Nicole's Horse Whispers 

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Posted by Nicole Nauss on January 28, 2014 at 5:10 PM Comments comments ()


The use of the bearing-rein is widely condemned by many people who do not recognise the undeniable fact that there are some horses which it would be difficult, if not unsafe, to drive without some such assistance as it supplies being afforded the coachman. At the same time there are thousands of cases in which it is not necessary, and even in those where it is, the bearing-rein should never be too tight, and if the horses wearing it are standing for any time it should be unhooked from the pad. It consists of a rein fastned to the cheeks of the bit which pass through the ear-rings of the headstall to a hook in the pad, and its object is, or should be, to assist the driver in controlling the puller or horse that it is liable to stumble. As, however, it causes its wearer to carry his head better, it is often utilised for the purpose of improving his appearance.  

A form of bearing rein is used today, but is a much more humane device. Today most horse harnesses include a overcheck or sidecheck- which are comparable to a bearing rein but are adjusted more humanely. An overcheck helps a horse maintain their balance and gives a handler more control- An overcheck does not force the horse's head up painfully, but is usually set at the horse's optimal natural carriage. Occasionally, a bearing rein type device is still used on horses ridden by children or disabled adults. A loosely adjusted bearing type rein (usually more like a sidecheck) allows a horse to carry their head naturally, but prevents a horse from dropping their neck to graze or snatching reins out of a riders hands- both actions that can cause an insecure or disabled rider to fall and be injured.


Even though use of the bearing rein was discontinued nearly 100 years ago, the practical applications of bearing reins- applied in more humane manners- are still useful today.

Q. What is the difference between a side check and an overcheck? Do they make a huge difference in performance or purpose?


A. There is a huge difference between an overcheck and a side check.



The overcheck is a strap that goes from the “water terret” or middle terret on the driving saddle, up the horse’s neck, between his ears, down the front of his face and splits at the bridge of his nose and goes to the rings of a bridoon bit. It is designed to keep a horse’s head up so he can’t canter or buck. Unfortunately, some people use this piece of equipment without knowing how to adjust it.

Depending on how tight an overcheck is adjusted, it can be very harmful to a horse. If he can’t get his head down low enough to raise his back, then he’ll have trouble pulling a carriage up a hill or even starting one on flat ground. Think of pulling a sled up a hill by dragging it by a rope over your shoulder; you would have to lean forward to be most efficient. You wouldn’t want to have to pull that sled with your back arched. A badly adjusted overcheck does the same thing to a horse.


Back in Black Beauty’s days, the style was to set driving horses heads very high, so the drivers cranked up the overchecks to make the horses look spirited with high heads. All this did was cause major pain to the animals due to the unnatural position.


The overcheck pulls the bit up in the horse’s mouth, and the reins pull backward in his mouth. If you add a running martingale, as so many breed classes want you to do, then you’re also pulling down on the same horse’s mouth all at once. Ouch!


The other main problem with overchecks is that they don’t allow the horse to turn his nose, so bending through a corner becomes almost impossible. This makes the horse lose his balance through turns and he will become very defensive over time about where to put his feet and balance.


If you must use an overcheck to conform to a breed class requirement, please keep it very loose and train your horse to perform the way you need him to instead of forcing him into an unnatural and uncomfortable position.


A side check, which I think is also permissible in most breed classes instead of an overcheck, is much kinder to the horse and will also prevent him from putting his head down. But this one goes from the middle of the driving saddle, up along both sides of the horse’s neck to a loose ring on the sides of the brow band of the bridle, and then down the sides of the horse’s face to a bridoon or regular driving bit. The side check allows the horse to put his head down enough to start the carriage and to pull it up hill. It also allows his nose to move to the inside on turns so his balance isn’t as compromised as with an overcheck. You still have to be careful not to adjust it too tightly. A side check is good for a horse who wants to eat grass when driving, but this problem can also be fixed with proper training.


Remember, any kind of check is just a training device and is not meant for long-term use. If you want your horse to drive with his head up high, train him to use himself from behind and learn how to harness his energy instead of checking him up mechanically.


If you have a small child driving, and the pony wants to eat grass all the time, as ponies sometime do, use a side check, but loosely.


Overchecks are not allowed at American Driving Society, United States Equestrian Federation or Fédération Equestre Internationale sanctioned events. Check your rule books for accepted uses.




There are two types of bits, driving bits and overcheck bits and they come in many varieties. The purpose of a driving bit is to help provide the driver with control of the horse. The different types will help with horses that are pullers or difficult to steer whereas the overcheck bit helps keep the head of the horse to a desired level.

