When it comes to bits, Dutchess Carola has always been a tad persnickety. The 9-year-old mare makes it obvious when she’s displeased with what’s in her mouth by refusing to go forward, head tossing and occasionally rearing. Owner Morgan Ashby and her trainer Allen Nabors thought they’d solved the problem with a leather bit until a hairy moment in the schooling ring. Ashby and “Carola” had jumped their final warm-up fence when the bit broke.
Without a spare, they put the Holsteiner (Contados—Korsika II) in a metal bit, and it went about as well as they expected: poorly.
“After that we were like we have to figure something out because we couldn’t have that chance of it breaking because it’s very dangerous,” said Ashby. “We tried a hackamore, but she didn’t like the pressure on her nose or under her chin. And then we tried the war bridle with her, and she was good until the bit started coming out of her mouth, and then she was like, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ So she threw her head up.”
Their next idea was a bitless bridle, but the one they liked was on backorder everywhere, and they needed a solution now. That’s when they thought, “Why not a halter?”
“With the halter I’ve never seen her happier,” said Ashby. “In the schooling ring she never stopped or refused to go forward. She had her ears up the entire day. That’s when we knew it was going to work because she was so happy.”
Ashby’s set-up is simple. It’s just a normal leather halter with a pair of reins attached to the square pieces on the noseband.
“It was a very different ride because I could take a feel of her,” said Ashby, 16. “With a bit I had to be very cautious when I’d take a feel of her mouth because I didn’t want her to throw her head up or start stopping or rearing. I’m still learning that I can get a feel before the jump. I need to have more of a feel than I did in the bridle because then she’ll back off and jump really well. It’s not that difficult; it’s just a change, so it’ll take a few times to get it completely correct.”
Ashby first tried the halter in a show setting while competing at Yup Another Camp Encore in Venice, Florida. They jumped a first-round clear in the $25,000 Fox Lea Farm Grand Prix on Aug. 1 to finish eighth.
Ashby of Lincolnton, North Carolina, is a working student for Nabors, and she started showing Carola last August when she was looking for a horse that could help her move up from the low junior jumpers. The pair clicked from the start, and Ashby purchased the mare at the end of last year.
“We have such a big bond,” said Ashby. “I do everything for her; I take her on walks every day. I have such a good bond with the horses, so I think it makes that much of a difference just being always around them. They trust you. My mare would do everything for me. If I asked her to jump a picnic table she probably would. She’s to die for; I love her more than anything.”