All posts by colleen chartier

Let’s Talk About b(It) – Choosing the Right Bit for Your Horse

Since the domestication of horses, there has been a considerable amount of headway on the topic of bits and their practices, usage, technology, and understanding for what may be “best” for each horse.

What was at one point a simple rope across a horse’s tongue has been refined to specially formulated metals to increase salivation. In addition, varying schools of thought on the types of bits and practices used when biting a horse has evolved over the centuries, and the development of Master Loriners (metal workers for the use of bits and spurs with horses) has given access to further knowledge and advanced technology for the development of more complex mouthpieces. Now, more than ever, riders have a virtually endless amount of information available at their fingertips to add to their toolbox to further enhance their understanding of bits and enhance their relationships with their equine partners.

Rotti uses a jointed Blue Sweet Iron Pelham with brass rings to play with and encourage a soft mouth in the Hunter ring

With so many different types of bits available – including assorted cheek pieces, mouth pieces, materials, Curb/Leverage vs. Snaffle, and other factors – it can be overwhelming to decide which one to select. This blog will dive more into the different types of bits used in English disciplines, and the varying types of functions that each are used.

How Bits Work

Depending on the construction of each bit pressure can be extended to 7 different points.

  1. Tongue – The first point of contact when using a bit on a horse, this area will feel the pressure, weight, and effects of the bit being used. Depending on the number of “breaks” or joints on a bit, the size and depth of a mouth piece, more or less pressure can be administered.
  2. Bars – Evolution favored the domestication of horses by allowing a natural resting point between the front incisors and molars on a horse where a bit rests. Most bits will exert some pressure here on the gums at some point.
  3. Corners – When rein aids are applied, the corners of the lips on the mouth where the bit rests against will transmit pressure (depending on the mouthpiece and the rider’s hands, the pressure can be gentle to more severe). This creates a “smiling” effect and where a “wrinkle test” can be done to see if a bit is adjusted to the right level on the bridle. There is always pressure on the corners of the mouth when using a bit, with the exception of a Hackamore or “Bitless” bridles.
  4. Palette – Otherwise known as the roof of a horse’s mouth, pressure is administered via ports for a response. Depending on the shallowness of some horse’s mouths, certain bits may cause irritation and should be used with extreme caution and advanced hands (ie: those with high ports, etc.)
  5. Chin Groove / Lower Jaw – When a curb chain or strap is used in conjunction with a curb bit, that piece will apply pressure to the underside chin groove when rein aids are applied. In addition to creating pressure, the curb strap or chain also prevents the bit from sliding back and rotating too far in the horse’s mouth – particularly for ported bits. Note: It’s crucial to have the curb chain fitted without twists and that two flat fingers can be inserted between the chain and skin of the groove. Twisted chains or incorrectly set chains (going through the bit) can cause damage to the horse’s jaw, bars, and tongue.
  6. Poll – This point is located at the top of the horse’s head and will have pressure applied to it by the main part of the bridle. Generally, poll pressure is known to release endorphins but should be cognizant of how much and how often pressure is used, as the types of bits used to apply pressure to this area are usually for more advanced hands (ie: curb/shank/Pelham)
  7. Nasal Bone – This extremely delicate area along and across the nasal bone area can be utilized via specialty bits (Hackamore) or training equipment that will use various types of nosebands to apply pressure for a desired response. In this instance, you may see tools used like drop nosebands, flashes and figure 8 attachments.

Different Bits for Different Trips

Depending on your discipline (Hunters, Jumpers, Dressage, Eventing, Pleasure Driving, Field Hunting, Etc.), there are commonly found bit types for training and showing in.

Hunters: Known for its upholding of tradition throughout various horse and rider presentation, jump styles, and more, hunters are typically seen in traditional Snaffle or Pelham bits. Currently, many horses are seen in a King Dee Ring, a snaffle bit featuring a larger-styled Dee cheek piece, or a classic Pelham bit, which can feature various mouthpieces and metals such as “sweet iron,” stainless steel, composite synthetic rubber, and more. Unconventional bits such as Hunter Gags, Hackamores, Kimberwickes may be subject to penalty during judging, however may not be eliminated. Occasionally, double bridles are seen in the ring.

Jumpers: While there is no black and white rule for what bits may be used in the ring, you will typically see various combinations of fixed mouthpieces (as opposed to a loose ring which allows more mobility for the bit sliding along the horse’s corners) and various Curb and Leverage bits. When horses are expected to adjust their balance very quickly and efficiently between maximum jumping efforts, certain bits like the Gag and Hackamore allow increased poll pressure (generally encouraging the horse to drop his head) and giving the rider the ability to have an upper hand against the horse’s neck strength for better control and quality of aids. Lower level jumpers may use a Kimberwicke (with a curb chain) or Wilkie/Bevel bit for a combination of light leverage plus a Snaffle effect with the mouthpiece distributing pressure along the tongue and mouth.

