Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Do Wednesday: Gadgets & Other Shit

Another lovely week, another lovely episode of me asking my readers, What Do?

This week, I wanted to address an issue that swirls around the equestrian world constantly.

And having just written about feeling very judged, this post may seem very judgey. But whatever.

Much like blanketing, turnout, shoeing, etc...everyone has an opinion about everything all the time. If there's one thing you can count on internet trolls for, its creating drama on every site known to man on any issues or subject. So why not add to it here, I'm not afraid of a little fire.

What sparked my interest in this topic was a FB acquaintance who posted a photo of herself jumping herself in draw reins.




Y THO (not her photo)
I am sorry, but I was completely baffled by this, as "I have always been told" that this is NO NO NO. Just no.

Even if I had never been told by trusted trainers and other horse people that this practice was frowned upon, generally, I STILL would double take if I saw a person jump a horse in draw reins.

Just looks downright dangerous and restrictive.

not natural
I held my tongue on her photo, as she generally rides western and I hear draw reins are a thing over there, but still. Jumping in draw reins….

This lead me to some pondering about “training aids” in general.

“In general” at first I thought I was a complete snob about them, instantly judging anyone who uses them to get their horse to do what they want. That was then, this is now.

 I have considered training aids to be anything that forcibly requires a horse to carry himself in a certain manner; aka, draw reins, german martingales, tie downs, neck stretcher etc. To me, training should take place over time with encouragement and support rather than force and demand. But that’s just me.

Then I thought a little bit more.

What exactly is considered a training aid? Do I use them?

Is it martingales? Is it neck stretchers? Is it draw reins, sidereins, chambons, bits, spurs, whips, bridles, saddles??

If a naturalist were to answer this, they would probably say anything but a rider on a horses' bare back is considered a training aid, and I could see their point. Bridles and saddles aren't natural and they do “aid” us in riding a horse.

However, it still takes WORK to get a horse trained well. Hard work. Not shortcuts, and most "aids" are shortcuts.

THIS article is pretty great regarding draw-reins and highlights everything I could ever say about them.

Do not like them, for any purpose & will never use them. Will DEF judge you if you use them.

That does not mean though that I am opposed to martingales though.

But, aren’t martingales a “training aid”, you say?

Technically, I suppose yes. But they are an aid a horse can reasonably escape from and are difficult to misuse, unlike draw reins.


For example

 I’ve seen them misused ^, but it is much more difficult to do so and usually done by over-tightening

THIS article does a nice job explaining things about martingales.

I personally do not like standing martingales. They’re kinder to the horse in the sense the attachment doesn’t have a direct line to the bit, but, in the event that a horse would trip and fall, I think its incredibly dangerous. My trainer suggested I ride in one for a ride or two so B learns that flipping one’s head is unacceptable, but I still haven’t done it. I prefer to try and find other ways around it, vs tying the head down.

However, I ALWAYS ride outside with a running martingale, or jump with one. Properly adjusted, the martingale is self correcting and is effective. It also can add a bit of leverage to whatever bit you are using. (Yes yes I realize this is an "aid") Also, can prevent a horse from whacking you in the face though. 

Horse about to flip head in my lap and bolt, you can see running martingale about to be activated

Properly adjusted, B can still move, gallop, jump, etc but if he were to fling his face, the martingale would activate
This HAS happened to me, thanks B! Therefore, I have one on at all times during these situations, just as a “just in case” since my horse had (crosses fingers this is a thing of the past) a tendency to fling head, root, then bolt, but in no way does a running martingale hold his head in place or overbend him.

Additionally & recently, I've gotten rid of my sidereins completely. I just felt that even though I had them adjusted loose enough that he could stretch down, it still looked restrictive. 

loose, but I still do not like

With a horse that is anxious already, restrictive tools do no good. Incredibly, he responds well to only the lunge line and will lunge beautifully without sidereins. On occasion I borrow a pair if he’s truly being awful, lunge for 5 min in them, and take them off, just as a reminder. Generally though, I’m done with them.

lunging only with lunge line
I ESPECIALLY dislike the pessoa system or whatever its called where the reins run behind the hindquarters to the other side of the bit. In every video I’ve watched this leads the horse to being jammed in the mouth every stride, and going about horribly behind the verticle. Um, no thanks. Very incorrect and invasive.

Don't even get me started on bits & how people choose to use them. I can't.

Now, I don’t want anyone to get in a complete uproar. Yes, my horse sometimes goes behind the verticle. Yes I use a running martingale sometimes. Yes, he’s green AF. But YES I am training him and trying to do it patiently and correctly. That does not mean that I am judging others for THEIR choices (unless its drawreins), I just prefer not to do it (training aids) that way and don’t think its correct. That my opinion.

