Steering challenges in young horses

Equine bitting column BR Farm
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: Right, The full cheek/ fulmer is one of many options available to help communicate with the horse more effectively when introducing bend and steering. (FW01-500NN)

YOUNG horses don’t have the attention span, nor the mental or physical capacity to train like an older equine. They can only process a little bit at a time. If you are able to teach your young horse one new lesson with each training session, great! Due to the restrictions in competing that Covid has imposed on the equine community, I’ve seized this opportunity to spend extra time with my young horse to build on the basics of schooling on the flat, to ensure each foundation is laid correctly before moving onto the next. One of the challenges I’ve been faced with is steering… or the lack of it!

COMMUNICATION

In researching bits that can aid me with more effective communication when introducing bend and steering, the full cheek/ fulmer is one of many options available. For horses that need help from the bit in turning, the full cheek is the most extreme type of corrective cheek piece that can commonly be found on a snaffle. With a small ring fixed to the mouthpiece on a swivel joint, and two arms extending above and below the mouthpiece, the main purpose of this bit is to exert lateral pressure on the horse’s mouth.

When one side of the bit is pulled, as in turning, the opposite side presses against a broad section of the lips and cheeks. This can be particularly useful with horses that are having difficulty learning to respond properly to direct rein pressure, and can sometimes help to correct horses who tip their heads away from rein pressure.

A full cheek snaffle is also useful when rein aids may be the main way to communicate lateral cues, such as when driving or riding side saddle. Unfortunately, there can be a danger with full cheek snaffles caused by the lengthy arms themselves. These arms can get tangled up with reins, leg wraps and even with the nostrils and lips of the horse. A full cheek should always be used with a restraining loop on the bridle, which hook over one of the arms and helps keep them in a fixed position – this can prevent interference with the nose and lips.

ALTERNATIVE

A possible alternative to the full cheek/ fulmer is a D ring. Named after the shape of the cheek piece, the bit forms a ‘D’ outside the horse’s mouth. Affixed to the mouthpiece, the smooth cheek piece protects the horse’s sensitive lips from being pinched, while also safeguarding against the bit being pulled through the horse’s mouth. The ‘D’ ring works in a similar fashion to the full cheek when lateral cues are engaged, by pressing on the opposite side of the horse’s cheek when turning to encourage head movement. Unlike the full cheek/ fulmer, the ‘D’ ring has no need for restraining loops and is less likely to catch and cause damage.

Often, getting a horse to accept a contact is a waiting game and, providing we do our bit – which is to keep a consistent contact and use our legs and seat to keep the horse’s hindquarters engaged – then it is only a matter of time and patience.

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