Looks like a gait to me, Liz!
It's amazing to me how quickly the old man lost his soundness once I stopped riding him daily. His joints have stiffened up a ton, and he takes forever to warm out of his starting hitches. I don't actually ride him that much, and then mostly at the walk. He'll definitely never make the lower-level dressage schoolmaster I'd hoped he would be, but he does have one job he can do.

After listening to friends detail fear of galloping, throwing Jan on Pig this summer, and using the old man to mitigate my own baggage from Bast's bolting, I realized Pig's true calling in life. Introducing: Guinness, Senior Manager of Gallop Confidence Instillation.
He clearly loves his new job.
Basically, he's the world's best galloping schoolmaster.

I tested out his new calling during a recent visit with Liz. I knew she had some reservations about going fast, especially on a horse who both is fast and unfamiliar. Because of that, I warmed him up for her and we started in the ring. I wanted her to get comfortable with him and get used to the double bridle. (Note: He's in the double because right now I'm down to just that and Bast's snaffle. Whoops.)

She giggled her way around the ring, but when I asked her to go fast her reservations became obvious.
So did her need for shorter stirrups, haha!
Having seen Pig throw some of his patented "Pig Tantrums" in the past, Liz was understandably worried he might wriggle too much under her. I assured her that galloping is literally his favorite thing on earth and he will not throw a tantrum while doing it, unless you yank on the reins. I then reminded her that he's quite old and stiff, and his tantrums aren't what they used to be. Being the scientist she is, Liz tested this.
Literally the extent of Pig's "bucking". God I love this horse.
Once we got his reactions sorted out and her stirrups shortened, we headed out to do some more realistic galloping outside the ring. As we did, I outlined the steps to a more confident gallop on this particular horse.
Step 1. Reach up and grab mane.
Step 2. Lean forward.
Step 3. Close your leg and hold on.
Step 4. Stop him by standing up and closing your hand.

Yeah, folks. He's literally that easy. Liz started her first pass with a look of utter terror on her face, but within 3 strides that look had transformed to one of utter joy. Check it out...
Their faces make me so happy! So does her hand clutching mane for dear life, haha.
Once Liz figured out that Pig is basically the master of both go and stop, I could see her start to loosen up and enjoy things even more. Pig started really digging in and taking off at the start of each pass, and Liz just embraced it.
What is it about going fast on a good horse that is so very much fun? Can we bottle it or something?
They were both having such a blast, I just let them keep going and going and going. Even after several gallop passes, Pig was barely breathing hard. He's such a fit beast. I swear to god his cardiovascular fitness is legendary.
"This is my only joy in life. It is not hard for me." -- Pig, probably.
I kept snapping photos of the pair, caught up in their happiness. Then in the final gallop pass, Liz did what was unthinkable earlier in the day. She raised her arms in the air and took her hand off the reins!
Another happy customer! Feel that gallop confidence!
The whole experience of seeing a friend find the same joy this horse has given me over the years was incredibly priceless. I've always been so thankful for his gentle control in the wildest of gallops. Going fast has been his and my happy place for so many long years, and it has felt like something I could not share with others until now. I'm so happy to know he's able to still enjoy going for fun runs in the field, and that I can put friends on his back to feel that same infectious joy.

For more fun (and photos!!), please go check out Liz's post on the adventure.

I want to challenge all of you to get out there this weekend and find your own horse-related joy. That might be galloping on your very own good horse, spending some quality time, or perfecting that lateral movement. In any case, share with me what your favorite things to do with your horse are, and whether you've ever been able to share that with another. (And to anyone out there who needs a good dose of gallop confidence, Pig is currently accepting customer applications.)
Get out there and find your happy place!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Move Those Green Shoulders!

Trainer: "Why don't you think about trying a little shoulder in with him?"
Me: "Hold my beer..."
I love lateral work!
If there's one thing I've realized I'm pretty good at in the dressage training world, it's lateral work. It helps that both my horses are short coupled and ride like little sports cars. Still, something about lateral work just clicks in my head.

Pig and I spent a lot of time hashing out the shoulder-in. Neither he nor I took to the work all that naturally and spent hours and hours figuring it out. That stubborn old red horse built up my toolbox to an incredible degree, making training Bast that much easier.
Thanks best friend, for making me love shoulder in and half pass so damn much.
Since day one, Bast's training has been focused on moving parts of his body individually. Plus my own strengths are in moving the shoulders. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that when I asked Bast for shoulder in during a recent lesson he easily figured out what I was asking and made several solid attempts.

Going to the right things were relatively easy to start. However, in the way of green horses, going to the left was a total different experience.
Can you see how shoulder in helps build strength for collection in the hind end?
To the right, I simply sat up, put my outside hip towards the inside shoulder, turned my upper body very slightly to the inside, and put my inside leg on to hold the bend and straightness. We wobbled for a few steps before Bast dropped in his hind end and really figured out where all his parts should go. I tested him several times by giving the inside rein, and he stayed within the box my body defined for him and on my outside rein. Magic!

