Bitting up for hunting can mean the difference between a fun ride and a continuous tug of war. Whenever someone says you should be able to ride every horse in a snaffle, I chuckle and think, “you’ve never been foxhunting.” That’s not to say you can’t hunt a horse in a snaffle. My Trakehner was one. I hunted him in a snaffle first, and later in a bitless bridle without any issues. In fact, he was better in a bitless bridle.
But for many horses, hunting is just too much fun for their “normal” bit. The adrenaline rush of galloping in a group and the excitement of following the hounds — and yes, horses learn the “game” very quickly — can short circuit their brains and require a bit more of a reminder to get through to them. When you are hunting you do NOT want your horse pulling you out of the saddle and you do not want to be constantly pulling on their mouths. I like to hunt on a loose rein and have a subtle conversation with my horse when I need to check or adjust, not rip out her teeth.
Zelda’s “go to” bit for normal, every day use is a Peewee snaffle, which is a thin mullen mouth snaffle with side bars that apply pressure to the outside of the jaw. Zelda loves it and she’s got a nice, soft mouth. But in the hunt field, well forget about it.
When I first started hunting Zelda, I moved her up to a two-ring universal bit. The more we hunted, the stronger she got. The worst part was that she would snatch the bit and try to pull the reins out of my hands. A friend gave me a happy mouth elevator two-ring. For a couple of years, that worked fine. Until now.
This year, Zelda’s enthusiasm has been on the verge of uncontrollable. Well, she thinks she’s in control, but I’d prefer to choose how fast we go and still be able to use my hands the next day. So, I went on a hunt for a better bit.
Now, Zelda wears a 6″ bit, which is not an easy size to find . . . anywhere. Kroni also wore a 6″ bit but since the last few years that I owned him, I had transitioned to bitless and I no longer had anything other than a snaffle. Freedom wears a 5.5″, so that didn’t help. I would have loved to try her in his Kimberwicke, which worked very well for him out hunting.
I wanted to find a Waterford, preferably in combination with a curb chain. Although SmartPak and Dover both had a Waterford pelham in their catalog when I made the pilgrimage to the stores, neither had them in available to buy there and neither had them in the warehouse; they would need to be drop-shipped from the manufacturer. Dover did have a Kimberwicke in stock, so I brought that home.
I ordered the Waterford Pelham from the Cheshire Horse, which had it in stock, and also a Waterford Butterfly two ring with a curb chain. I’ve discovered that the UK has a much better offering of larger bits, the only problem is the wait time. Of course, the bit I wanted to try, the Neue Schule Waterford Pelham or Universal, was a tad out of my price range — $240 is too much to spend on something that you don’t know will work! In fact, when you have a horse with an off-sized mouth, finding the right bit can be an expensive proposition. I was lucky to find Freedom’s hunt bit on eBay for $15. With Zelda, I’m in a bit deeper than that and the numbers are climbing. The cover image shows the range of bits I’ve tried with her!
One of the key things I’ve learned over the years is to never try any piece of equipment in the hunt field that you haven’t fully vetted at home. Bits are especially important because you need to make sure that your horse finds it acceptable. Bits act on different parts of a horse’s mouth and some horses prefer one style of bit over another.
Zelda hated the Kimberwicke and she wasn’t afraid to share her opinion. I rode her in it twice and she refused to take contact, flipped her head and basically gave me the metaphorical finger. Scratch that!
More information on the Waterford options to follow.
What bit do you use for hunting? Do you bit up from your normal bit?