Thursday, March 3, 2011

watching the detectives "ooh, he's so cute"

I bought these halters from Pinkston's Turf Goods for the horses in January. They each have a brass nameplate with copper rivets.  I really like them, although I thought they were a little heavy for the sweet, tiny Foggy head, so I had them make me a custom one for him with thinner, lighter leather.  Everyone here laughed at me.  It ends up that he is doing fine in the one that is 7 ounces "heavier" as well as the light one.  Our horses are only in their halters when we are leading them or grazing or tacking up.  The rest of the time they are nakie boys.  I also bought the fleece sets for the halters in hunter green.  

I mention the halters, specifically, because yesterday I ended up riding Sovey all over our farm in just his halter.  This was not my original plan, but after some serious detective work, it became apparent to me that Sovey might not like his bitless bridle.

I spend much of my time striving to make Sovereign happy and yet his preferences still remain a mystery. I am going to have a traveling equine dentist visit us this spring to start the process of ruling out physical problems. I am keeping my eyes open looking for ulcer symptoms and/or anything else that might be happening. I know Foggy's introduction is a change, but Sovey's attitude is very similar to what it always has been - unpredictable.   

The last few rides on Sovey I have ridden bareback.  This is because I thought the saddle and girth might be hurting him. This is my third spring with him and when he is shedding, he is extremely sensitive to the touch.  I don't know if his hair tickles him or if something else is going on, but I decided that the saddle pad, saddle and girth might not be so great.  

He told me in no uncertain terms that I was wrong about that guess. I should have noticed when I was tacking up last week. He stood perfectly for the saddle, but made faces when I came out with the bridle. It didn't register that it was the bridle.

Yesterday, I got on bareback and started out south. Sovey would not cross the driveway to go.  He planted himself and light squeezing only caused him to plaster his ears and make a horrid face. I still thought it was his sides or back or something around the saddle area. I hopped off and encouraged him to walk down toward the farmhouse with me. He was angry and reluctant. I wondered, do horses get headaches?  That is what he reminded me of - me with a headache.  

We have these Kentucky Derby glasses from last year.  Every time Brian uses them he holds it up and says, "Sovey" because this is what he looks like when he is mad.  There are many things that causes this face but I usually see it when I am not understanding something he is trying to "tell" me. Sovereign is an excellent communicator. In the people world, I fashion myself to be a little like my hero, Nancy Drew. I think I am so perceptive. Ha! Sovereign would tell you otherwise. We spend much of our time together with him telling me "Timmy's in the well".  It takes me so long to figure out who is Timmy, and where is the well. Most of his conversations are not about pain. For example, he "told" me I left a gate to the far pasture shut the other day by walking down there and repeatedly pointing to it with his muzzle. He also "told" me that I forgot to fill his snack bucket (I had!) in the paddock when I rode Pie on Tuesday by uncharacteristically nickering softly. If I ask him to, he kindly moves the horses around for me so I can open gates. The first year he was with us, he clearly showed me that he would rather stand in the forebay for tacking.

So yesterday, I was having a tough time deciding what was bothering him. The farmhouse just had a water line dug and the dirt-filled trench has been making him nervous. I thought it was a good opportunity, since I was on the ground anyway at this point, to work through that fear.  He was excellent about it and we successfully conquered the trench and the new fire pit at the farmhouse.  Still, though, he was mad.

I re-mounted bareback and attempted to go east.  Nope.  More ear pinning.  He walked around the paddock and then would not take another step.  I was really confused because it was so uncharacteristic of him to balk, so I slid off, slipped the bridle off, and turned him out in the big pasture so I could think.  

Just then, I remembered how he made an ugly face when I brought the bridle out of the tackroom.  I decided that I would try to tack up with a saddle and only ride in a halter.  If he still was acting unusual, I would quit and get the vet to check him out.

I tacked him up with the saddle only and hooked two thin nylon leads to his halter.  I got on and asked him to go south toward the farmhouse.  Happy, forward ears!  He walked down there and over the trench.  Good boy!  He walked up and around and toward the turnpike.  We meandered down this way and that.  He was happy and sweet.  We walked all around the perimeter.  When he wanted to go in a direction different than I did, I circled him until he went my way. More "Good Boy" pats. Squeezing did not cause any ear pinning. The wind had picked up and it went through my brain for a split second that I had lost my mind.  What the heck was I doing out here in this crazy bad wind on him in just a halter?  I immediately let go of that thought because I had to get home safely so we continued on.  Sovey was just wonderful.

I had ridden him before in just a halter, but that ride was in the summer and I stayed in the pastures that day.  I was so intent on figuring out what his problem was yesterday, that I forgot what I was doing in terms of safety.

It worked out well anyway.  I don't know if the bridle is pinching him or pulling on his long winter chin hairs.  I don't even know if it is the bridle at all.  Maybe he was good in the halter because it was something new and exciting.  I am still going to watch him and see what is going on.  Sovereign is one horse I can't figure out. That makes him all the more endearing to me.

Update:  I just ordered U-Gard for him.  I am thinking this might be a spring flare up thing he experiences.  We will see!


  1. is this the Dr. Cooks? I just got one in the mail but am waiting for the dentist to come float Semi's teeth, which are a little sharp I think. Loved this post about listening to the clear cues we often miss. keep us posted (heh) on what you think the problem is!

  2. There used to be a cartoon where one of the characters would often say, "Cats are the cwaziest people." Sometimes horses can be like that.

    Good post.


  3. Me too: Is this a Dr. Cook's? I'm interested because something's pushing me to try Saxony in a bitless and I'm wondering about them.

    This was a really interesting Sovey day to read about. Thanks.

