Comfort Before Beauty 2

(continued from yesterday…)

Speaking of “up to the horses”, my search for the perfect bit continues. Remy has a funky habit of opening his mouth and sucking his tongue back, which I figured would go away with time and good riding, but the other day I lunged him in side reins (which I almost never do, so I don’t know if/how it’s changed over time) and I was astonished to see him duck just the teeniest bit behind the contact and gape his mouth open despite all my efforts to encourage him to take some contact on the side rein.  This showed me that the problem went beyond riding him correctly, and instead goes back to a more fundamental level. He was clearly not comfortable taking contact.

Then, I had an interesting experience with Liam. I had been riding him in a regular eggbutt snaffle. He went well in it, but he had started putting his head up when I went to bridle him, which was a new behavior. I pulled out my bit box and offered him alternatives to try. We settled on the Myler comfort snaffle, which I had in a loose ring. He took it in his mouth and held it quietly, and we had a few really nice rides. Remembering how well he had gone in the eggbutt he was previously wearing, when the local tack shop had a sale over the weekend I bought him the same Myler comfort snaffle in an eggbutt. Well, he hated it!! As soon as I put on the bridle, he was fussing, and I tried a little ride in it but he would not take contact on it, except to stretch WAY down. Besides a nice stretchy trot, he just plain old refused. So I switched back to the loose ring and had a much happier horse.

It baffled me that the exact same mouthpiece could have such a different effect when changing the cheek piece from a loose ring to an eggbutt. I sat in the barn playing with the bit, then put it on Remy (who is awesome for trying bits on because he stands with his mouth open for me to inspect) and I realized that the way that it lays without contact is comfortable enough across the horse’s tongue, but when contact is taken, the shape of the bit changes to almost a V shape like a plain snaffle, except without the point so more like \_/ shape. Because of the way the middle piece links to the sides, the bit locks in this position, and it can only fold so far before becoming almost like a mullen mouth. The idea is to leave room for the tongue under it, which made a ton of sense to me, especially for a horse like Remy that sucks his tongue back in his mouth instead of keeping it under the bit. But, I could see in Remy’s mouth that with pressure on the bit, although there was room for the tongue, the bit pushed up against the top of his mouth.  Both of my horses seem to have rather small mouths and low palates (which I’ve read is typical of tb’s), so maybe this wouldn’t happen on all horses, but atleast for my boys I could see why this would be uncomfortable! The loose ring could lay down against the tongue more, whereas the eggbutt was more stable in the horse’s mouth and held in a more upright position, which the horse could not adjust to a more comfortable spot. It was very interesting.

So, since there was a sale at the tack shop and I want my horses to be comfortable, I went back again, and this time went straight to the most expensive bits. The Sprenger bits. The bits that always seem to be on the super fancy horses (not that I obsess over these little details in all the pictures in each issue of Dressage Today…).  According to the company’s website (yes, I do my research), the company has done quite a lot of research on how the bit sits in the horse’s mouth, and has designed their bits based on this research. It’s actually quite interesting. Their bits may look like any other double jointed bit, but they actually set the middle link at an angle to make it lay smoother in the horse’s mouth.  Their newest model, the Dynamic RS, not only has the middle link set at an angle, it also has a gentle curve, also at a bit of angle, to the pieces on either side of the middle link. It was one of the most expensive bits on the shelf, which is SO not how I roll… but Liam had clearly shown me that having the right (or wrong in our case) bit makes a HUGE difference… and Remy appeared uncomfortable taking contact even in side reins… so I splurged.

Well, in the first ride both horses went SO well. Liam had a pleasant amount of foamy lipstick (which he almost always does) and gave me a very steady, consistent contact (which he often does not), and Remy actually had a bubbly mouth! Remy always has the driest mouth, once in a while I get just a touch of lipstick on him, but even just walking around on a loose rein, he was stretching for this bit and making saliva bubbles! I was amazed at the difference. The second ride on Remy went even better. We had the arena to ourselves and did a bunch of transitions and lateral work, and I think we had the best quality to date. The contact was steady and consistent, and I didn’t have to work for it. He was staying through and connected, and he felt much more bendable than usual.  So far, I’m very impressed with the improvement.

The true test will be over the next couple of days. I’ve seen before where a bit seems really good the first day or two but the good result fades fairly quickly, so we’ll see if we still like this one in another week, but so far I am very hopeful! I am determined to figure out what makes my horses as comfortable as possible so that they can do their jobs happily and reach their fullest potentials. It’s no small feat figuring out what works best for them, but they do reward me for my efforts!