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?

Bitting Solutions: Mikmar Bits

Mikmar Circle Shank
This is Freedom’s every day bit – a Mikmar Circle shank. Although it looks harsh, it’s actually a very mild bit

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.

Freedom Circle Shank
Freedom snoozing in his Mikmar bit.

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.