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Why I became a bit and bridle fitter part 1: Lily and the strange white spots

I could just say "I became interested in bit and bridle fitting" and leave it at that, but I think my horses' stories need to be told. It seems only right to tell Lily's story first.

Lily came into our lives as a byproduct of my husband being too tall and too inexperienced. Neither of our first two adopted horses were suitable for my him. He's over 6 feet tall and a beginner and the boys are around 14.2 hands. They weren't, and still aren't, beginner horses no matter how much Dr. Doolittle vibe my husband oozes. So, we agreed to casually look for a husband horse. As luck or fate or coincidence would have it, there was a big bay mare waiting for him already.

I contacted the lady at the rescue we'd adopted the boys from to ask her to keep an eye open for a gentle, been there done that, tall horse. She said "It just so happens I pulled a retired racehorse from the kill pen last week. She's a diamond in the rough. I think you and your husband might really like her. She's got a lip tattoo and I can tell you a lot about her other than why she wound up where she did. She's going to need a lot of TLC but you can handle it after all you've been through with the boys." I immediately died inside a little because in over 40 years of working with horses, I'd never had a positive experience with a mare. And my experience with retired racehorses was what I lovingly refer to as the fast and the furious. As a teen, I spent a lot of time riding off track thoroughbreds and as someone who was convinced they were immortal at the time, that was amazing. As a now allegedly grown up person, I thought this may not be the best idea. But, upon seeing pictures of this mare, my husband was determined we needed to meet her and I was instantly 14 years old again. She was built like a brick house, the huge shoulders, the short back, and the eye that says "Oh the stories I could tell you." They don't really breed them like her anymore and I couldn't wait to meet her. There was just something about her. We met Lily on a cold, rainy February day. I was still sporting a walking cast from an incident the month prior so my husband, having had 3 riding lessons in his entire life, spent a few minutes getting to know Lily on the ground and then mounted up. From the bed of a pickup truck. Thirty five seconds into their introductory ride, her nose went to the sky and she jigged. I instantly realized he'd only ridden bitless and this horse is not having it. The lady at the rescue calmly walked over, spend thirty seconds explaining to my husband how to manage a bit, and off they went. This horse immediately softened, put her head down, and carried my husband as if he was the most precious cargo in the world. They walked, they trotted, he smiled.

She became his other wife that day. And he became her human. It's that simple.

We brought our new horse home less than a month later. The kill pen had been hard on her; she sustained a severe hock injury that had laid her skin open and had the worst rain rot any of us had ever seen. The lady at the rescue had done an admirable job getting that wound to close and we all remarked we were shocked her hock wasn't broken.

Despite her condition, she remained one of the kindest horses I've ever had the pleasure of handling. I didn't notice one particular detail about her until she'd been properly re-fed and started growing hair again. She had these strange white spots on her face. There were two on each side, in exactly the same place. I'd never seen anything like it. The weeks went by and she was getting healthy again. Each time I groomed her I was fascinated by those strange white spots. The first time we tacked her up, it hit me: these were the same kind of white hairs I've seen from poor saddle fit and here they are lining up with where a bridle may have been. Lily let us know there was a story behind these white spots the moment we put the bridle on. This kind being, for the first time since we met, expressed an opinion, loudly. Against prevailing opinions, I removed the noseband and then the browband and she was much happier. It took some trial and error to find a bit she didn't hate and one that seemed to fit.

That was the first time I looked up bit and bridle fitting, not even knowing whether or not it was a "thing." Later that day, I started studying bit and bridle fitting, albeit informally at first. Now, just shy of 5 years later, I've completed multiple certifications and currently working toward another. I'm already planning the next course and certification after this one.

This is Lily today, kindly allowing me to photograph her white spots while she would have rather been grazing. Although she has a properly fitted bit and bridle now, those spots and the scar tissue under them will never go away. She's a walking PSA for why horses need properly fitted bridles and she is a large part of why I became a professional fitter and work at raising as much awareness as I can about it, as well as encouraging responsible and compassionate equine rehoming.

Lily would insist on me telling you she had a wins at Churchill Downs and several other well known tracks during her racing career and had an E-speed rating of 92. She loved a sloppy track and she loved to stalk the pace. She raised 6 foals. She evented. She was a lesson horse. Her grandsire won The Preakness in the 90's and her pedigree is a who's who of old race royalty.

And now, she's living what we hope is her best life as a well loved member of our family and occasional model for bit and bridle fit awareness and education. I'll tell Albi and Sterling's stories next.

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