Most trainers will use a Frisco June bit to break a yearling. After days or monthsof jogging, changes might become necessary. Depending on the type of horse you are dealing with, a more severe bit might be needed. You may consider using a wire bit on a horse that has a tendency to pull and a sidelining, Houghton, Braden direct or a slip mouth on a bad steering horse. A normal snaffle would be sufficient for a good steering and quiet horse. A variety of overcheck bits is available for all types of horses.

The majority of trainers will start the horse off with a Standard overcheck bit. The purpose of anovercheck bit is to enable the trainer to set the horse’s head to a desired height. Some horses might need a type of overcheck to enable them to lean on it like a standard overcheck, a Speedway a Mini or just a basic chin strap. Some horses tend to tuck their heads in and in doing so are stopping the air passage in their throat. These horses will require a more severe overcheck bit like a Crit Davis, Burch, Z guide or a Bar bit.

Grab Your Reins

Posted by Nicole Nauss on January 27, 2014 at 7:10 PM Comments comments ()

Collected walk

on the bit, moves forward, neck raised and arched, head approaches vertical, light contact, shorter steps

Extended walk

hind feet touch ground clearly in front of front feet, stretches head and neck

Working trot

between collected and extended, not ready for collected movements, on bit, even and elastic steps, good hock action

Collected trot

on the bit, neck raised and arched, hocks well engaged, maintains energetic impulsion,

shoulders move with ease, shortened steps

Extended trot

covers as much ground as possible, maintains rhythm, lengthens steps because of impulsion from the hindquarters

Backing A Horse

Posted by Nicole Nauss on January 20, 2014 at 1:15 PM Comments comments ()


Every horse should be taught to back. If he is not, his course of schooling is incomplete. Nothing looks worse than seeing a horse backing in a zig-zag fashion, and even if the movement is accomplished in this style, its object may be defeated by the horse or vehicle coming into collision with something behind it. Most horses can easily be schooled to back, the way to proceed being to let the horse stand with the reins fairly tight. Then the reins should be very gently tightened, the movement being accompanied by commands to "back", delivered in gentle, persuassive tones. The ordinary horse will soon associate the tightening of the reins with the driver's words, and after a few lessons will be perfect ; but he should not be allowed to forget what he has learned, and hence should be practiced at backing, and after he has backed a few steps his head may be loosed and the lesson repeated. In the case of saddle horses, the pressure of the rider's legs will assist in keeping him straight. A young horse is said to have been backed when he has been mounted a few times.


Posted by Nicole Nauss on January 9, 2014 at 1:15 PM Comments comments ()




Cutting is a sport that has its origins on the cattle ranches of the Southwest in the 1880s. Ranchers found that individual cows occasionally had to be separated from the rest of the herd for branding, because of sickness, or to sell.


The cutting horse was crucial to performing this task because of the natural inclination of the cow to return to the herd. The horse had to be alert and anticipate the cow's moves.


Cowboys soon began contests to test the abilities of their horses, and these competitions grew and became more structured with rules and prizes given away. These competitions are now called "cuttings".


The most desirable cow to cut is one that is energetic and responsive, but respects the horse. A calm, docile cow does not challenge the horse or allow it to show the judges its true potential.

The judges credit a horse when it shows aggressiveness, courage, determination, style and grace when cutting a cow.

The rider may not cue the horse in any visible way after the cow has been cut from the herd. This includes certain kinds of spurring and using the reins.


A rider should have a loose posture when working a cow. his or her back should be relaxed and bent, never rigid. This is called the cutter's slump.

The rider can hold the reins only with one hand. The second hand can be used only to straighten the reins.

Bits For Training Horses

Posted by Nicole Nauss on December 24, 2013 at 3:35 AM Comments comments ()

Bits are a very important tool to use and to know the differences is also important. There are alot of  types of bits out there. When I go to a tack store and look at all the bits, it is like walking down the spice aisle at the grocery store. I see a lot of things that I have no idea what to do with them.. There are a lot of crazy bits made by people who prey on others inability to train their horses successfully. Many people believe that if their horse is not responding, they should get a stronger bit. Don't do this! A harsh bit in the wrong hands can do serious damage to your horse and set your training program way back. If we could only have one bit for any horse it would definitely be a snaffle of some type. Young and inexperienced horses need to be able to bend to varying degrees so the use of a direct reining device such as a snaffle is very important.