So what I want to know (without judgment) is what my dear readers do? Do you use training aids? Why or why not? Feed me your secrets, I must know!


  1. I'm not wild about draw reins, but have used them on Tris once or twice to just teach him short, brief things. Then we built on that afterwards.

    I use a chambon to longe in, because after a lot of thinking and planning and observation, that's what helps remind him to stretch over his back. It's purely an encouragement and not a restriction.

    Sidereins have never worked for him, though they can be a great tool for other horses. For him, he fights them every second and never submits. Not once. Not in ten years has he carried himself in side reins.

    1. Encouragement is good :) thanks for the input!

  2. My thing about draw reins is that while I don't believe they themselves are the devil, I do believe that 99.9999% of the people educated enough to use them correctly are educated enough to not need them. I've never particularly liked side reins, I prefer Vienna reins if anything. Absolutely HATE German Martingales. HATE. Not particularly opposed to a correctly adjusted standing but prefer a running.

  3. I think this is a good talking point. Certainly even in the kindest hands a simple snaffle can be abused as an aid. I'll defend what I use as a response (not that I am feeling the need to, but to continue the conversation thoughtfully). My point of view is that I use what works for each individual horse. My traine is a savvy enough rider to throw some draw reins on every once and awhile. If you're a good enough rider to do dressage in a double bridle then by all mean, you are considerate enough to PROPERLY use draw reins. I've never, ever seen her pick them up to the point that a horse looked tense or BTV. She retrains OTTBs for a living, so watching her work and access each individual horse's needs is fascinating. Sometimes, she'll put them on for one ride and get a light bulb moment out of the horse and that's the end of it. That said, I think jumping in them in downright dangerous. Terrifying.

    With Riley, he goes in a loose ring, hollow (fat) snaffle. The biggest bit he's ever gone in is a Dr. Bristol, which he ultimately wound up not liking and he's MUCH more responsive in a milder bit (he's otherwise only ever gone in a happy mouth something). I typically ride him in a running for jumping or hacking but only as a back up (especially since he's in such a mild bit). He has the swingiest (yes, I just made that up) back of any horse I've ever met and his default is to stretch long and low. If you've been reading my blog long enough, you've heard me talk about him going around in the equiciser with his nose on the ground. As his education started, I wanted to teach him to lunge (properly) as tool for various reasons (sometimes I was alone and felt more comfortable lunging than riding, sometimes, we needed to establish better ground work, etc). He learned to lunge, quietly and correctly with a lunge line and tack ONLY. Eventually, when he was learning about contact and straightness (he is/was incredibly one sided) we added a training aid. He's never gone well in side reins because I think he can't find the balance of contact he wants. Even with a loose setting on the kind with rubber rings, it's too bouncy (truthfully, I never see pictures of horses going that well in them). he has a very soft mouth and likes a very steady (light) contact. I had read really good things about the Pessoa from someone's blog years ago with Becky Holder doing various video demonstrations on it's benefits for strength, topline, straightness, etc and with Riley being already so soft over his back I thought he'd respond well to it. As it turns out, he DOES go really well in it and it's done wonders for his topline (which is almost always there) -- I swear it helped change his entire body structure! We only ever use it either completely disengaged to warm up, or in the long and low setting (there are a myriad of ways to set it up). But here's the thing, I don't let him play on the lunge line and I've never (save for one time, maybe) used lunging as a tool to "work him down". Lunging = work = riding = groundwork. That training aid alone really allowed him to help find straightness (especially at the canter). For a long time he couldn't pick up the right lead consistently under saddle because he was popping his left shoulder and throwing his haunches in and the Pessoa actually helped him figure out a better way of balancing himself while he developed proper muscles (vs. just heaving himself into a motorcycle circle by effectively helping to block the shoulder and keep his haunches straight, something that proved extremely challenging under saddle. With him coming back into work, we'll probably use it weekly to help him build up his muscle tone again, without me throwing him off balance.

    1. Again, I think that it can certainly be abused, or used for the wrong reasons. My horse learned about proper contact under saddle, not at the end of a lunge line, for instance. One thing I've learned in spades from working with OTTBs is that aren't any short cuts. Training aids should be supplementary to proper training and conditioning, not in place of them. I think that's really the core of your message though, at what point do they become a replacement for weeks/months of proper work and is this ever okay?

      Finally, I don't mind if people judge what I do or don't do with my horse. By blogging about it, I'm putting myself out there right? At the end of the day, the best we can do is try to make the best/safest/smartest choice available for ourselves and our horses and always try to do right by them, listening carefully for signs that they are not happy and figuring out ways to achieve our goals together, even if that takes AS LONG AS IT TAKES:)

      *Sorry for the long-winded answer!

