When Eric Lamaze won the Grand Prix of Aachen the second thing that caught my eye after the size of the fences was Hickstead’s bit. Or should I say, bits. Although early photographs of the team show Hickstead being ridden in a Pelham, at this competition the horse appears to be wearing a mechanical hackamore and a snaffle, with the reins attached to an adapter.
That’s sure looks like a lot of bit.
Of course, there are several combination bits on the market. The two best known are the Myler combination bit and the Mickmar combination bit.
These two are not exactly the same design as what Lamaze is using on Hickstead but I would imagine that the effect is similar. When the rider pulls on the reins, pressure is applied simultaneously to the nose, mouth (bars and tongue), chin and poll, instead of to just one focused area (that description is taken from the Mikmar site).
In the set up that Hickstead is wearing I assume that the pressure first goes to the snaffle and that the hackamore is activated mostly by the running martingale if the horse raises its head.
Interestingly, Shutterfly, ridden by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is ridden using the same combination and Roderigo Pessoa is pictured at Spruce Meadows with a similar combination (albeit with a shorter shanked hackamare) on Rufus and Robert Whitaker uses this combination on his show jumper Finbar V.
Horse and Hound Magazine interviewed Whitaker about his choice.
“Finbar is a big horse, and the more he knows what he is doing the harder he is to ride to fences,” says Robert.
“He is quite sensitive and doesn’t like strong bits. The combination he wears is a German hackamore with an eggbutt snaffle, using leather roundings and one rein.
“I find they give me the right combination of steering and control, as the hackamore and snaffle have different actions.”
As the points of control on the hackamore are vertical and not lateral, it does not provide good steering — Robert uses the snaffle for this purpose.
“The hackamore holds the horse ‘together’, as Finbar often puts his head up and back on the approach to big fences,” adds Robert.
This is certainly not something I’d try on my own horse — you’d need to have very good hands and an independent seat to keep this from being way too strong. A mechanical hackamore can exert very severe pressure on a horse’s nose, especially one with such long shanks.
Although Hickstead looks happy when jumping in this combination (as does Shutterfly), I think it’s a testament to the riders’ skills and is not something that should be emulated or copied by less proficient riders.