Dressage: Throughout the various levels of showing, Dressage is known to have strict requirements of what can and cannot be used for showing purposes. For lower levels, a plain Snaffle bit is permitted. Third and Fourth Levels may use the same Snaffle bit or use the addition of a double bridle (Bridoon) with a curb chain. For FEI tests at national competitions, a plain snaffle bridle or simple double bridle may be used. However, for some qualifying classes and divisions, a double bridle is mandatory. The most common mouthpiece among dressage riders is a double-jointed bit (otherwise known as a Lozenge bit). Different pieces such as rollers, French link, or Dr. Bristol can add play and different levels of control are available in Lozenge bits.

Eventing: When going cross-county, especially over large, solid fences, it’s vital for any rider to feel comfortable and in control of their horse. In addition to making sure your horse has the proper fitness level to balance jumping and galloping over varying terrain. A lot of event riders prefer something with a little more leverage and added control for the cross-country phase like a 2- or 3-Ring Elevator, or Pelham.

Pleasure / Carriage Driving: A lot of driving bits use a Mullen (straight-bar) mouthpiece, to evenly distribute pressure throughout. These bits can use varying ports depending on the level of control desired. Another type of bit seen in driving, particularly with horses and ponies, is the Half Spoon/Half Check Snaffle bit. Designed to prevent sliding into a horse’s mouth, these bits can either be designed with a Mullen mouth or single-joint mouthpiece. The Wilson Snaffle and Coronet Berry Bits can apply more corner and cheek pressure with the different ring set-ups available. For larger horses in Carriage or Team Driving, 2- or 3-Loop Butterfly Bits act as a leverage and snaffle bit combination with the ability to apply more or less severe pressure to encourage the horse to break at the poll, depending on where the driving reins attach to the fixed loop, while the curb chain applies additional chin pressure. Straight, ported, or double-jointed mouth pieces are available if more or less bar, tongue, and palate pressure is desired.

*Note: It is always a good idea to check with your showing or breed registration for the most up-to-date rules and restrictions on certain bits for showing. For example, in hunter divisions, the only bits that are deemed “conventional” and free of potential penalties from Judges are Snaffles and Pelhams on traditional full bridles.

Take a Test Ride

Big Dee’s Tack offers a unique ability to allow riders to “try before you buy,” on various bits here in the store, including multiple manufacturers to allow you to Test Ride some of the most popular bit brands like Myler, Herm Sprenger, and Neue Schule. We have several expert guides on staff to guide in your selection that take the worry out of selecting the perfect bit for your horse. With over 130 bits available to Test Ride, you’ll be sure to find one that you, your horse, and your wallet will love!

Myler Level Best For Your Horse Book And Dvd Value Pack
The purchase of every Myler bit (including Test Ride options), you’ll receive a free booklet and DVD discussing the various levels Myler offers to allow further education to select the perfect bit for your horse through his training.

Words of Wisdom

The key to selecting the right bit for your horses is more than the selection of the bit alone. Training between legs, seat and hands is the most important factor in communicating with the horse. What may be appropriate for an upper-level Dressage rider on a Grand Prix mount will differ greatly for a beginner pony rider developing her aids and steering control.

Often, the problems perceived as resulting from not having the correct bit are usually due to issues in riding training, or could be an issue resulting from a horse that may need its teeth examined and routinely maintained. Some common reactions to an incorrect bit fit, selection, or incorrect hand pressure include head tossing, shaking, “dull-mouthed,” to the more severe reactions like refusing or rearing. Generally, inexperienced horses often have not been schooled to the desired responses certain bit cues requested and may be overwhelmed, confused, or become irritated by severe bits.

Regardless of what you bit you choose, it’s crucial to experiment with bit selection to determine which bit works best for each horse and rider combination. As horse and rider’s relationship, fitness levels, and experience grows, the bit you may need one season could differ from the next, resulting in different needs to address. As always, working with an experienced professional trainer, veterinarian, saddle fitter, and other professionals in the industry are all parts of finding a winning combination.

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen, Purchasing Associate

Protect That Noodle! The Importance of Selecting the Right Helmet

To close out this three-part series of the most important investments you’ll ever make when riding, including your tall boots and saddle purchases, the last but certainly not least item is your helmet.