    2. I had to cut and paste half my answer -- blogger told me to STFU.

    3. I love this answer and explanation!! You are so correct. Aids need to be used supplementally and not as a constant thing. I am happy to hear that the Pessoa works so well for you and the positive outcomes it has! I personally have only ever seen it used to crank the horse in and jab them in the face (save for Andrea and O, she's awesome). Your answer to my question was thoughtful and I am not judging at all. It seems you're one of the few educated people out there in regards on how to use them.

    4. I was going to comment on Andrea too. If I'm not mistaken she has her's separated and attached to the surcingle, so the part going to the bit isn't attached to the part going around the haunches so there is no jamming. It seems to work great for O and probably was part of what made her driving training so great to be honest. She was already used to all of that stuff on her. :) That's why she calls her's a faux-soa or something like that. :D

    5. Close! Mine is called the Fauxssoa because it's actually a knockoff version that cheaper. But it's fully intact. Part of what I like about it is that everything is on pulleys so it slides around and nothing is fixed. I woudln't use fixed sidereins on any of mine, I don't like them at all. It's either the (well adjusted) Fauxssoa or a chambon for me!

    6. Oh really? Yours didn't look like her mouth was attached to the part around her haunches lol. I'm blind as a bat apparently. Well it doesn't jam her in the mouth, so fitting it correctly must be what makes it work. Imagine that haha!!

  4. Love this post! I was horrified when you said JUMPING and DRAW REINS. Eek! I'm pretty open minded to most training tools, even ones I don't use personally, but draw reins are forever on my shit list. I can peg a horse that has been draw reined in about ten seconds, and I can't tell you how many of them end up with severe rearing problems! I still keep my mouth shut if I see them in use, but I think I'd draw the line at someone JUMPING in them!

  5. Niamh said a lot of good things in her post.

    I would add that a lot of training aids are SOLD incorrectly. For example, I have a pretty really short coupled horse. He's not big, and he doesn't need big stuff. He's certainly not the biggest horse out there. Yet leather sidereins with the donut literally DO NOT COME IN LONG ENOUGH LENGTHS FOR HIM. If I want to lunge him in side reins that aren't going to restrict him or encourage him to develop bad habits I have to find a pair of side reins that is longer. How can amateurs be expected to use training aids correctly when the aids provided to them are incorrect?

    There is much to think on in this arena, though. And it's hard, especially when you see people using training aids incorrectly.

  6. Nicole, Yes to this! When it came to the Pessoa I watched lots of videos to make sure I was not only introducing it to my horse correctly, but also fitting it properly! One size does not fit all 9the same could be said for training aids!

  7. Running martingale, yes I use one. But otherwise? I am quite against gadgets. I hate gadget-y/trendty bits, training systems on the lunge, the works. Draw reins especially!!! At a show while I was schooling I saw two very young children who didnt yet have their balance, on two small deadbroke ponies, WITH DRAW REINS. JUMPING. Not only do I agree that draw reins over fences is and always has been a NO, but they did not have their balance posting... and were literally posting with the balanced gained by pulling on their reins... and they were jumping. *sigh*

  8. I'm not really opposed to draw reins. Some horses need to be reminded that the head does not belong in the sky and some of them are strong enough that draw reins help. Use them for a short ride then go back to riding without. Use them every single ride and the horse starts to depend on them. Same thing with every gadget. Sometimes you just need to show the horse the correct way.

    And side-reins really aren't evil. Like any gadget, they can be used for evil, but they're not on their own. For a horse with balance issues and no understanding of contact the side-reins can help them learn how to balance themselves and accept contact. Nilla spent a month at a trainer who did side-reins lunging every day before riding. She came back like a different animal. I don't think it was a short-cut. I think it was what Nilla needed to figure out for herself how to move her body.

    Crazy abusive stuff exists, but I've seen plenty of horses ridden well in draw reins and other gadgets. The rollkur crazy shit is what gets all the attention. The person doing it right doesn't get noticed. That said, if you don't want to use them, don't. It's a pretty easy solution.

    1. Of course the tool needs to be used in the correct hands. I can personally day I've never seen draw reins used correctly and I'm just not fond of them. For those it works for, when used correctly, props to them for finding a solution.

    2. This is kind of how I feel on both of those things too. I haven't seen draws used or used them my self at my barn in probably anoud 4 years. For Smokey it would be TERRIBLE since he already wants to do the OTTB tuck. Am I against them while being used under instruction or to strenthen a weak horses topline? Nope. But again I see the point of "if you're good enough to use them you're good enough not to need them!" too. We use side reins a lot, how tight/ where they're adjusted depends on the horse. One of rehab cases lunged in SR for a solid 2 months to get strenth and SANITY back without one of us getting killed. Floppy was a HUGE atheletic Duth Import that was sold as a GP jumper to a VERY incapable rider. He got ruined and went from a $200k horse to a horse that we were begged to take. So for him, the SR's taught him to not freak out if he hit the bit, or the contact, nothing was going to happen. It also strengthened and straightened his just terrible chiro and muscle issues from being fucked up. He is now a young pros upper level Jumper (and still a very special case haha) but point being I'm all for things if they're in the good of the horse. That being said jumping in Draws is just the dumbest, if your horse needs to save itself from a bad distance or landing it can't. Do more harm than good to put those on. But I find most of what Western people do baffling so meh.

