Thursday, 19 March 2009

A question of bits

The other day I met a horse who doesn't like a snaffle bit. I once would have taken that at face value, but now it leaves me wondering whether they quite understand that bit or whether it just comes down to other reasons. Have you found horses that, once they knew what was meant by it, still showed strong preferences between bits, and if so what do you attribute that to?

Many times I have seen horses who really can't get on with a particular bit, but when they are shown some logic in how it works they settle down with it. What they really struggle with is irrationality.

I have to admit I never rush to change things. I would really need to be convinced that it is the actual bit that is causing the issue, and I have to say I don't remember the last time I personally changed a bit for physical problems. I do often change them if I feel that the bit is designed in a way that makes the communication between the rider and the horse 'blurry'. I like the bit to sit pretty still in the horse's mouth, so if there is a lot of side to side movement I change that. I also can't see how leverage bits can be clear in the way I like, because it is very hard for most of us to guage the effect of leverage.

Now I know this might sound arrogant, but hopefully it may be helpful. We have one horse who gets really fidgety and chewy on her bit. When we ride her she settles down and makes no fuss at all. We sometimes use her for other people to ride, and pretty much for the next few rides she fidgets with the bit. To me that clearly says, if the horse understands the bit she is fine. If things change, maybe it's just the change, or maybe if there is a bit of 'pull' in there, she loses confidence and worries.

I was talking to a friend of mine this morning and she was using slobber straps. She has a spare set she was trying to sell me. I personally don't think slobber straps would suit the way I use the bit, but her and her horse were getting along fine. What I am saying is this. I think there are probably loads of ways of communicating with a horse using a bit. So if you use a bit, I would just say, make sure it makes sense to your horse before you rush out to change it. If you don't know what 'making sense' is when you are using a bit, then firstly, how is your horse going to make sense of that, and secondly ASK someone you trust to explain how they use the bit and see if that makes sense to you, then you can make sense to your horse.

I guess I'd have to say I haven't really seen horses that prefer one bit majorly to another, but then I always use the same bits, and I don't see that many horses, and I don't see that many different breeds.


June said...

We had a Myler bitting clinic at our yard a couple of years ago. It was pretty interesting and gave plenty of food for thought. Not sure I came to many conclusions though!

One of the polo ponies that had been wearing a bendy rubber pelham was rebitted into a Myler high ported pelham at the clinic. The horse was first going to be ridden in the bit normally used, and before the rider got on, Hilary checked inside the horse's mouth and found that its tongue had gone blue with the pressure of the bit. The only thing the rider had been complaining about was the horse wasn't stopping as well as she wanted. Hardly surprising as I guess her mouth had gone numb. The bit she is in now is much thinner and the rider is very happy with the stopping power.

So, I think I'd probably agree, if the horse understands the bit then they are generally happy in it. This particular horse clearly understood the bit and didn't complain, even though she had every right to do so.

One of our other horses fusses less with a bit that gives plenty of tongue room. She does understand the bit, in that she will quite happily soften to it, but she is one of the few we have that seems less comfortable in the Rockin S, so, maybe some have minor preferences to tongue or bar pressure.

glenatron said...

The thing I find with leverage bits is that I worry about having brakes with them, which I realise is quite ass-backwards compared with most people. If I really want a horse stopped, I want to set things up so their hindquarters aren't pushing us along any more and the easiest way to do that is to take take the rein out to the side, disengage the hindquarters and turn to a stop.

Obviously, a leverage bit gives you much more pull backwards and forwards, but at the expense of lateral movement. On a horse who I trust already I'd be alright with that, but I find it a little nervewracking on a horse I don't know so well. Seeing how often just putting a little too much pull on both reins will set less experienced horses to bucking has changed my thinking about that.