Part of being an equestrian is accumulating all of the stuff that horses and riders need: tack, blankets, clothing, boots and bits. It seems that just about every equestrian has their own arsenal of bits, and we’re constantly borrowing bits to find one that works. Some horses change bits more than others… and in the last few years Miles and I have gone through a few rounds of “musical bits.”
When I bought him, Miles hacked at home in a Beval Gag and showed in a Rubber Pelham. The second I bought him, I started riding in a single-jointed Dee ring snaffle. He went around just fine in that, but after a little while, I started to experiment to see if I could fine something he liked just a little bit better. I tried a loose ring French link and that’s the fussiest I’ve ever seen him in a bit. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t like it. After that, I tried a single-jointed Happy Mouth, and he went happily in that (ha!) for a year and half.
This past winter, when we started having problems, I wanted to try more bit to help with some of our issues. In the Happy Mouth, Miles could grab the bit and pull it right through my hands. He didn’t do it all the time, but when he did, I felt powerless to stop him and I ended up on the ground. At first, I was ashamed to ask my trainer about putting more bit in Miles’ mouth. I’m not one who wants to solve training issues with gadgets and I’m very cognizant of over-biting. However, I figured asking is free and consulted my trainer. We decided to try to a two-ring Happy Mouth gag with double reins.
That bit worked awesome for a long time. It was enough leverage for me to pick Miles up when I needed to, but I could still be soft enough through my hands and arms to get him to relax. Unfortunately for me, this bit is considered “unconventional” in the hunter ring (I don’t think it’s outright illegal, but someone correct me if I’m wrong), so I needed something else for horse shows. No problem, I thought: he’s shown in a Pelham before, which is about as similar to a two-ring as you can get, so I’ll just try that. I got a big, fat, huge NOPE on that bit. Miles isn’t usually particular about bits, and my experience has been he’ll go around is just about anything. He would not go around in the Pelham. And after that experiment, he was mad about the two-ring gag bit too.
So back to the drawing board I went, armed with BFF’s bit brigade. We pulled out any option we thought might work, and I came to my next lesson armed with five or so bits. I wanted something that was more bit than a Happy Mouth, but less bit than a Pelham or two-ring gag. Our top contenders were a Waterford and a slow twist. We started off the lesson in the Waterford, and I’ve been riding in it ever since. It’s enough bit for me to pick Miles up when I need to, but not enough to piss him off.
Before all of this transpired, I believed that if a horse goes best in bit X, that’s the bit he goes in. I realize now that’s a very narrow view, and not necessarily realistic. I do think it’s important for horses to not be over-bited, and I believe riders have a responsibility to learn to have soft and forgiving hands. But at the same time, the relationship between horse and rider is a partnership. It’s awesome that Nichole can ride Miles in a Happy Mouth snaffle… but that doesn’t help me since I can’t. This probably isn’t a popular view, but I now think that finding a middle ground between what the horse needs and what the rider needs is imperative, in terms of proper biting. All in all, I’m grateful we found a solution that works for both Miles and I