Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll tell you I am obsessed with bits and all things bitting (anyone horsey, that is – if you asked my non-horsey friends and family they’d just say I was obsessed with horses). I first became interested in it when Betsey and I started attempting to turn ourselves into dressage divas, and discovered the whole concept of the elusive ‘contact’. I learned how much conformation affected a horse’s way of going, and their ability to work over their back, and this lead me to learn all about ‘mouth conformation’. This is a great article which, if you don’t know much about mouth conformation, is a great place to start!
So from there, my love affair with understanding how a horse’s mouth is set up, and how different bits may or may not be more comfortable for a horse, began. My previous horse Betsey had a teeny tiny mouth, with a big fat tongue, and a low palate – didn’t leave much room in her mouth for a bit, so we went through a few different bits before finally settling on the Neue Schule Turtle Top which she loved.
When I tried Paddy, he was in a standard Eggbutt French Link Snaffle which he was quite happy in – lots of foaming (or as I like to call it, “ice cream” or “lipstick”) and settled in the contact. So I picked up the same bit for him and rode him in it when I brought him home. However I found he went a bit too deep in the contact and leaned on my hand, so I started looking at bits that might prevent that (while I continued with my schooling exercises to get him off the forehand). Typically for a leaner I will default to a loose ring as it gives them nothing to grab, but Paddy absolutely protested to every loose ring I put in his mouth, so I kept trying different combinations. I tried the following bits:
- Loose Ring French Link Snaffle – he didn’t care for this and almost “held his breath” and wouldn’t relax for me
- Sprenger Eggbutt Lozenge Snaffle – he LOVED this, buried himself in my hand and leaned even worse! So not good for me
- D Ring Copper Roller Bit – he actually went quite well in this one, and I found it helpful if he tried to “take over” a bit when jumping, but it’s not dressage legal, so the search continued
- Neue Schule Verbindend – he took SERIOUS offence to this one and completely backed off the contact on me
- Neue Schule Turtle Top – he didn’t mind it, but he never really settled in it and had a dry mouth, so I kept searching
I came to two conclusions over my trialling and testing: Paddy did not like loose rings, and he wasn’t a fan of the Neue Schule metal. I tried these bits multiple times in different situations, and he would always find a way to evade within about 2-3 weeks, so I assumed he was just going to be one of those horses I would have to keep changing bits on. Additionally, I was having problems with his lips getting sores (you can read my blog about that here) and was trying to find a bit that would not aggravate that situation either.
Because Paddy has a tiny mouth (he is 16.2 and takes a 5″ bit – and even at that it’s a little bigger than I would like!), I knew I needed something that didn’t apply too much pressure on his tongue, and had a lozenge so that the ‘nutcracker’ action of a single jointed bit didn’t result in the bit pressing on the roof of his mouth. I also knew that I needed to find a fixed ring bit that wouldn’t encourage him to lean, because he is happier in a fixed ring and a happy horse is my main priority!
The final bit I tried was a complete left-field option. I had read on #twittereventing about Cotswold Sport, a company that make their own bits that people claimed were as good as the likes of Neue Schule, but more than half the price! I was interested to see that they made an Eggbutt Snaffle version of the Verbindend – curved mouthpiece to give room for the tongue, with an angled lozenge in the middle to reduce pressure on the tongue, and in an Eggbutt version which NS do not currently do. Magic! It sounded ideal and at just £44 (compared to £100+ for other “brand name” bits) I thought it was worth a shot.
I FOUND MY BIT!
Paddy was instantly more settled in the contact when I tried him – less chucking the head about, or losing his shape, and definitely less leaning. Plenty “ice cream” and definitely the most happy I’d seen him in a bit. I gave it at least a month before really committing to it as he usually finds a way to evade after a few weeks, but he’s been in it now since January and I am yet to consider putting a different bit on him, I’m thrilled with it! Best of all – and a complete by-product which I didn’t expect – we have had no more sore lips or splits! I have been able to remove the bit guards completely and have in certain cases had to take a pull when jumping, and he doesn’t come back with any sores. I hadn’t considered this when buying the bit but this was just the cherry on top for me.
Paddy still likes to lean sometimes, and he’s not completely light, but that’s for me to solve with schooling – a bit won’t fix everything. However I do feel confident that I’ve now struck the balance between Paddy being happy with the bit that’s in his mouth, and not tugging the hands off me and leaving me with sore arms – so now I can crack on with schooling exercises to lift the forehand and get him pushing more from behind.
He’s starting to feel a bit more confident in his jumping now, so if the time comes to look at alternative bits for jumping, I’ll certainly be starting with Cotswold Sports.