Let’s talk “hardware”, aka big bits. Make 2021 the year you stop praying to the god of the loose ring snaffle. Let. It. Go. I am not talking about bloody mouths. I'm not talking about horses that hollow out in the air because the bit is too strong or your aids aren't independent yet. I am talking about having enough control over a 1200 pound animal that you can both have fun. If you have the right bit, you can be softer between the fences, find your distance more reliably and give your horse the chance to have a beautiful jump.
Landry and I skipped a trip to school cross country at Naked Horse this week because we decided that she lacked the necessary control over DJ to make the trip effective and fun. It is a spectacular facility (can I tell you how cute their bathroom is, and their barn cats are SO friendly.) and we enjoyed watching our Barn Buddies ride. Alternatively, we each took a private cross-country lesson.
With the goal of selecting the right bridle for DJ and Landry, I filled a bucket with all manner of bits and a running martingale, and we strode out into the big open grass field. The “right bridle” for DJ and Landry is not the same bridle that was right for DJ and his previous rider. Alex is an adult male over 6’ tall who rides multiple horses each day and competes successfully at the advanced level. Honestly, it is amazing that DJ made the transition and has gone in a loose ring snaffle for almost 2 years.
We started with a three-ring elevator bit on the first (non snaffle) ring. Landry trotted and cantered her warm up. Jon asked how DJ felt. There was hesitation in her voice when Landry answered, “Not much different.” As though this “bigger bit” thing was not to be believed. Jon replied, “Perfect! Now, go gallop!” And as if by magic my daughter had a horse that would accelerate and come back to her. No more pulling to no effect or endless circles between fences.
Contrast that to my lesson later in the day. I am taller, have a more solid position and more experienced than my daughter. I ride an OTTB who is high headed (likes to go inverted), super-sensitive in the mouth and likes to gallop – like really gallop. He is currently in a Turtle Top D-ring snaffle. I did a lot of pulling. I was never afraid, whereas I suspected, and Landry later admitted, that DJ intimidated her in the loose ring snaffle.
What’s my point? I waited too long to give Landry the tool she needed. I had some good reasons for that and I had some stupid reasons, mostly I just couldn't decide what to do. Boot camp gave me the opportunity to put the issue in the hands of someone smarter than me. I have good hands, long legs and a strong upper body. I spent much of my lesson pulling hard and continuously on a soft bit. Jon spent much of my lesson reminding me to keep my hands down and to row the boat. My daughter is average size, with average hands and is still learning an automatic release. She rode softly with the occasional tug, resulting in only brief objections from DJ.
While Grail and I are not ready for a bigger bit, it will be something to continually evaluate. I rode Edgar in a bridle that jangled like a carpenter’s tool belt and weighed 15 pounds. I even went preliminary with two sets of reins a few times. (Yay me, but the horse did not go any better, so why be a martyr!) There is no virtue in riding in a soft bit and hanging on your horse’s mouth for the entire course. Nor is there any glory in using a big bit to overcome training issues. But there is also no shame in finding a bigger bit that suits the partnership and results in a happy horse and a happy rider.