I prefer using bits appropriate for the level of training for both the horse and rider. The type of bit that you would typically use will have a huge impact on your success. I'm sure you can find alot of books on bits but we will focus on bits for training. Whether you’re training a western or english horse, the principles of bitting for starting a young horse are the same. For the most part, a snaffle bit is the tool of choice for the knowledgeable horseman. As with everything, there are many types of snaffle bits. These snaffle bits are differentiated by the rings that connect to the mouthpiece:

The loose ring snaffle is a jointed or broken snaffle bit on which the rings are free sliding. The loose ring prevents the horse from grabbing hold of the bit. If the horse attempts to grab the bit, it rotates, which makes it difficult to get hold of.

The eggbutt snaffle is similar to the loose ring, but the rings are fixed on a hinge which does not allow freedom of movement in the bit. The eggbutt was designed because of the tendency of the loose ring to pinch or cut the horse’s mouth.

The D-ring snaffle is similar in design to the eggbutt. The largest difference between the two bits is that the ring connection is even further away from the horse’s lips – making it even safer for the horse.

Do not use twisted wire snaffles, leverage bits, or mechanical hackamores when starting a horse. Actually, I can’t think of any reason you should ever use a twisted wire snaffle, mechanical hackamore, gag bit, or leverage bit with long shanks. Only when you and your horse progress to a higher level, should you be working with other types of bits.

Using a bit incorrectly or using the wrong type of bit can create problems. Some of the most common are:

*Avoidance of the bit.

*Running through the bit.

*Carriage behind the bit.

*Dryness of mouth.

*Overactive mouthing/chewing of the bit.

  For training the green horse  use a sweet iron bit with copper inlays which has 3 inch D rings. I recommend starting with D-ring snaffle bits as opposed to loose ring snaffles because the loose ring snaffles may pinch or cut the mouth of a young horse. You want to make sure that everything you do when handling a young horse is set up for a positive experience. These bits also have enough room in the D ring for the slobber straps and headstall. Sweet iron rusts which causes the horse to salivate. The copper causes salivation too. For some reason, horses really like the taste of the rust. You may see this as ugly rust, but the horse will love it. The snaffle bit is broken or jointed in the middle, which means that it is intended to be used with both hands on the reins as opposed to a curb bit which can be used in one hand.

A snaffle is a mild bit which, in good hands should be held with very light pressure. If you have to pull hard on the reins and bit to get the horse to react, you’re doing something wrong. Pressure from the rein is not how you collect your horse. You may be able to get the head in the right position (this is called head setting) but the horse's back will be hollow and their movement will not be correct. The next time you go to a horse show, see if you can tell how many horses carry themselves with collection and how many just have their head in the right spot. You'll be surprised.

Contact with the bit through the rein should be light, remember that you want to end up with a light horse so don't start out by yanking on the bit or taking too much rein. Offer the "good deal" to the horse first – light pressure or contact. If the horse leans on the bit, do not pull back on both reins, this actually teaches the horse to push it’s nose out and lean on the bit even more. If you have a problem with the horse running through the bit, use a light pull on one rein. You may even have to tug a few times to get the horse's attention. Avoid constant pressure with the rein, you just want to make it uncomfortable for the horse so that they listen to you.

You also have to understand the dynamics of movement with the horse. With each step forward, the horse’s head and body move differently. If you maintain a static position with your hands and body, you will pull on the horse’s mouth. You need to be an "active" rider. What I mean by this is your body, arms, and hands have to move with the motion of the horse. This keeps the pressure on the bit the same throughout the range of motion of the horse.

  You start the bridling experience by teaching the horse about things in their mouth. You can use the lead rope to simulate a bit and ask for them to accept the rope in their mouth the same as if it were a bit. Ask for a bend at the poll and work the rope into the horses mouth as if it were a bit. The horse will get used to something in its mouth and it won't be a cold hard piece of metal the first time. The indians used a piece of leather as a bit in their horses mouths -- be creative with the lead rope. You should practice with the rope until the horse is accepting and soft with this exercise.

I don’t bridle a horse until they are proficient riding with the rope halter. You save time and can teach a lot to your horse before you ever get a bit in their mouth. When the time comes to put a bridle on, we will put it on over the rope halter and ride in the rope halter. In order to do this, you have to double up the reins over the horse's head so that they hang out of the way on the horse’s neck. It will look like your horse is wearing a lot of hardware. You can put the headstall on the horse so that he can get used to the feel, weight, and bit in their mouth before we start using it as the primary training aid.

Once you have the horse comfortable with the rope halter and headstall combination, you can remove the rope halter and do your training in the snaffle. You still use the rope halter for riding, especially if someone who doesn’t have very good hands on ridding the horse yet.

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