Bitting up

For several years I rode Freedom in a loose ring, single jointed snaffle.

I have always been a snaffle kind of rider. Partly it’s because I generally have had horses that require more kick than whoa; partly it’s because I use other aids to control speed and rhythm; and partly it’s because I like a horse to take a solid contact with the bit.

Look in my bit box and you’ll see  a wide range of snaffles. Single jointed, double jointed, Mullen mouth, loose ring, egg butt, full cheek;  the ”harshest ” bit is a big twist.

This spring, out in the hunt field, my trusty  box of snaffles proved to not be enough-even with a running martingale my horse was leaning on the bit and running.  This was new for him. Until this year he tended to curl behind the bit. So, even when he got excited more bit wouldn’t have helped; instead it  would have made him back off the bit even more. Mostly I worked at getting him to take a steady contact.

Add to the mix a rotator cuff injury that  makes my shoulder ache when he pulls and I realized a new bit was in order. But, which one? There are an infinite number there! I quickly realized that i don’t know enough about how bits work to make an educated decision.

This series of articles on bitting will cover what I learned about different kits and how they work in a horses mouth. Like most things horse related there is no one right answer; the bit that works for your horse is the one that is comfortable in his mouth and gives you enough control to do your discipline safely. Note – Bree’s comment made me want to amend this statement. I, too, agree that you should always use the mildest bit possible and that often there are holes in training that need to be fixed rather than putting a harsher bit in a horse’s mouth. It’s certainly possible to half halt using your back or your thighs, and Freedom definitely responds to a verbal cue to slow down.

However, I think there are times when a different bit can work better. When out hunting, for example, I like to leave my horse’s mouth alone most of the time and let him figure out the terrain. But — and it’s a big but — there are times when I need an immediate response (say a hound comes out of the woods in front of you) and ultimately, that’s why I chose to change bits this year.

But, more on that later!

3 thoughts on “Bitting up

  1. Hmm…I don’t quite agree. I think you should always use the softest bit possible – and there are many to choose from. Inability to control the horse is more of a training/riding issue and I don’t think it’s correct to compromise the horse for things that aren’t his fault. So always a soft bit and either a better rider or back to basics to get the foundation laid to allow you to do the things you want to do.

  2. I am a snaffle devotee also. With a rotator cuff injury, too. And a giant mare who hauls on me sometimes, with the forehand strength of a 20 mule team.
    I always assumed it was my lack of skill and never changed the bit. I also don’t know jack about bits, so I’m looking forward to reading this series.

  3. May I suggest experimenting with a Kimberwicke? This bit is actually gentler than a snaffle because with the port and curb chain the bit sort of locks on the jaw, then does not get harsher. I had a crazy mare once, a bolter/balker, and I had little or no trouble handling her in the Kimberwicke.
    I highly recomment Tom Robert’s “Horse Control and the Bit.” Before reading it I was not making educated choices about bits. It does not have the newer bits in it (like elevators), I got the book 30 yrs. ago or so.

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