bits · dressage · Uncategorized

A Bit of Experimentation

I’m not even a little bit sorry for that subject.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with Tristan’s bits.

He is, generally speaking, a pretty hardmouthed horse. And yeah, I know – I trained him, it’s my fault. In my (admittedly pitiful) defense, that was always his natural tendency. From day 1 he was a horse who blew through and/or ignored aids, no matter where they came from.

Now, generally, I ride him in a loose ring double-jointed snaffle. Super, super mild. On the one hand, that’s good for asking him to reach forward without throwing on the brakes. He’s so generally backwards-minded that sometimes even touching the reins can stop him cold. So the softer the bit, the more it would encourage him to reach, right?


About three years ago, when I started riding him again in his kimberwicke outside, I noticed an interesting trend: he was actually better in that, when things got going really well. He was more willing to soften to it (really soften, not back off), he was more willing to bend to it, he was overall more light and responsive.

To some extent, that’s to be expected. The kimberwicke is a big bit. And even with the improvements, it does not have a ton of subtlety to it. I think that, riding outside, it mostly gives him a way to channel all that assholery into productivity. If I have a big NO he doesn’t get to debate as long.

With some of the fine-tuning of his dressage that I’ve been doing lately, he was getting extra heavy and dead in the mouth, so in the last 2-3 weeks I’ve been experimenting with doing one dressage-intensive ride a week in the kimberwicke, indoors. I do not expect huge things; what I want is to basically rev him up in some of the same ways he gets outside, and use the kimberwicke to guide that.


It’s mostly working. It starts out rough, but at about the 20 minute mark, when he’s truly warmed up and resigned to his fate, and going property forward, there’s the kimberwicke saying “okay, but you also can’t just yank and root and lean.” I’m asking for bend and getting it in 1-2 strides instead of 3, 5, 10…on and on.

I’ve jokingly called him my 2×4 horse in the past (as in, “you need to hit him with a 2×4 to get a point across). It’s not that he’s not a sensitive horse. All horses are sensitive. It’s that he is so damn stubborn, and his ability to turn up the “fuck you, I’m not paying attention” dial is remarkable. Like a toddler who needs very, very firm and clear boundaries to feel happy and comfortable.

We’ve got a long winter of work ahead of us, and I might not be done – I’ve thought about an intermediate bit to try and recapture some of the suppling ability of a snaffle but still something he won’t lean on, so ideas on that would be welcome.

9 thoughts on “A Bit of Experimentation

  1. I am stuck on, um, *fascinated* by bits, and wonder if the Waterford bit might be useful on Tristan.

    They are odd—the mouth looks like a series of steel bubbles, and it is very wiggly, since each bubble is also a joint. It has the reputation of being harsh, but I tried it on Harry and thought it was a light, surprisingly effective bit that encouraged reaching but discouraged pulling. Harry has a history of folding himself up and hiding behind the bit, which sometimes leads to pulling or leaning. The Waterford was too weird and wiggly to allow him to do that, and he stayed light and attentive without closing his throatlatch or getting behind the vertical.

    The only thing it was not so good for was the rein back—he tended to get too low and he backed too quickly—no calm diagonal pairs for Harry. He is an overachiever by temperament, and this was the only thing about the bit I didn’t like.

    I mainly saw this bit used in Great Britain, but it must get used here because there are a lot of them to pick from and they are readily available. I do not think you can compete in one.


  2. I relate to this so much! Duke tends to be hard mouthed (he’s a school horse half the time so I don’t blame him). After awhile I found I didn’t have nearly enough whoa in his snaffle when we were jumping. Switching to a bigger bit actually gave me more finesse because he would listen to my body – knowing I had a much ‘louder’ whoa.


  3. You’re always saying how Eugene reminds you of Tristan, but really it’s Nilla and Tristan that are more alike. Nilla has a “fuck you, I’m not paying attention” mode too. Anyway, I have a large tupperware bin full of bits. You’re welcome to borrow any you’d like. I do have a waterford per other people’s suggestions. I have most of the weird bits: happy mouth, rubber, waterford, a key bit, various types of kimberwicks, a few pelhams, a mylar. I dunno… you name it, I probably have it.


    1. Oh, looks only for Eugene! And jumping style. But if you remember I kept saying how much riding Nilla felt like Tristan. 🙂

      What size is the Waterford? I may take you up on that!


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