February Action Rider of the Month – Patty Surowski

Patty Surowski knows the entire life history of her mare, Finnagan. It is interesting to see the “before” photo of Finnagan when she was a filly, and the “after” photo of Finnagan as a mature riding horse.

Finnagan as a young adorable filly.
Finnagan as a young adorable filly.

“The first picture is of my horse, Finnagan, as a baby,” explains Patty. “I didn’t own her then, my friend Mary McGinty, an endurance rider, did. My friend, Julie, also an endurance rider, named my little girl and provided me with the photo. I bought Finnagan in September of 2013 as a three-year-old from Mary. She’s now four and a half and looks very grown up.”


“Finnagan went to boarding school this past fall to learn how to carry herself, yield to the bit and obey the aids at Madrone Hill Ranch with Sonja Biada, a dressage trainer and rider. The other picture is of us in a lesson/training session from October 2014.”

Patty Surowski riding Finnagan.
Patty Surowski riding Finnagan, moving nicely forward and stretching to the bridle.

“Finnagan has turned out to be a lovely young lady. She returned from boarding school at the end of November. We have been working on trail riding and long slow distance rides in preparation for our 2016 endurance season. She has been a very brave girl on trail and a pleasure to ride. I bought my first treeless saddle years ago and have put 1000’s of miles on it. It is my go-to saddle and fits every horse I ride. I love treeless!”

Soft In The Bridle

Tom Wicklund, of Performance Horse Arena, training with the Myler Western Dee Snaffle w/Hooks
Tom Wicklund, of Performance Horse Arena, training with the Myler Western Dee Snaffle w/Hooks

As a rider, it is such a delight to have a horse that is comfortable with the bit, and nice and soft in the bridle. What do we mean when we say nice and soft in the bridle? And how do you achieve this? Those are a couple of million dollar questions, and as with all things equine, there can be many things influencing your horse’s response to the bit.

The term “nice and soft in the bridle” is referring to a horse that tunes into you immediately when you pick up the reins and gives to the pressure of the bit. Pressure applied to the bit with both reins and both hands results in the horse flexing at the poll moving his nose inward towards his chest in a cooperative manner. It also means giving to each side of the bit to flex left and right smoothly with no hint of resistance.

Achieving this soft-in-the-mouth horse starts with how your horse accepts the bit, and the skill and feel of the hands that hold the reins. And by skill I am referring to the timing of releasing the reins after your horse has given to the pressure of the bit quickly enough that the horse is rewarded immediately. Fine tuning that skilled response, to the point of almost anticipating the horse’s give, and using various levels of pressure to attain the horse’s response consistently and smoothly, starts to define what we mean by “feel.” Developing this feel is, of course, a collection of a lifetime of riding and learning experiences.

There are, however, some tools you can have in your shed to help you with the process of developing such a nicely trained riding horse. One such tool is a bit that was recently engineered by Myler – the Western Dee Snaffle Bit with Hooks MB33. It’s a bit different in how the curb attaches. The primary difference is the rings to attach the curb sit high up on the top of the snaffle ring – which is quite useful when asking your horse to flex laterally and give at the poll.

Myler Bit Western Dee w/Hooks MB33

Myler asked Tom Wicklund, a performance horse trainer, to test the bit before it was released to the public. He really likes this bit. He commented, “I really like how it is designed for several reasons; the bit has a lot of pre-signal to it from the lateral movement in the mouth piece to the travel of the rein and to the location of the curb strap. It’s higher up and makes for better contact on the jaw bone.”

Curb strap attaches to small ring

“This bit works very well with the way I train and makes for an excellent transition from the level 1 bits to level 2 – 3 bits. This bit has become my #1 bit of choice for all of my horses. I do have different mouth pieces to use depending on how far along the horse is but all of the Myler bits make it much easier for the horse to find his natural head set while allowing me to be easy or soft with my hands. Also, this bit gives a much better signal to the horse when teaching him/her to back up and stop.”

So while you are traveling down the road to attain a horse that is a delight to ride and own, keep in mind there is help out there. Horsemen sharing knowledge and the tools they have used successfully might help you get where you’re going a little faster. In the meantime, be sure and enjoy the ride.