TBI’s and Horseback Riding

Over the last 10 years, there has been a rapidly increasingly focus on various concussions and sports-related brain injuries. Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI’s, have been shown to be most prevalent among those that participate in horseback riding. In fact, almost half of the documented cases of TBI among adults were related to horseback riding at over 45%; while children and adolescents who rode were the third-leading number of TBI patients! Wearing a helmet isn’t just meant to be a fashion statement – it can be a matter of potentially saving your life.

Rotti’s antics as a youngster made my appreciate the importance of a helmet – you never know what my happen when working with a green baby!

Knocked Out

Every time my friends and I get together and the conversation of “who has the craziest injury story,” comes up, I always manage to win – or lose, depending on who you ask.

When I was a teenager, I was schooling a horse at a horse show during somewhat slippery conditions. My helmet was on and tack securely fastened, however no one could ever prepare for the “what-if” factor. Unfortunately, during the take-off at a jump, my horse completely lost its footing in the mud, falling forward with the impulsion of a jump behind it. Long story short, and many broken bones later, the horse had flipped over, and I crashed into the ground, experiencing what’s known as a rotational fall. I suffered a massive concussion, including bouts of blacking out, not knowing where I was, excruciating migraines, and my mood was constantly bombarded with changes of irritability, depression, and anxiety. Thankfully, my helmet was properly fit and ultimately, prevented me from severing my spinal cord, breaking my neck, or worse.

The most famous event that inspired riders around the world to advocate the importance of helmet awareness was the accident of Team USA Olympic rider, Courtney King-Dye. In 2010, King-Dye suffered a devastating injury after a young horse had slipped and fallen, resulting in over a month-long coma and her professional riding career coming to a tragic end. While her cognitive abilities recovered, she now spends most of her time teaching rather than riding, advocating the importance of wearing a helmet when handling horses – on the ground or in the saddle.

As I have gotten older, and less “bouncy” when I hit the ground, helmets have kept me safe and provided an overall sense of protection and comfort when dealing with hot youngsters, bad distances, and any time I get in the irons. In fact, helmet awareness and safety has become such an important topic throughout the equestrian community, the annual Helmet Awareness Day event hosted by Riders4Helmets springs up all throughout various tack stores, to further educate and ensure proper fitting of helmets to all riders.

Today’s Technology

Helmets developed today involve a variety of technologies in addition to various styles, finishes (matte, gloss, leather-look, Alcantara/faux suede, or even Swarovski-encrusted!), and brands. Regardless of what your budget is or purpose for your helmet (if it’s for schooling, shows, etc.), make sure you familiarize yourself with the different types of helmet safety certifications, and which one is required for your showing organization.

ASTM/SEI: The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is an organization that writes safety standards for various protective products, whose standards can be adopted by various organizations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Once those standards are in place, the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) follows the quality control of these standards, ensuring manufactureres are follwing them by doing their own in-house testing or other third-party options. Testing audits are usually performed on an annual basis. Helmets are tested through rigorously, analyzing shock wave, puncture, harness, and visor resiliency through a variety of scenarios. After freezing the helmet to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and submerging in water overnight, if the helmet still transfers no more than 300g (“G”-forces) and the strap is still effective, the helmet earns ASTM/SEI approval. Currently, ASTM F1163-15 is the equestrian riding helmet standard for the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

Troxel is one of the original manufacturers to adopt and lead the way in ASTM/SEI safety standards for riding helmets. The Intrepid Performance helmet features a safety brim and base of the skull support at the back of the helmet.

PAS015: Developed by the British Standards Institude (BSI), this organization is similar to the SEI, set up to test the safety and quality control of riding helmets. The certification standards for PAS015 includes crush resistance and protection against injury when landing on an edged surface as well as a stability test to limit excessive movement during wearing or in the event of a fall.

Kitemark: The Kitemark is another BSI certification, most notably found on Charles Owen and KEP helmets. British Standards Institute tests the helmets and the Kitemark includes batch testing and access to the manufacturer’s factory and offices.

standards
Charles Owen is known for their many helmet safety standard certifications – this chart explains the types of protections each standard protects against.

VG1: This is a newer European standard for riding helmets that in addition to impact, retention, and visor tests, these standards demand that helmets withstand penetration and crushing. Many European-manufactured helmets, including KEP, Charles Owen, GPA, and Uvex offer this certification.

MIPS:  Multi-directional Impact Protection System, or MIPS, which is a new, advanced technology inside the helmet designed to reduce rotational forces transmitted to the brain that can result from certain impacts. This technology allows the head to move 10-15 mm in all directions, reducing the rotational motion to the brain. Currently, MIPS is offered in Trauma Void and certain Charles Owen helmets.

