Bitting Options: Universal Happy Tongue

Universal Bit
After our ride, Zelda’s eye was soft and kind. Before our ride? An edge of mischief.

Much of the time in the winter I ride Zelda in a bitless bridle. It seems cruel to put a cold piece of metal in her mouth. Today? I could tell that she had some mischief in her. Something about the look in her eye. So I chose a bit that gives me a bit more control: a universal 2 1/2 ring.

There are a couple of things I like about this bit. First, you can see that it gives a small amount of leverage that puts some pressure on her poll. Not a lot, just a reminder. Second, it’s adjustable. On days when I’m sure she’ll be good, I attach the rein to the large ring and it works just like a baucher snaffle — with the stability of the fixed side piece and the slight movement of a loose ring. I’m a big fan of the universal set up because it lets you adjust your ride without having a bag full of bits. Because these bits are not cheap! This one runs about $90 but is hard to find in the U.S. As I recall, I bought it from a tack shop in England that allows you to try the bit and return it if it doesn’t work for your horse.

What Zelda likes about it is the ported mouthpiece which gives relief to horses that don’t like tongue pressure.

Happy tongue bit
This is a ported bit so gives some relief to horses that don’t like tongue pressure.
Bomber bit
The pretty blue color fades after you’ve used it, but horses like the sweet metal.

I believe I bought this bit for my Trakehner, who had a thick tongue and a low palate. However, when I first started riding Zelda, I had a hard time getting her to accept a true contact. She was very vocal in her dislike of some of the bits I tried. Finally I tried some different mouthpieces. She likes this one, the Neue Shule Demi Anky (I’ll write about that one later) and the PeeWee bit, which is a thin, sweet metal mullen mouth bit.

So, did I need the extra leverage today? You bet.

Momentary calm.
The calm before the storm. Moments after the tranquility of this photo, she got spooked by a deer, spun and bucked.

We worked through the spook, rode the buck and marched through the snow for an hour. By the time we got back, the sun was starting to set and the sillies were almost gone.

The photo doesn’t do the sunset justice. It was spectacular.

Upcycle your old Bits

Bit Toilet Paper Holder
All of us probably have a bunch of old bits hanging around. Here’s an interesting way to upcycle your them and create a conversation piece in your house. I found these at the Etsy Store Farmhouse Found. What a great idea!


Snaffle bit tea towel holder
Here’s a handy way to hang your tea towels.

Bit vs. Bitless? It depends!

Bitted or bitless is idle chatter if there is no horse in the conversation.

via Bit or Bitless? You Won’t Like the Answer. — Relaxed

I love this posting by Anna Blake, probably because it reinforces my own experiences in the Bit vs. Bitless debate. Which is better? It depends! I’ve had horses that loved going bitless — like my Trakehner — although he hated the cross under bridle designs. When I

Barefoot, Bitless and Treeless
Freedom going Barefoot, Bitless and Treeless. However, he’s not the easiest horse to ride in a bitless bridle unless you want to really move along! He gets very strong and reverts to race horse mode, leaning into the contact. I prefer to ride him in a Micklem Short Shank.

finally found the Happy Wheel style hackamore, he let me know right away that it was a winner. Without a bit he was willing to come into my hand and really work through his back. I also foxhunted with one and never had any trouble controlling him.

I restarted an OTTB for CANTER who also loved going bitless. He had a lot of anxiety with a bit in his mouth that really disappeared when that was taken out of the equation.

My current horses have chosen different solutions. While I still hack them out bitless, I find they both go better (at least for now) in their preferred bits. Zelda likes the PeeWee bit, which is a thin mullen mouth. Freedom likes his Mickmar short shank bit that has a roller in the mouthpiece. When he gets nervous I can hear that roller spinning! Maybe it’s time to try them bitless again, but I think as Anna Blake says, it’s important to ask your horse what he likes!



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”?

Neue Schule releases poll pressure guide for bits

Poll pressure study
The bit manufacturer Neue Schule has conducted a study to measure how much poll pressure each of their bits exerts. Click on the image to access the study.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether a baucher bit exerts pressure on a horse’s poll. I’ve written about it before. But I still hear people claim that they like the bit because of the poll pressure.

Baucher snaffle with a french link mouthpiece.
Baucher snaffle with a french link mouthpiece.

Now, the bit company Neue Schule had done a study that shows something surprising: Not only does the baucher not exert pressure on the poll, it actually relieves it! That’s just one of the findings in a recent study conducted by the Neue Schule team to answer a key question posed by the company founder and bitting guru, Heather Hyde — namely, how much poll pressure each bit in the Neue Schule range produces, according to cheek type.

