Amanda at Keeping It Low Key wrote recently about her conundrum about bitting up for control, and I shared in the comments that Tristan used to go in a kimberwicke: bitting up is not a sign of failure. It’s a tool of the moment. Bitting up out of fear and then never working through the root issue? If and when it happens, that’s the failure.
So I thought I’d write a bit about what bits I’ve used on Tristan, since my riding life is super boring right now.
The first bit Tris ever went in was a plain eggbutt snaffle.
You’ve seen them. You’ve ridden in them. They’re the milquetoast of the equestrian world. It was a decent starting place for us, but it didn’t last. Tristan doesn’t like single-jointed bits. So we moved on.
Not much further, though. Double-joined eggbutt snaffle: this would be our go-to for many, many years on the flat and inside.
Then we started to school Tristan XC. As part of that, I was doing hillwork, and Tristan, still being very much the green horse at this point, pulled a series of bolting and spinning antics that would put a reining horse to shame. He ran uphill. He ran downhill. He took dangerous flying leaps over anything in his path including drainage ditches, patches of dead grass, small fences, you name it – especially when he was headed back to the barn.
So we bitted up.
MY PRECIOUS. This is an Uxeter Kimberwicke, mullen mouth, medium port. I remember with perfect clarity the first day that Tristan tried to bolt for home and the curb chain on this bit engaged. It felt like he stopped in mid-air and came back to earth, shocked, utterly still. The wheels in his had spun in place. I was awed at the immediate, amazing change.
This is not a subtle bit, you guys. This combination of features has one goal, and one goal only: WHOA THE FUCK DOWN, HORSE. And oh, did he ever whoa. This was our go-to for XC and any outdoor riding for 2+ years. And over time, we slowly used it less and less often. First, he could be ridden outside (in the outdoor arena) without trying to bolt. Then, he could be flatted in open fields without it. Finally, we could go XC without it – I could tell when engaging it a bit took him off the pace rather than made him sane.
So we moved on.
Full-check french link snaffle. This is the bit he still goes in today when he’s going XC or jumping. It lives on his figure-8 bridle. It can also occasionally be a good choice for trail-riding when he’s fresh, or any kind of galloping. I’ve been known to put it on for trot sets just as a change of pace. For the first year or so, I used keepers on it to get a bit more leverage action; now, it’s just loose. We experimented briefly in using it on his dressage bridle, but that didn’t pay off.
We did make a few more changes to his dressage bit, however. Over time, the eggbutt lost its charm: he spent a very long time not unhinging or moving his jaw at all while being ridden, and we wanted to encourage him to chew the bit.
Enter the double-jointed loose ring snaffle. This is still the bit he goes in today. His mouth is small enough that a 5.5″ bit has never pinched his cheeks, and he still likes the loose ring action. Double-jointed is still the way to go.
That said: I am in the market for a new bit. When riding with my trainer last fall, she felt that he would go better in a thinner bit. While the rule of thumb is generally that thicker = softer, for some horses with a low palate and relatively narrow gap in their teeth, a thinner bit can be kinder. For the first time ever, a trainer of mine actually put her hand in Tristan’s mouth and felt the way the bit lay against his tongue and his gums, and explained to me what she was feeling. I felt dumbfounded: after eight years of riding this horse, I was still not there yet! So I borrowed a thinner bit from the barn and it did make a difference. Then I went out and bought what I thought was a thinner bit, only it wasn’t.
So we haven’t made the switch full time yet, because I am the worst. But I have my eye on it, and will likely try to find what works for us at Everything Equine next month.
What bits have you tried? Have you thought a lot about your horse’s bit or do you tend to find something and stick with it?