Trauma Void’s EQ3 helmets offer MIPS technology, designed to reduce the impact of brain activity in the event of a fall and minimize concussion risk.

HOT TIP: It’s important to note that helmet manufacturers recommend that helmets be replaced every five years. However, there is a big loophole to that rule: Helmets are only designed to protect your head for one impact – regardless of recently you might have purchased it. This includes any falls off your tack locker shelf, so make sure you properly store your helmet when it isn’t in use. In other words, that dusty Titium helmet you’ve been using since 2003 should be retired.

Big Dee’s inventory of riding helmets from exclusive, popular brands like Charles Owen, One K, GPA, Trauma Void, KASK, Uvex, KEP, Troxel, IRH, Ovation, and Tipperary meet or exceed safety standards required for riding and showing. Our certified helmet fitting experts are here to help find the perfect helmet, the perfect fit, and the perfect price, in addition to answering any questions you have to make sure your helmet is worn correctly every time!

Options Galore!

It can be overwhelming to decide which helmet is right for you, with so many options on exteriors, dial-fit vs. single size, and price points available. Currently, a smooth, matte finish or “Alcantara” fabric (a faux micro-suede) are the most popular finishes due to their ease of cleaning and finished look. Schooling riders have the option of choosing fun patterns, colors, and designs, like the Troxel FTX line, inspired by World-Champion barrel racer Fallon Taylor. For showing helmets, black and navy are the most traditional colors, but brown and gray have become increasingly popular finishes for the dressage and jumper rings.

Dial-fit helmets are wonderful options for young riders or those that offer lesson programs with their ability to adjust to a wide audience and ensure a proper fit. Regardless of which helmet you choose, make sure that you wear your hair in a similar fashion as you plan to ride (in a bun or ponytail or tucked underneath your helmet) to allow a consistent fit. Not all helmets fit the same, due to different head shapes (round or oval), hair thickness, and head size, so I recommend trying on several helmets until you have the “Goldilocks” fit that’s “just right.” Certain manufacturers like Ovation and KASK are known for their oval shape, while GPA and Trauma Void and KEP fit heads with a rounder profile. Some manufacturers, like One K and Charles Owen, offer round, oval, and long oval shape options to cater to a wider variety of riders.

Charles Owen’s helmets offer oval, long oval, and round head shapes to create a perfect fit for some harder-to-fit riders.

Tips for a Perfect Fit

Fitting your helmet is just as important as wearing one. In the event of a fall, your helmet is the only thing protecting your skull and brain, and ill-fitting equipment can potentially cause greater damage. NEVER guess your helmet size or buy a helmet that is “roomy” for a child rider. Helmets are not designed like shoes where they can be grown into – and there are great options available like Dial-Fit helmets that can offer longevity for growing riders.

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Dial fit helmets are a popular option for growing heads or riders that like to switch up their hairstyle. Just make sure you check the fit each time you put it on!

Helmets should sit level on your head with even pressure throughout and an almost “suction-like” fit. Because different manufacturers have different designs for their linings, the feel can be a little different, but it’s important to check a few things when trying on a new helmet. In the same vein, helmet manufacturers have different size charts, so the size you may be in one brand may differ from another. Knowing your actual head measurements will be useful when selecting where to start.

There should not be any pressure points and should sit level on your head. A comfortable, snug fit is good; a red ring around your forehead and a headache from too tight of a helmet is not. Conversely, you don’t want your helmet so loose that it can easily move around and covers your eyebrows – that means the helmet is too big.

The harness does not make the fit! Often, riders think that if they tighten the chin strap on a helmet it can correct a poor helmet fitting. Helmets should fit properly without the fastener attached and are only designed to keep it on in the event of a fall. When adjusting the chinstrap, it should sit under the chin and gently touches the bottom of the ear lobe. Ideally, you should be able to fit two fingers between the strap and under your chin. A good test to check is yawn with your helmet on – you should feel a gentle pressure pulling the top of the helmet down.

Removable, washable liners have become more common and available in many of today’s helmets. They allow ease of cleaning and the ability to adjust helmet fit for riders that alternate wearing their hair up or down or perhaps recently got a major hair cut. Check with a helmet fitting professional any time you make adjustments to your hairstyle, as your fit may change.

Use Your Noggin – Wear a Helmet!

No matter your discipline, experience level, or how bombproof your horse may be – always, ALWAYS wear a helmet. Not only is it the cool thing to do, it’s the easiest way to stay safe in and out of the saddle. Plus, with so many options to pick from, you can find one that coordinates with any riding outfit you choose!

