So I guess instead I have "projects" with each horse- what I am working on at any given time. Take Percy, for instance. A very long term goal is to get on him! I don't expect to do that until he is three, but it is a project I am working on now, even though he's only just turned two on July 1. One of the steps in this big goal is to get him used to a bit. I could stuff it in his mouth and let him wear it for a few hours and he'd get used to it. But I choose another route. I like Alex's "self bridling" technique and used it to introduce the bit to both Rumer and Percy last winter, when Percy was only 18 months. So, if my goal was to get the bit in his mouth, you could say I've already done that. But as I've worked with Ande and Rumer, I see more and more ways to break that lesson down, even though both Ande and Rumer self bridle.
Another piece of the "getting on Percy" goal is getting him used to me all over him, getting used to touch, to weight, etc. I honestly see grooming as part of this goal. Especially with a youngster with Thoroughbred blood as they can be so sensitive to both touch and fears.
Today, while Percy was eating his breakfast, I took my grooming box into his stall and thankfully, he chose to eat his lovely second cut hay rather than take everything out of the grooming box and dismantle it. I like to be able to groom him on cross ties or loose- I think there is value in both situations. As I groomed him, I was happy that I could use the grooming mitt and brush from head to toe without any concern or squirminess from him: around his ears, under his tummy, all the way down each leg, the inside of the opposite leg I was near, between his hind legs, etc. I was not worried about being kicked or startling him at all- he was completely relaxed. This tells me both that he is comfortable with me doing these things AND I know how much pressure to use without pushing him over any threshold. The ponies are happy with a rubber curry comb and pretty stiff brushes. But with him I use the mitt and a soft dandy brush. I can scrub enough to get the dirt up, but not so hard to make him dislike it. I did not click or treat at all- we are beyond that. He did listen and look for a CT when I picked out his feet because I do still occasionally click for foot manners, but I'm weaning him off it.
After that, I got out the little headstall thing my niece gave me for bitting. It's like a bridle but no noseband or reins and has little snaps to clip the bit on rather than complicated leather and studs. When I worked with him last winter, he had learned to take the bit into his teeth happily. The further steps I have found are:
- front teeth
- bars of mouth
- holding it in the proper place, rather than immediately spitting it back out
- being comfortable with the bit coming back out
- the headstall approaching his eyes
- headstall approaching his ears
- headstall going over his ears
- the feel of wearing the entire contraption for any duration
So those were today's little lessons- didn't take long. But baby steps on the way to being a riding horse! Tomorrow we'll do something different.