On the Chronicle of the Horse Forums there was a post about Mikmar bits, asking why anyone would use them. Certainly they look like medieval instruments of torture, right? Especially the ones with the shanks and the nose ropes?
One poster went so far as to say,
If you have to use a Mikmar, are thinking of using a Mikmar, or want to use a Mikmar…. You probably should consider another sport all together. Perhaps one that doesn’t include an animal.
Well, I’ll ‘fess up. You can send PETA over, because I ride Freedom in a Mikmar circle shank bit. Almost every day. Why? Because he likes it better than any other bit I’ve found.
There’s a lot of confusion about bitting. Many people assume that a snaffle is always the mildest bit so that’s what we should aim to use. But horse’s don’t read the manuals. They don’t know what “should” feel good in their mouths.
Remember how years ago we all rode in single jointed snaffles? Now those are condemned as painful because the nutcracker action of the joint can poke a horse in the palate. Or we believed that a thicker snaffle was more comfortable, when in fact for many horses, there isn’t enough room in their mouths for them.
So, back to the Mikmar. To begin with, it’s a very light weight bit. Some horses like a heavier bit but many like one that’s light weight. The Mikmar mouthpiece is wide, flat and non pinching. It provides even pressure over the tongue and bars. The copper roller in the middle of the port stimulates saliva production which relaxes and loosens the horse’s jaw. Freedom loves the roller. You can hear it clicking away as he rolls it.
I’ve tried a number of bits with Freedom and this one makes him happy and relaxed. He doesn’t fight the bit, he doesn’t lean on it and he’s balanced and responsive. I ride him on a very light contact and I’m able to stay out of his face. Personally, I don’t want to be constantly checking my horse and half halting down. I use my seat and my back first. I bring my upper body back. Then I half halt. Then I release.
My Mikmar bit has less “stopping” power than a pelham. It also seems to be milder than my Waterford snaffle or even a Kimberwicke. The ones with the nose straps look more substantial. I tried one years ago and my horse didn’t like it, but I can imagine it would help with a horse that works better with nose pressure (think hackamore) and likes a very light touch on its mouth.
When it comes to bitting, horses have preferences too — some horses don’t like pressure on their tongue, some hate pressure on their poll (I had one of those), some have thicker tongues or low palates. That’s why there are so many bit designs out there. Finding the bit that works for your horse is partially trial and error.
It also depends on the context of your ride. I bit differently when I hunt than when I’m hacking, or schooling in a ring. When you are galloping cross country with friends, sometimes you need a bit more in your horse’s mouth so that you can make a quick stop when a hound runs across your path. You don’t want to be pulling on your horse’s mouth during the entire ride!
But remember, ultimately, a bit is only as harsh as the hands that use it.