Always wear a helmet and encourage your fellow riders to do the same!

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen, Purchasing Associate

Fan Favorites: Big Dee’s Employee Picks for Mud Season

It’s our favorite time of year! The time of the season where horses have turned into shedding wildebeests and what was once known as a horse farm has turned into a mud farm.

Thankfully, the Big Dee’s Crew has come to the rescue to hand-select some of our favorite, must-have products to get us through mud season. Whether you’re dealing with issues like 5 layers of mud or ways to bring your horse’s dull winter coat to a shiny spring glow, we’ve got you covered!

Curry On a Stik’

Picked by Purchasing & Showroom Department Manager, Gail L.

Are you looking for a grooming tool that will lift caked-on mud after your horse has spent all day rolling in his favorite puddle? Look no further, the Curry On A Stik’ allows deep cleaning with its large rubber prongs and exfoliating bristles.

Curry On a Stik’ $28.95

What makes this grooming tool out of this world isn’t just the fact it is Veterinarian tested and recommended, the unique handle design prevents hand fatigue – say goodbye to cramped fingers and “claw” hands! The dual-sided head provides a gentle massaging effect that horses crave, creating a bonding ritual your horse will look forward to.

“Finally, a round curry that is balanced and easy to hold! [Curry On a Stik’] will not make your hand cramp up. It’s great for getting out mud and shedding and there is a soft bristle side for finishing…” – Gail L.

E3 Antibacterial / Anti-Fungal Shampoo

Picked by Operations Manager, Jess R.

Who says you have to sacrifice penetrating, deep-cleaning properties for a gentle, pleasant-smelling formula? Elite Equine Evolution’s Antibacterial & Antifungal Shampoo proves you can have the best of both worlds!

This pH-balanced medicated shampoo is the solution to ensure a clean coat, while its fortification of Nano Vitamins A, C, E, & F ensure maximum absorption and diffusion of the vitamins to prevent inflammation and promote rapid healing. The E3 Antibacterial Shampoo’s truly one of the most effective bathing items out there for controlling Hot Spots, Ring Worm, Rain Rot, mud-related skin disorders, and more. Plus, it’s safe for dogs!

“E3 Antibacterial/Antifungal shampoo is my top-pick to keep my horses skin clean and healthy year-round. While it can be used for all-over cleaning, I absolutely rely on this shampoo to care for my horses legs.

During the wet season I like to do a deep clean with E3 and a full dry out at least once a week to keep nasty mud related afflictions at bay. The other 6 months of the year I use it as an integral part of my post-foxhunting routine. This high-sudsing cleanser has a pleasant scent and leaves the hair soft and radiant. I truly believe that the E3 Antibacterial/Antifungal shampoo is the absolute best defense against minor cuts and scrapes from brush, brambles and wire.” – Jess R.

Epona Grooming Tools

Picked by Operations Manager, Jess R.

Epona has designed some of the leading grooming tools great for tackling dirt, dust, and debris on any horse, any time of the year. From brushes to curries and sponges galore, you’ll definitely want to stock up for your own grooming box

The Epona Ulta-Mitt is super effective for bathing and removing sweat marks from both clipped and unclipped horses. The gentle, cactus-like material helps lift dirt and debris free from the skin, then simply hose off and hang to dry! The April Power Shower Sponge with Tiger’s Tongue is one of Big Dee’s best-selling items, a two-sided and super absorbent sponge to scrub away dirt or use with your favorite coat conditioner to bring out a dazzling finish.

“The Epona April Power Shower Sponge with Tigers Tongue is a great dual-purpose sponge. This tool makes bucket baths quick and easy, the sponge holds lots of soap, while with a simple flip the tigers tongue makes quick work of tough stains. I also use it dry to power through crusted mud and sweat marks. Flip it over to the sponge side and give it a spritz with your favorite coat conditioner for a quick spot clean.

The Epona Ulta-Mitt is the one tool I think every equestrian should have in their bath bucket. The tightly woven loops help to create a rich lather while attaining a deep clean right down to their skin. The flexible fabric allows my hand to easily conform to my horses legs to make scrubbing easy and comfortable for my horse. I give the Epona Ulta-Mitt two thumbs up for quality and durability.” – Jess R.

EQyss Survivor Super Detangler & Shine

Picked by Purchasing Associate, Colleen C.

