Monday, February 1, 2010

Bit placement & whisker trimming

A rather short blog, but I thought I would address a couple smaller 'issues'.

First, is that we are getting close to the outdoor show season once again up here in the Great White North (*ahem* Canada), and with show season comes: grooming. Specifically, whisker trimming (and other related practices). Most horse people I hope would already understand the purpose and importance of a horse's whiskers, but I was never taught such as a child who competed and thus I can only assume that there are others out there who are in the same boat. While most of the grooming practises I partook were moderate, there were a few practises I was taught and that I performed that I would think twice about now.

For experimental purposes, try trimming a whisker or two, using scissors; most horses will flinch and try to pull their head away (at least the first few shots at it). They do this because those whiskers are actually quite sensitive to touch; they represent an invaluable resource to your horse. By removing the whiskers around a horse's eyes, nose, and mouth, we are essentially limiting their sense of touch. Horses use their whiskers constantly - those whiskers help the horse construct a visual of an object they may have trouble seeing, whether due to lighting or the way which their vision functions (ie, considering blind spots, etc). Trimming a horse's whiskers can be akin to tying your hands behind your back then forcing you to navigate a dark room. You are going to be more likely to crash into objects, just as a horse may be more likely to injure themself (particularly their eyes or muzzle).

Furthermore, many people will go so far as to trim inside a horse's ears, which impairs a horse's protection from both the elements as well as from insects and debris. Our Quarab is a horse so sensitive that, in the summer, I absolutely cannot ride him without fly spray and an ear-net...I cannot imagine trimming his ears and making his ears all the more vulnerable to insects! Personally, I think it looks pretty goofy when a horse has his ears completely cleaned out...

Check out Natural Horse Grooming for additional points to consider and methods to help you 'clean up' your horse without compromising his well being. Think twice next time you go to alter your horse's appearance (etc)...nature probably created him the way he is for a reason.

Second order of the day: bit placement. I recently had a woman come out to try out our Thoroughbred (I was looking for a rider to exercise him whilst I am away this winter); she was a a dressage rider with a lot of experience so I figured she should be knowledgeable. First ride on my boy, she commented that she felt his bit was placed too low, that there should be 2 wrinkles visible. She was extremely insistent on the 2-wrinkle theory...something I think is ingrained in most riders from a young age. My response was that I set the bit in the mouth low enough that the horse may choose to pick it up (in lieu of it being held there via the headstall), without being loose enough to bang against their teeth and make them uncomfortable. Taking a look at the following, you can see where a bit needs to be or can be:

The headstall needs to be tight enough that the bit does not rattle against the canines, causing the horse pain and/or discomfort. Otherwise though, the bit may be adjusted so that there is one or even (barely) no wrinkles (depending on your horse's oral conformation). There is room for opinion, preference, and training technique. Where you adjust your bit is up to you, so experiment away and see what your horse prefers and what works best for the two of you, keeping in mind the horse's mouth structure. Just keep in mind that it does not have to be one or two wrinkles - listen to what your horse says and what works best with him and your methods of communicating with him.

1 comment:

Story said...

I had a horse that went blind at a fairly early age. One day the barn manager pulled me aside and started giving me hell for trimming his whiskers, pointing out that he needed them due to his blindness. But I hadn't been trimming them. He was using his whiskers so much that he was actually wearing them off.