  9. Clearly an issue where everyone's "do not cross" line is slightly different. My only side commentary is in response to any restrictive aid being doubly bad for an anxious horse. When I think about the horses of my youth - I'd totally agree with this and felt like anything that 'shut them down' just pissed them off more. However in recent years I've ridden several horses who CRAVE some of those restrictions like a secutrity blanket. When I bought Prairie she's was being worked *regularly* with a pessoa while UNDER SADDLE. When I took it away she had a panic attack. Same thing on the lunge. Side reins = comfort. took them away and she was panicky and wild eyed. Having now seen several horses with similar response - I don't think it's that weird. It does make me wonder how they got so reliant on so much support though....

    In general though I feel like any aid is best used in educated hands and never as a safety brake for a overfaced rider.

  10. My jaw hit the floor when I read jumping in draw reins! Yikes!!!!!!!!

    I think of training aids as anything from gear, methods, hands, voice cues, etc. Stuff like draw reins and side reins I think of more as gadgets, especially if being used as a shortcut. Training aids is too broad of a term for me I guess. I don't use gadgets though because I can't afford them, don't know how to use them, would probably use them wrong and I'm with you that I just believe time is the best training aid we have. I am in no rush to get a horse trained. I want them to be able to take their time and let their bodies adjust to the new way of carrying themselves. The people who get three year old horses who have never been ridden, throw a bunch of gadgets on them and ride them in a deep frame for an hour a day kill me! Like seriously those people should go to the gym and work out for an hour on every machine they have with the weights way too heavy and see how they feel the next day!! Ugh! Yeah, okay I get a little judgey and ranty on this subject lol.

  11. Video of O going around in the Pessoa not getting jammed in the mouth or behind the vertical:
    Works for us so we use it.

    1. I commented earlier stating you were the only one I know that doesn't jam their horse in the face ;)

  12. Haha yeah I saw that after I had posted this one! But I agree that using it improperly is basically the worst thing ever.

  13. Haha yeah I saw that after I had posted this one! But I agree that using it improperly is basically the worst thing ever.

  14. I generally agree with this post. I hate seeing "aids" misused. I have a properly adjusted standing martingale that I'll use occasionally but I haven't used it in years. I use side reins occasionally but my horse lunges better with just the lunge line too. Draw reins are awful. I know some aids seem to help horses click. When Ries is toodly on the lunge I can use side reins to encourage him to step under himself more. I always lunge him without them after I use them though. He really stretches down afterwords.

    1. I hate it too ugh!!

      I'm not *against* side reins for others, they're a really helpful tool. I just prefer not with my horse. He sucks back which is counterproductive

  15. i have incredibly limited experience with most gadgets but try to follow a simple philosophy taught to me by people with MUCH greater experience and knowledge.

    generally, for an artificial aid that is illegal in the show ring (like, say, a running martingale in dressage) that i think might be useful for my horse (like, when she wants to rearrange my facial structure with her own), i might ride in it one day, then ride without it the next day. if the horse is *better* the following day without it, then the artificial aid works and i should continue using it on occasion/regularly enough to fix the problem without becoming dependent on it. if the horse is *worse* the next day tho, it's just a band-aid not actually addressing the problem and it shouldn't be used at all.

    1. Really excellent thought process! Plus you're capable, so I know you won't ruin the ponies with them

  16. This debate is and will always be current. Mostly because there will always be people out there abusing their uses.

    I think certain gadgets, like German martingales, and training forks (look that one up, I don't know how the QH circuit gets away with their gadgets) and ones that don't allow for "relief" are detrimental and don't allow for any real training to happen when in use. I think draw reins, standing martingale, running martingales, and the Pessoa system when sized and fitted correctly can all be useful in the right situations.

    I think people really get in trouble when they think the gadget will just do the job. Like if the just lunge in the Pessoa, the horse will magically become supple and whatever. Um no it doesn't work like that. The Pessoa is just there as a subtle reminder, nothing more. Same with draws, and martingales.

    I don't think jumping with the draw reins is safe, and even had to tell a former trainer that I didn't feel comfortable with her doing it with my horse because I don't believe it gives quickly enough for use over fences.

    1. Thoughtful comment! And you are SO right on all accounts. And good for you standing up for yourself!


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