To the left I repeated the aids. Only instead of shifting his shoulder over and sitting behind, Bast responded by stiffening to the outside rein and blasting forward into canter off my inside leg. Uh. Whoops.
The look on my face says it all. "Hey man. This is not remotely the shoulder in I asked for. Wtf are you thinking?"
I've finally realized the issue stems from Bast not knowing how to bend and sit on his right hind when it's on the outside. Honestly the issue has shown up in all our work, but the shoulder in question makes it much more apparent.

Slowing down the movement makes it much easier for his brain to handle, so I brought him back to a walk and worked there for awhile. Once he had the idea I asked again with good results.
"Oh! Like this?" -- Bast, probably
He's still not even on both sides, but he's coming along. We worked on some turns on the forehand off the left leg recently that required him to slow down and think about placement and weigh bearing on that right hind. I think those exercises will prove very helpful moving forward with the little guy.

I've found this horse to be such a trier. My goal in training him to keep from overwhelming him, and instead do my best to equip him with all the tools necessary to do what I ask. Keeping things easy and positive seems to be the key to having him enjoy his work and keep thinking and offering answers.
Good boy.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Saturday Snippets: Vol 2

Whee!
This week, I go for another fun "Saturday Snippet". This one harkens back to September of this year, on a visit with Jan. I put Jan on Pig, and myself on Bast. We headed out into the field to both enjoy a ride in the cooler shade of the upper pasture, and to get some fun video and photos of Bast galloping under saddle like a pro.

The fact that it was about 900 thousand degrees outside probably helped me get Bast galloping without too many losses of control. The hills probably helped, too.
But honestly he's just been so much more solid since recovering from his ulcers. Even when he does bolt, he's easily brought back and put into work. He's even so much better, I've contemplating teaching him some eventing!
First XC jump!
I did do a lot of work out in the field before Jan came out, though. I needed to make sure Bast would be sane. He impressed me from day one. For a reformed bolter with separation anxiety issues, this is a huge accomplishment!
Seriously just the best little horse.
But, of course. I had to make Jan go galloping, too!
Go Pig and Jan!
Can we talk about how awesome my baby horse is doing? Jan canters away on Pig, leaving Bast alone. The only thing he does is wiggle a bit. Absolutely no tantrum throwing. Again, the heat of the day probably helped, but I was so tickled!
#gogalloping #withasterid

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Saturday Snippets Vol 1

I have all these video snippets from the last few months, but haven't posted them for some reason or another. I'm trying to rectify that, so I'm scheduling out some random Saturday posts where I just fill up your blogosphere with gifs and video clips. Let me know if you guys enjoy!

Back in May, I was spending a lot of time teaching Bast and Pig to pony with minimal drama. My barn mates found this work hilarious, heckling me at all opportunities. My friend Eddie set about videoing my attempt at trotting with both for the first time, complete with hilarious commentary.

Volume on for this video!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Flashback Friday: Trot Evolution

I'm all about that bass trot. We gon' take it to a whole another level...
It's been a year and 2+ months since I brought Bast home, and a year and 3 months since his last race. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment today to look at how his training has changed him, with a special focus on his trot. Let's start from the beginning now...

September 2017
First week of retraining. 
Bast's trot has always been his best gait. He's overtracked nicely since the beginning and had an uphill balance. Hard to see when his head and neck are extended like a giraffe trying to reach a topmost branch and his mouth gapes like a fish out of water. Understandable if it wasn't obvious then. At this point in his training, his biggest issues were a complete lack of a half halt and a tendency to brace his whole front end against me, pulling me right out of the saddle.

Cool.

Early October 2017
1 month into retraining
After a month under saddle, Bast was starting to figure a few things out. He had the start of a half halt, when paying attention. He still pulled against me, but less often. He had no concept of pushing into the bridle. When touching the bit, he mouthed the bit to an absurd level.

He was starting to elevate his steps already. Unfortunately he was also developing a hell of a bolting problem, which made me defensive and him a ball of nervous energy. Good moments were good, bad moments were common.

Early November 2017
Lovely balanced working trot.
Developing push from behind.
Beginning to learn "stretch".
Two months into retraining, and I was in love with Bast's good moments. He was starting to figure out how to accept my leg (when not bolting from it) and figuring out contact enough to start to stretch. His mouth was still open a lot, but he seemed content to work on pushing into a bit a little. Because of these things, I was able to start working on the concept of loading his hind legs more and asking him to push. He was still very wiggly, and lacked basic control of his parts.

Improving.