One of the most treasured grooming items in my tack box, I have been a big fan of the EQyss Survivor Super Detangler & Shine for everyday grooming and last-minute touch-ups before entering the show ring. I swear by this stuff and any person who wants to make a “wow” statement for their horse’s turnout needs this product. This heavenly-smelling gel slides easily through burrs, knots, and tangles without being sticky or greasy. A little goes a long way on this detangler – a nickel to quarter size drop is all I need!

Some of favorite things about this all-natural gel is that it’s specifically formulated to reduce hair breakage, keeping Rotti’s tail nice and fluffy and full. The long-lasting results keep the same bottle around for a long time and make quick touch-ups a breeze right before entering the ring. Many of EQyss’s grooming products are in my trunk, due to their non-toxic, pH-balanced formulas that smell FANTASTIC and used for moisturizing dry coats, hooves, helping with a variety of skin issues, and more.

Zarasyl

Picked by Senior Buyer Tish C.

Zarasyl is a Superman-like agent that does it all! This scientifically-designed barrier cream is used for a variety of preventative and treatment methods for most types of skin ailments. It’s steroid- and antibiotic-free, making it safe for any level of competition.

Zarasyl Barrier Cream 6.7 oz $52.50

Its proprietary formula contains bio-available Silica for healthy connective tissue growth and enriched with Beeswax for gentle soothing and healing of abrasions while creating a protective barrier against harmful bacteria. Zarasyl also contains Tree Tree Oil for antibacterial properties, Zinc for cell growth and wound healing, and Lanolin for a moisturized skin barrier. Extremely easy to use and apply, the slightly sticky formula allows you to pinpoint exactly where you want the cream to go – no mess, no fuss.

“[With Zarasyl], a little goes a long way! Test-Free and I found it starts to heal up limestone/mud rash within  a few days.” – Tish C.

Coat Defense

Picked by Purchasing / Product Management, Christie F.

What started out as a non-toxic, sustainable, and Eco-friendly human skincare solution has turned into an international phenomenon for the effective cleaning, treatment, and management of a healthy skin and coat for horses.

Coat Defense Trouble Spot Drying Paste & Daily Preventative Powder $17.89 – $35.95

This all-natural line of effective products is without harsh ingredients like chemical preservatives, synthetic detergents and fragrances – but don’t let that fool you – their topical skincare products pack a punch! The Coat Defense Powder & Paste can be used for a variety of common skin issues like rain rot, bug bites, sweet itch, various cuts and scrapes, and makes a FANTASTIC dry shampoo! Plus, its delicate Peppermint scent will keep you reaching for both of these fantastic products throughout the year.

 “For many years I have battled mud fever until I found Coat Defense.  Now using Coat Defense combined with a daily grooming routine we have had no mud fever episodes (yay!).  I focus on the problem areas, legs, hocks and spine area cleaning off dirt and debris using the Epona Tigers Tongue, it easily removes dirt and debris from hard to reach areas because it so easily conforms to the body part you’re grooming.   I follow up with a generous amount of Coat Defense powder making sure to rub it into the coat to get to the skin.  During Spring and Winter months when the horses are wearing their blankets more frequently I will even put a little Coat Defense on prior to blanketing.  Coat Defense is now my go-to product for Mud Fever prevention!” – Christie F.

What Will YOU Choose?

With over 200 brands and thousands of items to select within our vast inventory, Big Dee’s is certain to have the products you need to bring out the best from your horse – both on the inside and the outside! Whether you’re battling caked on mud in a dirty tail, dealing with a shedding woolly mammoth, or brightening a coat that was left dull from the winter, our expert staff is here to ensure you have the grooming tools and bathing essentials to create a dazzling finish.

Tell us YOUR favorite spring-time grooming faves!

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen, Purchasing Associate

Equine Lunging Systems: The What, How, and Why?

As horsemen and horsewomen, we have all heard the term “topline” and the importance of building, maintaining, and properly supporting the horse’s topline for optimal movement, soundness, and performance.

What is The Topline?

The topline is a collection of muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters. Specifically, the longissimus dorsi which attaches spine to pelvis; latissimus dorsi that attaches the upper and mid back vertebrae to the lower lumbar vertebrae, and the thoracic trapezius which attaches the neck and mid back vertebrae to the shoulder blade.

Photo courtesy of Topline Balance

In addition to proper nutrition, turnout, correct saddle fit, and overall care, the topline can strengthen and grow with regular work – including riding, ground work, and lunging (specifically with some sort of lunging system). Having a properly balanced topline will not only improve your horse’s appearance and performance, his sense of balance, posture, and comfort will improve much like strengthening our own core does!

