Bitting up for Hunting

Zelda in Happy Mouth Bit
Zelda sporting her new Happy Mouth elevator bit.

Zelda is an enthusiastic foxhunter. I am grateful to have a horse that so obviously loves her job! Up until this year, I’ve hunted her in her “every day” bit, which is a

PeeWee bit
The PeeWee bit features a narrow diameter, curved, sweet iron, mullen mouthpiece

mullen mouth snaffle (Pee Wee Snaffle). However, this year, she started to get strong. And, even worse, she started to root.

Rooting is when a horse pulls at the reins, often leaning down and jerking suddenly. Zelda started to do this when she thought we weren’t going fast enough. Picture cantering along and having a head the size of Zelda’s giving you a good, sharp tug and you will understand why I was starting to get some lower back pain!

One of the fixes for rooting is to make your horse go forward, but that doesn’t always work when you are hunting as you need to stay in your place in line. So, I started to think about bits.

Zelda has a soft mouth; she isn’t pulling hard on the bit but when hunting, she can get heavy in front and a bit flat. My goal was to find a bit that was gentle enough that she didn’t curl up behind it, yet emphatic enough so that she was a bit more respectful and balanced. I prefer to hunt on a loose rein; I don’t like to be hauling on my horse all the time, but I need my horse to respond quickly when I need to stop (think about hound running in front of you as your galloping along and you get the picture).

When you “pick up the telephone” as Le Goff says, that horse better answer your call.

– Denny Emerson

That’s one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of how a horse should react to a bit. You need to have that answer and you don’t want the phone to keep on ringing.

There are a couple of “go to” bits for a horse that leans — a friend of mine gave me the Happy Mouth two ring elevator bit. The top ring attaches to the cheek pieces, which keeps the bit very stable in her mouth (Zelda likes that), the mouthpiece is soft and drapes over her tongue (Zelda likes that, too), and the rein attaches to the second ring, which gives me a bit more leverage. I like this because magically, she has stopped rooting! It’s not so much bit that it backs her off, but it has given her a reason to behave better and it lets me ride her more softly.

What bits to you use for those times when you need to “bit up”?

3 thoughts on “Bitting up for Hunting

  1. Ah, read the lead in and instantly thought “elevator bit”…glad that it’s working! I know from experience just how heavy that head can be 😉

    1. I’m pretty pleased by how well it’s working. I save the elevator for hunting — she’s fine in her mullen mouth snaffle the rest of the time.

      Freedom has a “hunt only” bit too. I hunted him in a snaffle until one day when he decided he could just lean into the bit, balance off me and have a good old run in a big open field (think racehorse). Now he hunts in a Kimberwicke :).

  2. I really like that Denny Emerson quote! My horse doesn’t root, but we did have an issue last fall where after a jump, he would duck his head and get light in the hind end… often sending me tumbling over his shoulder. We tried the same bit (with double reins) for a bit, but in show hunters that bit is illegal. We ended up with a D-ring waterford actually, and it’s enough bit that I can pick him up when I need to, but can still stay soft as well.

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