February 2018
5 months into retraining.
Behind the bit.
Behind the leg.
By February we were still struggling with Bast's issues. He swung violently from one extreme to the other. For example, during this ride he bolted and sliding stopped into a fence. He also put in super work in the ring. Volatile was the name of the game, and training was falling by the wayside.

With all this difficulty, Bast's outlines veered between either behind the bit or behind the leg. Thankfully he is rarely both (I'm looking at you, Pig!). As long as he wasn't trying to actively kill me, I was kinda fine with both.

March 2018
6 months into retraining.
God he was so good on this day.
On the bit, losing the hind leg and back.
The above photos were taken the same day Bast sprang a splint on the outside of his front right. This injury was more devastating because his attitude had seemed to settle in the previous few weeks. He was so good, and was learning to push into the bridle. I had stopped being a bit afraid of him, and things were progressing. He wanted to be behind the vertical, but was still pushing from behind very well and not completely escaping the bit. Behind the vertical felt like a young-horse appropriate strength issue. When he would come "on the bit" he tended to drop his back and lose the power behind. All of this is normal and just takes time and work to develop. I was so ready to tackle it, but he required time off for the injury.

Early April 2018
7 months into retraining.
Bast came back from his splint at exactly the same training point where he left. I was thrilled. For a full week we kept hacking away at his "on the bit" "on the leg" connection. As this photo shows, we were starting to get there.

A few days later he t-rex'd right through a pasture fence and everything came screeching to a halt. Ugh.

Late May 2018
8 months into retraining
Pushed beyond his natural pace, but engaged!
Ugh. Rooting. Still in front of his balance.
Bast finally came back to work in May. Having mostly recovered from his fence attack bruising, moved facilities, and nearly completed ulcer medication, he was a different horse. He had also lost quite a bit of strength and needed to back up a bit in training.

I made the mistake of allowing him to motor along at an overly fast tempo, for the sake of engagement. While it helped me establish contact with the bit, it did not help him develop balance or confidence in bend. Oops. He often lost his balance forward, due to being pushed past his gait. This resulted in a lot of rooting and pulling. For a horse with a short neck, this is a big no-no.

August 2018
11 months in retraining.
Tempo too fast. Braced in neck.
Overbent. On forehand. Starting to lose right shoulder.
Some magical combination of nearly all the above faults in one photo. At least he's not overbent?
While show photos aren't exactly representative of where we were in August, they're what I have and what I'm going to show you! If you'd like, imagine Bast about 70% less tense over his topline and you have an approximation of what things were like at home.

August was the month Bast really started getting put to work again. I was once again introducing him to the idea of "being in a box," like I had been in April. Only now I was using a slightly different tactic, and not worried about his bolting into the next county. As a result we were actually going somewhere.

Bast is clever and short in the neck, so he quickly figured out he could use his neck and shoulder to weasel his way out of the box. When pushed more forward than he should be going, Bast was easier to ride straight. But again, this was not helping his confidence. Slowing things down made him less likely to feel out of balance. The road toward straightness was starting to feel very long indeed. He bulged and wavered at every chance.

September 2018
1 year in retraining
This photo is really representative of what I was working with for much of September. Bast was learning to accept my leg, and not run through my hand. This resulted in a lot of behind the vertical, but also a lot of dropped shoulders. Nothing to do here but stick to the plan and insist on forward activity from my leg.

October 2018
1 year + 1 month in retraining.
Straightness and engagement. Behind the vertical.
More in front of vertical, but shoulder completely lost and tempo too fast. Also, why am I pulling on that inside rein? Ugh.
Coming back to work in October after a week off, Bast and I were not seeing eye to eye on straightness. He was getting very wiggly in the shoulder, and nothing I was doing (mostly pulling on the inside rein, go figure) was working. Trainer set me up with a lot of exercises to remind him to listen to my seat, and this helped a ton. Still, we continued to lose the shoulders a lot all month. This was especially apparently when his tempo got fast or we went to canter depart.

His mouth started to become a lot quieter.

November 2018
Oh. Hell. Yes. Er, I mean... 1 year + 2 months into retraining.
Forward. Balanced. Straight. In the contact. Over the back.
(Also tense in topline, a bit in front of his balance/downhill, and thinking about bulging through his left shoulder.)
By the start of November, the hard work was paying off. I was able to corral most of Bast's squirrely tendencies. I was starting to be able to catch his shoulders well enough to recycle the energy back into his wayward hind legs. We'd identified in September and October that most of his crooked issues stemmed from unequal push in his hind end. This made sense with his fence injuries earlier in the year, but it was time to really address these strength issues head on.

The change to the new saddle later in the month made his trot even better. In fact, he's become so much more confident now that my position isn't so tense and grabby. His topline tension has dropped considerably, and he now steps nicely into the canter about 80% of the time! We've been playing with bits of collection and shoulder-in, too. I can't wait to see what the next year of training does to the trot!