On Bits & Bitting


Mikmar Circle Shank
This is Freedom’s every day bit – a Mikmar Circle shank. Although it looks harsh, it’s not. More important, he likes it. When he gets nervous, he spins the roller.

Love this post from Denny Emerson this morning. I see so many people posting on forums that you are not an accomplished rider unless you can ride your horse in a snaffle. Preferably a loose ring or egg butt snaffle.

Bits and bitting—-A dose of reality—

Much of training horses on a daily basis is theoretically done in ways to get the horse calm and quiet and comfortable in its work, sort of like a person going to a library to study, a somewhat “serene” atmosphere, where the horse can ‘listen” to subtle aids.

But then there’s cross country. Some horses are blase about cross country galloping and jumping, but some instantly turn into “crotch rockets”, “attack machines”, like that saying from “Top Gun”, “only happy going mach two with his hair on fire”

If you think you can use a big fat snaffle and subtle, harmonious aids when you are ripping down a hill toward a solid stack of vertical railroad ties on one of these nice horsies, by all means, be my guest.

There are theoreticians and there are realists.

The difference is that the realists know what it feels like to be trying to hold the Union Pacific with a piece of thread, and the theoreticians are sedately trotting around the indoor arena.

Last year I posted on a horse forum that I ride Freedom in a Mikmar Circle Shank Bit. One poster went so far to tell me:

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.

I don’t think that this person had ever ridden cross country. At a gallop. Following hounds. Certainly some horses can do this in a snaffle — I ride Zelda in a PeeWee bit, which is a mullen mouth snaffle — but it’s not a requirement.

To begin with, while this bit looks severe, it’s not. And, even if it was a strong bit (which is not), I don’t hang on my horse’s mouth. And finally, Freedom likes it. He detests snaffles, especially the “friendly” kind that drape through the mouth with a lozenge in the middle. When I don’t use the Mikmar, I ride him in a Kimberwicke with a quarter moon mouthpiece. He listens very nicely in that bit so I don’t need to use it much.

Nice to hear a trainer as accomplished as Denny Emerson putting some reality into the myth.

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6 thoughts on “On Bits & Bitting

  1. It’s always interesting and humorous to me how emotional people will get over the mere sight of a tool. That’s all they need to form an opinion, no consideration to HOW the tool is used. Any bit can be “severe” and on the flip side there are appropriate tools for appropriate situations. I don’t use a hammer when I am trying to saw a board in half.

    1. Liz Goldsmith

      Exactly! With bitting people also forget that the horse gets a vote. Not every horse has read the manual that says that the double jointed loose ring snaffle is the best bit out there.

  2. Recently: First ride on a new (to me) athletic tank of a horse, I did in arena, using my horse’s preferred arena bit (would not use this bit on trail!): sprenger drapy 3-piece, shaped with lozenge. We cleared the arena in 15 seconds when, at the trot, I asked to drop down into walk from big bombing trot. He didn’t hear my seat, he certainly didn’t hear the bit that followed, and we just kept bombing happily along. He was not disobedient. He was very cheerful, happy and willing. For where he is at this time? My aids were too quiet and the bit never registered in his brain. Kinda hilarious in a scare-the-crap-out-of-fellow-riders sort of way. My hands aren’t quiet enough for his working bit. We upped it to slightly narrow loose ring with cavesson. He doesn’t like it as well as the skinny painful looking snaffle? He loves that bit! (In the right hands, which are not mine.) Horse definitely has a vote. Great post!

  3. theory is all well and fine, but it’s in a rider’s best interest to accept the reality on the ground haha. my mare goes very nicely in a loose ring double jointed snaffle NOW, but we had our period with a waterford too.

    and actually i ride her in a mechanical hackamore on trails so she can fully enjoy the ‘tasting tour’ aspect haha, but have noticed that she REALLY respects the curb chain. and ya know what – she’s happier in a way. there’s no drama when it’s applied, just immediate obedience. so i nag less and am generally less fussy with the reins. that’s a win-win in my book!

    1. Liz Goldsmith

      I rode my Trakehner in a bitless bridle. Immediately I noticed how much better he was jumping XC. It turned out that most of his fussiness was due to me :).

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