A regular working schedule including riding, groundwork, and lunging can utilize and exercise your horse’s topline. A fun and proven way to make your horse move his booty in the saddle is by incorporating trot poles, stretching, various terrain work, and lots of transitions. It’s worth mentioning that ensuring a proper fit is CRUCIAL to this process, as an ill-fitting saddle will inhibit your horse’s topline growth, as well as a source of soreness, injury, imbalance, and overall negativity for your horse (and you)!

Pole work is a GREAT way to develop your horse’s rhythm, balance, and overall topline
Photo courtesy of FEI.org

Another popular way to build your horse’s topline, for any English, Western, or Equine-related discipline is with the use of a Lunging system. One of the best things about using a lunging system is that it takes the stress and worry out of forcing your horse into a frame, as the rig encourages the horse to self-carry and any resistance is from the horse and not you. Originally developed by American showjumper Nelson Pessoa, it was the first set designed specifically to lift and engage a horse’s core and topline to develop self-carriage and encourage proper movement.

Today, there are great options for those that are wanting to purchase a Lunging System of their own, but it’s important to make sure you have all the essential items needed for lunging.

What You’ll Need

  1. Lunging System:The Pessoa Lunging System is more of an investment, priced at $235, or Waldhausen Lunging System is more of an economic pricepoint at $55. Personally, I love both of them but I’ve had my Pessoa now for about 5 years, and it’s held up beautifully!
  2. Lunge Line Surcingle: These have various attachments, depending on the frame you’d like your horse to be in. There are many different types of material these are made in, from leather to neoprene to nylon. I personally use this one because of the variety of D rings available – so I can use it for dressage, hunters, or Western frames.
  3. Saddle Pad: Because the surcingles are designed to fit snug against the horse, I make sure I use a pad of some kind to keep it in place and prevent slipping, plus add to my horse’s comfort. I use the Back on Track Back Pad because it covers the entire topline area, and it’s great for bareback riding too!
  4. Bridle or Lunging Cavesson: Lunging systems must always be used with a bit for the lines and pulleys to attach to. You can either use a regular bridle with a lunging attachment (like this one) or Lunging Cavesson.
  5. Lunge Line: These can be made in either nylon or cotton. You’ll want to make sure yours has plenty of length for proper control and to change the size circle your horse goes in, depending on the amount of collection or engagement preferred. Ideally, you’ll want one with a 25 or 30-foot length with a durable, heavier snap.
  6. Lunge Whip
  7. Lots of treats for rewarding and praising your horse for a job well done!

I love this surcingle from Big Dee’s! With the multiple rings and sturdy neoprene grip, I can use this for Dressage, Hunters, or Western frame
Mustang Neoprene Training Surcingle : $34.95

When you’re done, then end result should look something like this!

How To Fit Your Lunging System

  1. Fit your surcingle and pad on your horses back. Gather all your clips in place to avoid a detangling mess!
  2. Take the snap that branches from the “V-clip” and attach to the D ring on your surcingle that is at the center of your horse’s back.
  3. Set the bum roll under your horse’s tail. A note for fitting, it may look a little high at first when standing, but as you encourage him to move and tuck underneath, the roller will lower.
  4. Separate the left and rein lines from each other, then gather the right line to keep in place, making sure it’s tidy and away from the ground to avoid getting caught in your horse’s legs.
  5. Take the pulley snap and attach to the solid ring near the girth attachment of the surcingle.
  6. Attach the end snap to the bit as a place holder and repeat on the other side.
  7. Take the front clips and run them through the bit rings going out-to-in towards the middle of the horse’s front legs).
  8. Attach the clips at the D-ring underneath the surcingle. Some people use baling twine for younger or green horses as an easy break point.
  9. You’re done! You can send your horse out on the line and begin lunging.

Waldhausen Lunging System in Practice

One of our Customer Service Support Specialists, Laura, had been curious about trying various Lunging Systems. After trial and error with other Lunging Systems, hear how she found a winner with the Waldhausen Lunging System!

” I purchased the Waldhausen lunging system when other lunging aids were not cutting it for my dressage gelding. He would pull himself into frame and be “collected” but not engage his hind end on the ground. After a lot of research, I found the Waldhausen system and decided to purchase it and test it out! The instructions were very simple to understand and they show a few different ways to hook up the system on your horse. I started with the most basic, which is what is pictured. After my horses’ first initial few steps of confusion with the padded strap behind his legs, he started tracking up better in both the walk and the trot. Moving on to the canter, he showed actual full collection and engaged both his hind end and back going into the transition. I have now started to use the Waldhausen system in our monthly training/lunging program to help keep his mind working with the rest of his body which helps him both move and feel better when being ridden!”

