Theo's been doing so darn well and getting so strong that you had to know there would be some new issues. It's just how these things work. Moving from one plateau to another isn't usually a smooth process. For Theo, it usually involves some amount of drama. It's just what he does, he can't help himself. Things that worked fine for eight years are suddenly a problem. Such as his bridle.
Theo's been wearing the same PS of Sweden Flying Change bridle from when we started working together eight years ago. His browbands have expanded and one cheekpiece was replaced after a lunging 'incident' but otherwise, it's held up perfectly and he's been very happy. Double jointed loose ring and his snaffle bridle with a plain cavesson noseband has been everything he needs all this time. He's got a busy mouth but it's not resistant, he's always licking his lips or sucking on his bit. The judges don't mind since it's all very positive.
Three weeks ago, he suddenly started to protest his bit. He went super light and started to open his mouth like he couldn't get his bit where he wanted it. We had his teeth checked, nothing. We double checked his bit, it's fine. We gave him a couple consistent rides to see if he straightened up but no change. Swapped to his wider double jointed snaffle, nothing. Rode forward, rode long and low, rode very collected, he kept opening his mouth.
With his first show of the season a week away, I played wheel of bits and nosebands with Trainer Z today. I watched from the ground and helped with quick tack changes while we raided her bit box and tack room to try to figure out what his problem was. Theo was a trooper as we kept swapping his tack. He liked the mullen mouth with tongue relief a bit too much and immediately laid on Trainer Z's hands so much that she couldn't really ride him. Egg butt was a bit better but still invited him to lock down. After messing around for awhile, we popped a drop noseband on him. Just like that, he settled down. He can still lick his lips so it's clearly not holding his mouth shut but moving the noseband down his face seems to have stopped whatever was going on.
Trainer Z thinks he needed more stability now that he's working in an uphill frame. Different angles, different feel for him? He still needs his loose ring, double jointed snaffle to keep him from weighing 1,000 pounds but he also seems to need something in front of the bit instead of behind it. He tested it once or twice but he very quickly settled into his happy, tail wagging, relaxed ears frame. Just a higher frame then what he could do just a month ago.
Kudos to Trainer Z for taking the time to go through the checklist and find what he needed rather than just strapping his mouth shut. We're still not sure just what he needed but if all he needs is a different noseband, we're happy to do that. Considering his mouth was checked about 1.5 weeks ago with no hooks or issues, it seems to be related to him recently getting strong enough to connect over his entire topline from poll to tail. We did find some poll soreness when all of this started but after massaging and focusing on loosening that up in the saddle, he's feeling much better. Maybe today was a combination of the poll feeling better and a more stable connection in his mouth so he doesn't feel the need to try to rearrange it. It really looked like he was trying to move it in his mouth intermittently, like it would bug him and he had to fix it.
Other side effect of him finally have a topline from poll to tail? He's now casually offering his flying change. It appears he's finally ready, mentally and physically, to make that part of his work. He gave me the cutest flying change this week while I was working his counter flex to loosen him up. Small problem is that Trainer Z's doing a Second Level freestyle next weekend. We're excited that he's very ready and eager to start his Third Level career, but couldn't it wait another week?! Come on, Theo, why do you have to make things so complicated?