Bits & bitting

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The bit above was the first bit I bought for Drifter, and the most expensive thing I’ve put in his mouth so far. It was not liked. Apparently the lozenge, which is supposed to make it more comfortable, was extremely irritating to him and he spent his time pulling it back in his mouth and chewing and chewing on the bit.

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So I got him the plainest most basic snaffle in stock at my local tack shop (the silver coloured one at the top of the picture). He seemed pleased to be rid of the lozenge and I tried to warm it for him before putting it in his mouth through the bitter winter weather, but over time I realised that he still wasn’t happy in his mouth. Despite the flash nose-band I’d reluctantly added to stop him opening his mouth and evading the bit, he was still trying to open it, which suggested to me there was more reason for trying to open it than just wanting to go his own way rather than mine. I thought that a naughty horse would have quickly learned that opening his mouth wasn’t working, whereas a horse that was uncomfortable would still be trying to open his mouth.

I used the infinite resources of the internet and found out how to look at his mouth and tongue with a view to bitting. I discovered that the front part of his tongue is quite large for his mouth and the back part is very large and high, so I wanted to get a slimmer bit for him. Now wise to the  fact that just because a bit is well designed and popular with other horses doesn’t mean he’ll like it, I asked if there were any slimmer bits belonging to the school but currently not in use that I could borrow to try him in. I was offered the middle one of the bits in the picture. This is a “Happy-mouth” snaffle with a full cheek. It is slightly less chunky along the whole of the part that will be in his mouth, and mostly fairly soft plastic, but the real key for us was that the joint is much smaller, takes a lot less space in the mouth and doesn’t rise as high when the joint is bent. On the negative side, as I’ve already mentioned he does chew bits, so a soft plastic may not last very long.

So I tried him in the borrowed bit for a few days. I tried it without the flash because I wanted as much feedback from him as possible. We rode in the school with mirrors so I could see if he was opening his mouth and how he was going as well as feeling him. Immediately I found he was willing to halt, which made me sure that his basic snaffle was hitting him in the roof of the mouth and he’d been trying to walk away from the pain before. He was also much easier to mount, again I think because when I took contact with the reins to keep him by the mounting block the joint used to hit him in the roof of the mouth so he walked off. Everything seemed easier – circles were rounder, halting was better and he immediately took the contact willingly. Wonderful! But I didn’t know much about the full cheek (i.e. the long bars at the side). I’d been told they aid steering because they give a little pressure on the outside of the horse’s face, which seemed to me like it might help us, but when I did some internet research I found a lot of people saying that after seeing accidents with them they’d never put their horse in one. Those long bars can easily get caught: in hay-nets, in people’s clothes, in other pieces of the horse’s tack. When that happens, people and horses get hurt. The one that worried me most was the one where a horse turned his head back to bite a fly on his side, got the cheek piece caught in the rider’s half-chap, freaked out, dragged the rider out of the saddle and was still caught with the rider’s whole weight hanging on his mouth. So I decided those cheek pieces weren’t for us!

I assumed I’d have to internet order a Happy-mouth, and looked on-line at them, especially the versions with nice safe cheek pieces, but I wanted to check the tack shop first to avoid paying postage if I could. They didn’t stock Happy-mouth snaffles, but they did have a similar thing made by a cheaper brand (hurray!). So I bought the one at the bottom of the picture. The plastic is a bit tougher that the Happy-mouth, so I think it will stand up to his teeth a bit better. The big eggbutt sides look nice and safe compared to the full cheek and he seems pretty happy in it. I don’t want to tempt fate, and we’ve only had it a few days, but I’m hoping we’ll stay in this bit for a good long time now.

I haven’t put the flash back on. I think he is opening his mouth occasionally, and I think that’s OK – my hands are not the hands of an experienced rider yet and as long as he’s not doing it all the time I’d rather he had the option to do it when he feels he needs to than tie his mouth shut because it’s fashionable and hides my faults.

If money was no object I’d love to have bought lots of different bits and played around finding one that was perfect for him (there’s at least one £60 Myler bit I’d have liked to try him in, for instance) but I think we’ve done pretty well considering.

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7 thoughts on “Bits & bitting

  1. Liz at Libro says:

    Really interesting stuff! I’ve never seen one with those big cheek-pieces before!

  2. The Dancing Rider says:

    As I was reading, I was forming the same thought as you….another reason for Drifer’s wanting to open his mouth. Read with great interest, as whichever horse I ride in our schooling show this year, I will definitely have to change to a snaffle. I saw a rider at our barn who used her long side-bar snaffle for the first time on her leased horse. I did not like the looks of those bars, and I see why now. My intuition is not to use such a cheek piece. Also, my bridle came with a flash, but kudos to my trainer for recognizing that my current mount does not “need” it. I hope no mount does! I agree with your assessment!

    Glad you have found someting which will work, and for a bit less — that always helps!

    • Sparrowgrass says:

      Curious now – what bit do you use usually? Or are you bitless?

      Nice to hear your instructor advised against the flash – my instructors were very keen for me to put one on (and at least one probably disagrees with my choice to take it off). On the other hand an instructor who has now left used to take flashes off some of the school ponies in his lessons because in his opinion they didn’t need them but the other instructors wanted them on for their lessons with the same ponies.

      • The Dancing Rider says:

        I’m currently using a Kimberwicke (hope that is spelled correctly….:/), as that is what Starzz is used to.

        I may be riding a different horse very soon. I have NO idea what he uses.

        But each of the horses, Starzz and GQ, performed in dressage prior to retirement. They must have been used to a snaffle at some point.

      • Sparrowgrass says:

        Interesting. None of the horses I know use a kimberwicke so I wasn’t really aware of them, but I’ve had a quick google and now I’m more educated, thanks 🙂 I hope you find out what’s going to happen with the horses soon – uncertainty is so unpleasant.

      • The Dancing Rider says:

        Have lesson tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll find out. Instructor is not good at replying to non-schedule change texts……

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