Customer Service Rep Laura’s handsome OTTB gelding, Cash, quickly improved his self-carriage and hind-end engagement with the Waldhausen system, while Laura loved the price tag and ease of setup.

Tips and Final Words

When using any Lunging System for the first time, it’s always important to desensitize your horse to all the lines, pulleys, and clips before putting it on. Start slowly when you begin, begin at a walk encouraging your horse to move freely and without resistance. As your horse begins to become more comfortable and trained to the system, feel free to experiment and have fun with different gaits, transitions, circle sizes, and change of directions. As always, make sure you are working with a professional and in a safe environment with the addition of any new training aid, to make sure everything fits correctly and she can observe the initial reactions of your horse.

Like any training aid, it’s important to not over-do the frequency of use. These are designed to be used in conjunction with proper riding and training, not to replace it. But lastly, have fun and be patient! Take this time to bond with your horse out of the saddle and not be afraid to try something new.

Rotti’s well-developed topline has resulted from patience, consistency, and kindness. We use a Lunging System at least once a week.

Enjoy the ride,

Colleen

How to Keep Your New Years Resolutions (and Not Drive Yourself Crazy)

With the arrival of a new year, and a new decade, I’ve wracked my brain over the final days of 2019 to figure out, “What do I need to do to become a better me?” especially when it comes to time at the barn.

Year-end reflections can be a daunting thing… So making a list of what went will and what you hope to avoid for 2020 will make your goals that much more attainable!

If you’re anything like me, a busy, working adult trying to keep the career, bills, riding, sleep – oh, and MAYBE a social life – all in check, you know how overwhelming and chaotic it can be. Add owning a horse into the mix, let alone trying to find time to ride in between managing shots, deworming schedules, farrier bills, massage appointments, Reiki sessions (because Millennial) and it’s downright exhausting. To be honest, there are days (or weeks) that go by that I do so much FOR my horse that I don’t actually get to spend time WITH my horse!

This is Rotterdam, or “Rotti,” my 2010 Westphalian gelding. He’s a total chunk and a total HUNK!

So on January 1, I made a list of New Years Resolutions of all the bad habits I will break…. and within the first week of the new year I broke them. And I realized, instead of putting myself under all this pressure and stress (with a side of lingering guilt) why not put my energy into making a list of the things I WANT to do and a list of things I absolutely DO NOT want in 2020 that keep me from enjoying myself at the barn.

So here’s the list I came up with:

  1. Ride at least 3 times a week, including 1 lesson
  2. Get smart! Read up to become a more well-rounded horsewoman (like this one for my fellow English riders!)
  3. Attend at least 2 clinics – whether an auditor or a participant
  4. Submit my application for the 2020 RRP Project (Retired Racehorse Project)
  5. Get measured and order a pair of custom boots. I’ve been dying to get a pair of custom DeNiro’s for years to replace my current tall boots and would love to do something crazy like a patent leather toe and boot crown!
  6. Ride in the Cleveland Metroparks or on the beach at Lake Erie!
  7. Groom for one weekend at the Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic
  8. Attend one show every season (winter, spring, summer, fall)
  9. Be a better boarder – if that means being 5 minutes early for my lesson, bringing my farrier a heating pad when he’s stuck putting shoes on in subzero temperatures, and being a positive role model for the younger girls that ride with me.
  10. HAVE FUN!
On the list for this year is to get measured for custom DeNiro tall boots! Even though I know these are by no means acceptable in “Hunter Land,” I LOVE the patent accent at the top combined with the sleek, dress boot design.
Janet Foy is one of my favorite horsewomen of all time! Her no-nonsense and easy to understand explanations and diagrams in this book are perfect to apply to any sort of riding.
The Chagrin Hunter Jumper Classic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio is one of my most looked-forward to equine events each year. As a competitor or a spectator, watch the action unfold July 2 – 12, 2020!

I think whatever your goals are for the year, whether you’re an active participant in any discipline or the World’s Best Cheerleader, it’s important to be mindful of the time you spend. So often, we get stuck in the daily routine – and while it’s comforting – it can also be limiting. Growth and positive change never happens by standing still. It doesn’t matter if your goals are riding once a week or qualify for Washington International Horse Show or cleaning that moldy bridle that’s been sitting in the corner of your basement.  Just give yourself something to shoot for, write it down, and GO DO IT!

So relax. Hug your horse. Trust you’re doing the best you can. And remember to check in with your inner horse crazy child, to remind yourself why you fell in love with these amazing creatures in the first place.

What’s on YOUR list to make 2020 your best horsey-year yet?

Enjoy the ride, Colleen