  4. You know, I saw a booth for those bitless bridles at the Horse Expo and almost went over about 500 times to ask them how horses transfer from a sidepull to their style of bitless. I worry that mine wouldn't do well with a switch from nose pressure to around-the-jaw pressure.

    I say try him in a sidepull and see if he likes that better. You could get one of those cheap, rope noseband styles to start with and just cover the rope with fleece or something.

  5. I imagine conversations over the paddock fence... "My lady? She's really very nice - but a little on the slow side... she'll catch on eventually."

    Love the post. You've inspired me to try riding in the halter :)

  6. Yes - Shinyfluff and Muddy K - this is a Dr. Cook's which I have been really happy with until now.

    smazourek - Thanks for the tip. I am going to get a sidepull to try on him. I think that is what Kate is using with her Pie now and having success.

  7. Sovey, what a lover boy. He can really comunicate and you are so wonderful to read all he says to you. I adore the respect that is your interactions with your "three sons".

    Yes, they do get head aches. There are headache releases you can do easily and "they" Tell you- when youv'e accomplished the help they need..right up your alley.
    I will try to explain one of them.

    Stand facing them and off to the side of your dominant hand that can be used at the mouth-

    -Put your palm -under the lower lip- on the warm, smooth lower jawbone. You may need to practice'll feel strange to them at first.

    -They may lift thier head to avoid the weirdness..which adds to the ease of what you need to do-hold the head up by the palm of your hand on the lowerjay, under the lip...

    -they will begin to rest the entire weight of the head upon your plam/you'll feel it- in your arm! They relax..and you just try to hold up the pressure..till...they tell you, I'm done, thank you".

    I've had to hold my right arm up with my left arm, as Wa mare gets into this move-only when she needs it. Sometimes...she say, "No thankyou".

    There are other poll releasing methods..I'll take photo's next time my Theripsit come out.

    BUT...I think you are may be the bitless "Type" of bridle and where it hits his face/poll.
    I actually taped into -one soilid peice- my "Dr. Cooks". With Electrical tape- added a padding too, at the poll.

    With The "Nurtuaral Bitless" I am NOT using the under chin method did bug her too. I clip the reins-DIRECTLY" to the rings on either side of the face now...she likes it. Plus...I use a sheepskin padding on the noseband.

    DO you think it is too low on Sovey? Or the straps run along his teeth/jaw line on both sides= pressing into the teeth?

    You will be Nancy's "sister apprentice" and solve this for him, I know it!

    Be well-forgive me for my novella here!

  8. Thank you so much Kacy for the helpful advice.

    I can't wait to try the lip/chin/head rest. Sovey will try to bite me at first, but then once he knows what I am up to, it should be fun. I love that you have such a great understanding of Wa and what she needs.

    You are so right - I should try to re-work the Dr. Cooks. I don't know why I didn't think of that. I was going to build my own bitless out of bridle parts. I can use the Dr. Cook's probably easier.

    Never worry about the novella! My horses benefit from your insight.


  9. Interesting! I always think of Sovey when I groom Laz and wonder if he's been accepting the curry or not? He seems to be very sensitive and likes to express his thoughts to you which is GREAT b/c you listen.
    I know a lot of people who love their sidepull, and I hope you find a solution that Sovey likes!
    I hope it's not an ulcer (cant think it would be under his perfect conditions!!) but if so, good for u for jumping on it.

  10. Bless his heart! Definitely sounds halter/bit related... Best of luck figuring it out.
    P.S. Love the racehorse face on the cup... that's the way my mare (Rosie)looks at the gelding (Clyde) most of the time, especially when food is involved!

  11. I like the sidepull I'm riding Pie in now a lot - and he seems to like it too - it works a lot like a halter although fitted better - I got mine from Buckeroo leather.

  12. Kate - Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I was going to go back to your post about bitless bridles.

  13. Sounds like you are close to solving 'the mystery of the cranky face'. Misty was giving me a cranky face last weekend too. If only we could read their minds. Lovely halters, by the way. And I just got caught up on reading your posts about Foggy and how he came to live with you. I'm so happy for you and Foggy. He is beautiful. And I got a kick out of your reference to "My Three Sons". You've got three beautiful boys there.

  14. Wow look at that eye! Good for you, realizing about the bridle. Sovey sounds like an extremely smart horse! hahaha I just have to laugh at how patient HE has to be. :-) What a great guy! Well, it sounds like you do a pretty good job of figuring him out.

  15. oh We use the U-Guard for our pony. She cribs slightly, has since her foalhood and 1st winter alone. She was also inhumanely weaned (another story) and on mare replacement formula as a baby. <3 xo

  16. Great post. I love how Sovey communicates with you and you figure it out. He must be very smart to figure out how to tell you things.
    Hope you get Sovey's bridle issues fixed. You've already come along way to realize it wasn't the saddle or girth. Good for you guys. And you're so brave (and Sovey's so good) to be riding around on a young Thoroughbred on a windy day, outside the pasture, in just a halter (gorgeous halters by the way)!
    I've done the exercise Kacy suggested with Dan, my Appaloosa, and he fell asleep with his head resting in my hands :)

  17. We have a horse at the farm that when tightening up the caveson, he reacts pretty badly, but he is 15 yrs old and pre-cushings, so he has longer hair, I think the long hairs are pulling and pinching him when tightening, I don't remember him doing that in the summer.
    Hopefully you will figure out what is going on.
    I love those halters. I have been thinking about getting leather halter's for my horses sometime too, with their names of course!

  18. Juliette, I love reading about how Sovey communicates with you! He is so talkative, and creative and patient to get you to understand what he is (clearly) showing you. What a wonderful and unique horse he is! I think you must be on the right track about the halter vs bridle. His behavior was so very positive in the halter. It will be interesting to see if in future rides it continues. And your new halters are so beautiful!


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