The results are, in some instances, straight forward and in others help to resolve longstanding debates.

“These results actually didn’t surprise us at all because there is no lever in this bit and therefore it cannot apply any poll pressure,” Neue Schule manager of research Caroline Beniost told Horse & Hound.

“We actually presented this data at the International Society for Equitation Science in Saumur, France, in June and it was very well received there. We just wanted to end the debate on this one once and for all.

-Horse & Hound Magazine

Extensive tests were carried out by the Neue Schule team using two sensors – one applied to the cheek piece, the other to the rein.

The recorded tension was transmitted to a central computer and a rating was calculated to show how much poll pressure each type of bit created.

“The research culminated in some surprises, as well as reiterating many of our suspicions,” said Heather Hyde, Neue Schule’s founder. “It will be a great tool to dispel some of the long-standing misconceptions surrounding the action of bits.”

Susie Hutchinson and Samsung Woodstock foiled by jump crew

Sometimes those big jumper courses can get confusing . . . at least that was probably the excuse of the jump crew when they ended up standing IN FRONT of a jump that Susie Hutchinson and Samsung Woodstock were trying to jump in the 1993 Volvo FEI World Cup Final.

I’m not sure what’s more impressive — that she didn’t run them over, that her horse came back and jumped it a second time with no fuss, or that she is riding the horse in just a bit and reins! Note: there is a chin strap underneath the bit which helps hold it all in place.

Susie was not penalized for the stop and ended up fourth in the competition.

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.

From my bit box: Peewee snaffle

Zelda PeeWee bit
Zelda has selected the PeeWee bit from my box of bits. It’s a clear win from her perspective

I’ve had a PeeWee bit in my bit box for several years. I originally bought it for Kroni, my Trakehner, because he had a thick tongue and a low palete. The PeeWee bit is good or horses like that because it’s a relatively thin curved mouthpiece sits neutrally in the mouth and with rein contact, it rotates upward — so there’s no pressure on the tongue. Many bits are just too large for their mouths and when the tongue lifts the mouth bar up  it contacts the roof of the mouth bruises the palate. To escape the pressure, your horse may toss its head up and forward to create some room for the bit or open its mouth.

The PeeWee bit worked pretty well for Kroni as far as bits go — although I eventually started riding him bitless. And then it sat unused until last year.

When I first started riding Zelda, she kept getting her tongue over the double jointed snaffle. She was fussy and didn’t want to take a consistent contact. So I pulled out the PeeWee bit and presto, happy horse.

Now I’ve read that some people think the bit is too harsh. Kind of like the Mikmar bit I use with Freedom, I think that what may irritate one horse feels good to another. And it all comes down to what your horse likes and if your hands are quiet.

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

As I’ve mentioned before, different horses respond differently to the way a particular bit acts in their mouth. The PeeWee is designed to place pressure on the outside of the lower jaw, in addition to the tongue, lips, bars. Because the lower jaw is very sensitive, it reduces the amount of pull you need to make an impact.  The external side bars sit against the lower jaw and push against the horse’s jaw when opposite rein pressure is applied.  The strap underneath is not a curb chain and is intended to be loose; its purpose is to keep the side bars in the correct position.

The bit is designed to sit lower in the mouth

Unlike most bits which are designed to sit in the corner of the mouth with a “wrinkle”, the PeeWee bit needs to be adjusted lower so that it sits more forward over the tongue and bars. According to the marketing literature,

This position of contact on the tongue along with even pressure down onto the bars, encourages the horse to flex down at the pole, which means the horse is down over the bit in a better position to work rather than getting behind the bit and getting it’s head in the air and wanting to take off. This better head and neck carriage position acts like a natural brake that makes it far easier to pull up a horse. The mouth bar also provides tongue relief and stays permanently quiet in the mouth until a command is given. This unique benefit is achieved due to the floating mouth bar. The mouth bar actually floats up and down and backwards on the large rings so at no time is there pressure on the tongue. Horses move their tongue readily when they swallow and while drinking water and with traditional bits a mouth bar is an obstruction but the mouth bar of the Pee Wee does not interfere with tongue movement, which provides comfort at all times for the horse.

I’m not so sure about all of that except for the fact that Zelda is so quiet and responsive in the bit. It’s more than just the mullen mouth that she likes — I tried a Myler Triple Barrel Mullen last week out hunting and she pulled like a freight train and was constantly leaning on my hands. I put the PeeWee back in and she went right back to being light and was no longer fighting the bit.

Curious to know if anyone else has tried it and whether it worked for you?