Wednesday, September 02, 2009

goodbye cavesson

This morning after barn chores I was amazingly free of sweat, Keil Bay had finished eating breakfast and was munching on hay, and the temps were in the low 70s... so I decided to psychologically make the switch to our autumn routine, which means riding happens after equine breakfast but before human lunch.

Keil Bay loves this routine. It's obvious that in his life before me, his rides were generally in the morning. He knew instantly when I put Salina and the donkeys on their side of the barn that he was in line for a ride.

My son had groomed all the horses earlier, so all I had to do was pick feet and tack up. When I got the bridle on and was buckling the cavesson, I had my hand inside the buckle so I could feel how tight it was. Keil opened his jaw and I realized that even with my setting the buckle to the first hole, which is where I normally put it, his jaw can't open all the way. Because of where my hand was, I felt it in a way I don't think I ever have before. So in that one moment, I decided to remove the cavesson and ride without it.

A big thank you needs to be said to Ann and Jeeves, at Transitions, because it was Ann who told me she'd removed Jeeves' cavesson long ago. For some reason it had never occurred to me to just remove the thing - I had been thinking of buying a western bridle! A good example of how we can get stuck with "the way things are" to the degree that we can't even perceive how easy change often is.

Anyway, this morning I realized it was time, so I unbuckled the cavesson, slid it off Keil Bay's head, and watched him explore his new freedom from the noseband.

I'm guessing he has never been in a bridle without one.

He immediately opened his mouth as wide as he could, just to test it. He did a huge dramatic yawn. He lifted his nose up and jiggled the bit around in his mouth. He lowered his head and shook it from side to side. (for a moment I thought the bit was going to come out, but it didn't)

He had a look of complete amazement in his eyes. Suddenly there was nothing there but the headstall and the bit, and he couldn't quite believe it.

Off we went to the arena. I can't attribute everything to the lack of cavesson - last night was the coolest we've had since spring, fall is definitely in the air, and I'm sure Keil Bay was feeling all of that as much as I was. Still, he seemed excited and eager to move, and he was freer in the head and neck than he normally is when we start out.

I've tried bitless bridles with Keil and he didn't like them. He does enjoy when I ride with halter and clip-on reins, but today's experiment without the cavesson is the most successful change I've made in terms of bridling.

He has always fussed when I buckle the noseband. The only worse thing was the flash, which I removed years ago. He hated that thing, even when it was buckled so loosely it dangled under his chin. And the cavesson is not as bad, but he always bobs his head when I buckle. And now that frustration is gone.

I cleaned it up and hung it beneath his bridle, with the flash. The bridle looks so bare! But I think this is how we'll be riding, at least for now.


Michelle said...

Congrats on your breakthrough! I think fall is finally approaching here as well...the humidity is finally tolerable and temps are below 90. Now, if we could just get a few hours break in those afternoon showers, I'd be all set!

billie said...

Thanks, Michelle. It was really a moment to behold. Keil Bay is not really easy to surprise, as he seems to expect to be treated like a king, and even if something is new, he slides right into it as though it's been that way forever. So when I took the cavesson off and saw the absolute wonder on his face, I got the biggest kick out of it.

It's funny b/c he always opens his mouth to take the bit (with a few exceptions and that's when I ride wtih halter) so I've never had any sense that he hates it or has discomfort there. But it has been clear from the beginning of my journey with him that the flash and cavesson were annoying him.

I wish I had come to this moment a long time ago!

jme said...

cool! it does take a little getting used to when you see the bridle on your horse without the cavesson - we are so trained to see them as a normal part of our tack. but it will look natural enough after a few times.

i know nate enjoys not having the cavesson on his bridle whenever possible (and it's easier for him to rub his face on things, which he also enjoys ;-) i don't think it makes a huge difference for every horse, but for the horses really bothered by the cavesson, it can make a big difference! good luck - hope he continues to enjoy his new freedom :-)

billie said...

Thanks, jme. He was so happy - I've never seen him play with the bit like that - he almost seemed to enjoy the bit without the constraint of the cavesson.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like you and the bay had a breakthrough. I hope he enjoys his new look and feel and you and he have many good rides. I love that he took the big dramatic yawn, what a character.

I love the fall, I wish it could last all year long. It's just the perfect weather for me and I think the horses enjoy it the most too.

billie said...

Thanks, Arlene... I love fall too and I agree with you - the horses seem to enjoy it the most of any season. It's perfect for enjoying the horses, mounted and just hanging out.

AnnL said...

Hi Billie--I'm getting caught up in the blogosphere and just read this. I'm so glad Jeeves and I were an inspiration to you removing the cavesson. I didn't have as dramatic a reaction as you, since Jeeves is pretty laid back about things and at the time I removed the cavesson he was recovering from his cancer surgeries, so we were just hacking out. But, I do think he enjoys that freedom. And, I enjoy knowing that if he wants to yawn, he can! We WANT them to be relaxed and happy--how can they if they can't even yawn?!

I loved the videos and your spot on critiques. Very sad to see what passes for competetive dressage. Sigh....


billie said...

Glad you saw the post, Ann - and thank you for inspiring me!