Friday, August 7, 2009

Am I Using the Right Bit?

I just had someone ask me if the bit their trainer is using is proper for a green broke mare. Good question. How do you know if the bit you are using is the right one?

We all want to know... It's one of the most important questions to ask yourself as a rider and especially a trainer. We want to use one that will communicate the best to our horse and yet, not turn the horse off to using one. Or worse, turn our horse into a bad behaviour horse. eek!

Before I describe the bit to you, I want to make a point about all bits....

The bottom line is: If the bit is effective, then it's the right bit to use.

That's it. Just remember that and you will do fine! I mean it..

Doesn't matter how many parts, whether it's a curb or snaffle, is the mouthpiece broken, jointed, solid, brass, copper, bla, bla, bla. Or if co-riders don't approve...

Is it effective? Is it effective for you and your horse and what you are doing with them?

Effective means the horse is very light and responsive to your cues/requests (no pulling, yanking, head up, head shaking, ignoring 'runs through it'... all that stuff). The horse effortlessly responds. And promptly.

In other words, the horse is OK with it. No fussing. No feeling from the horse like the corners of their mouths are going to be ripped or their back molars are going to be pulled out.

And the rider is OK with it. Not feeling like your arms are going to fall off from being so sore because you have to keep repeatedly pull and pull and pull to get the horse to wake up and respond. Or they are so late in responding that you have to keep asking and asking and inadvertently turn into a nag.

Formula for the Right Bit

Ultimately, the best way to tell if a bit is effective is to buy/get it & try it. That can be costly if you end up trying many bits. So if you are considering using another bit and/or are trying to decide whether to buy another bit & use it, try this formula beforehand. It will give you some idea if it's worth spending the money to try it.

Effective Bit = Rider's Skill Level + Horse's Skill Level + What You Want To Do With the Horse

Figure out what your skill level is to know the types of bits to use. Beginner riders need milder bits so they are forgiving on the horse's mouth. Intermediate riders need milder bits to learn new skills & stronger bits to refine your communications. Advanced riders, like trainers can use stronger bits to refine their communications to a light cue. And milder bits to train new skills.

Next figure out the horse's skill level. Green broke horses, horses just being started, horses learning new skills or horses still in their initial training, need milder bits as the rider/trainer will need to exaggerate the cues and help the horse learn their job. Since the hands are moving a lot and the bit will be used a lot, the bit needs to be milder. Intermediate horses will need a mild bit for learning new skills & then a stronger bit for skills they already know and are advancing on. Advanced horses can use stronger bits as the cues will be sutler anyway. (The idea is to keep your hands quiet and use lighter cues. Both for you and the horse. Since the horse already knows their job.)

Lastly, figure out what you want to use the horse for. Trail riding, eventing, reining, penning, polo, etc or an all around horse. Penning requires a lot of hand movement (at least for me anyway. I'm not an expert at it). Trail riding, not so. Show horses have certain bit requirements (reining requires certain types of curb bits).

Advice for Anonymous

Ok. So back to the owner (anonymous) who wanted to know if the bit the trainer is using is right. I get the impression that the owner feels that the horse is not on the right bit.

To the owner (anonymous): Is the bit the trainer using effective? Answering that question will answer the question as to whether the bit is right for the trainer and your horse and what the trainer is doing with your horse.

Is the bit effective? Look to the horse for the answer.

And remember, the bit could be different than what you would use as your skill level could be different than your trainers.

Let's look at this together as the owner would...

1. The first thing you know is the mare is green broke. So she is in training since she is at a trainer. So she is learning new skills. She would need a milder bit than a finished horse. Generally I use a snaffle most of the time. (That's me. Since I will be moving my hands a lot.) But I've also had to use a curb on some dull mouthed horses. Depends on the horse too. Remember (Rider's skills + horse's skills + what you want to do with the horse = effective). Is the horse responsive or dull mouthed. For example, the horse in my banner picture of my website (look up!) was dull mouthed. I had to move into a curb bit faster than most.

2. The horse is being ridden by a trainer. I am assuming that the trainer is advanced in their skills. So the bit can be stronger if needed (to be effective) and the trainer will know what to do. (Owner/Anonymous: You need to find out how skilled your trainer is). I, myself can use stronger bits to teach/train a horse since my hands are very small and my hands are very soft. I'm not a heavy handed rider. (And I want to keep it that way).

3. You did not mention what you wanted to do with the horse or what kind of training the horse was at the trainer for. Since the horse is green broke, I am assuming that the horse is in for more basic training. But you know. Learning any new skills requires a milder bit unless the horse is at a trainer to be 'finished'. Finishing a horse means the fine use of a curb bit. Generally.

The owner "My feeling is this mare needs to go back to ground work then try again."

4. Lastly, let's look at the bit. The bit has a roller and a large mouth piece. "I do know it is designed to put pressure on the chin, poll, nose, ear then mouth last.I was told this actually is a gentle bit in order to keep the horses mouth soft. Using a regular mild snaffle the mare runs right through it".

It sounds like it's a curb bit since it puts pressure on the chin. A snaffle doesn't do that. Sounds like the trainer feels that the bit is gentle to keep the horse's mouth soft.

So... Here we are. Is the bit effective? Is it the right bit for the horse, the trainer and what the trainer is doing with the horse?

If I saw that the bit is being effective, then I would say YES, the bit is the right bit.
If I saw that the bit is not very effective given the horse's skill level, trainer's skill level and what the horse is in training for, then I would say NO, the bit is not the right bit to use.

That's how you tell if the bit you are using is right or not.
It's a matter of asking yourself those questions, and observing the horse. And yourself when riding. (Or the trainer in this case).
It just takes practice to spot an effective bit.

Look for the repeated calmness in the rider and the horse.

Owner/Anonymous: If you still need help with this, if you send me more info and/or pictures of the horse's mouth, I can help you identify an effective bit. (Please no photos that would identify the trainer.).

Good luck!

If you need help with any more questions about bits, please contact me.
May you always use the right bit!
©Copyright KISS Reiners

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