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Talk to me about bits!!

(25 Posts)
muppetisacat Tue 22-Sep-09 09:12:42

Yes, it's another post from a clueless mother! Please bear with me on this post - I'll explain the history of our problem and would love any bit experts to comment - good or bad! I am on a very steep learning curve here!

My 11 year old dd has a loan pony (we are about to buy it though) and she's a sweetie etc but very strong apparently in the mouth.

When we first took her on she rode in a snaffle. She's fine in the school like this but if dd wants to jump in the field or hack out she was just a little too strong for her and tended at times to just keep cantering (which the pony just loves to do).
I don't think dd was very concerned but she found it frustrating at times.

It was suggested we move to a continental 3 ring bit - a gag I knew them as - and she went straight to the lowest ring when hacking out and jumping. All well and good - dd could stop her if she needed too.

Then a lady at the yard (who has been giving dd lessons and had originally suggested the new bit) took dd to a cross country course. On their return we were told we should add a flash to the bridle as the pony was trying to evade the bit with her mouth open constantly.

By this point a few other people had mentioned perhaps this bit was hurting the pony. DD does ride with very soft hands and was only resorting to the lowest ring with flash if she was doing something out and about which required a little more control if needed - but even so - she began to worry she might hurt her pony's mouth.

This culminates in the weekend which has just passed. She did an 8 mile sponsored ride and when she finished we were told to get a pelham bit!

DD said her pony had been really fired up and she had spent nearly 3 hours just having to hold her back constantly.

The thing is - aren't loads of horses like that on these things - there were loads of horses gallloping past, the pony was prolly thinking it was off hunting etc - I can't help thinking it's just a one off and that she just would always be doubly strong and excited at an event like that.

What do you think?

She is the sweetest, most sensible pony in all other ways - a proper mother's dream in every other sense. At 17 years old she's seen pretty much everything. She just loves to have a good old run!!

frostyfingers Tue 22-Sep-09 15:16:29

Not sure what to suggest but I use a kimblewick without chin strap when my pony is off lead rein and with a capable enough rider. Otherwise he has a snaffle so they don't hurt him if they pull too hard. Another snaffle you could try is a french link which is a bit more than a plain, or one which I use on my TB who leans is a Waterford Snaffle which is lots of small ball like things each jointed so he can't get hold of it.

The gags, even with gentle hands, are pretty strong - I tried one and took it straight off again as my horse hated it.

If the pony is crossing her jaw either an ordinary drop noseband, or a flash as suggested.

Have you a good saddlery shop - it may be worth talking to them too.

muppetisacat Tue 22-Sep-09 16:15:57

Thanks for that frostyfingers.

I can't help but agree with you about this gag bit - I'm far from an experienced owner but I just don't feel comfortable with dd using it so much - I'm always moving the reins onto the snaffle ring piece of it.

There is a whole world of bits it seems and each one seems so different. Also, everyone has a different opinion to offer I just get very confused.

I will investigate the waterford and french link and perhaps talk to our saddlery shop - although they seem to be more interested in selling handbags than tack!!

Pixel Tue 22-Sep-09 17:01:51

I thought a french link was milder than an normal snaffle. When we asked about the mildest bit for our youngster that was what we were recommended to get.
My old pony used to get strong in company and we tried various bits but in the end settled on a Dr Bristol with a flash noseband which worked very well. Like you I didn't want to resort to a gag but I liked the fact that the Dr Bristol was still a snaffle, just with a little more oomph.

Dr Bristol

This mouthpiece has 2 joints, which means the pressure of the bit is distributed over both the tongue and bars of the mouth. Because the mouthpiece has two joints, it shouldn’t cause any interference with the roof of the mouth. The Dr Bristol uses tongue pressure to encourage the horse to go on the bit, the flat shaped lozenge centre piece is set at an angle therefore causing a sharper, more pronounced pressure to the tongue, this bit will not encourage a true contact although may be useful if you need that extra bit of help in order to slow down or stop, it has bar and lip pressure but not a ’squeezing’ action like that of a bit with a single joint. The more joints a bit has the less likely the horse is to lean as the bit becomes more mobile.

muppetisacat Tue 22-Sep-09 19:15:05

pixel, thanks for that - i've not heard of a Dr Bristol (who makes these names up?!!) but will investigate that - sounds a bit less harsh and your old pony sounds like ours.

Pixel Tue 22-Sep-09 19:31:14

here. Looks very similar to a french-link but the middle plate is at an angle on the tongue instead of lying flat.

elastamum Tue 22-Sep-09 19:43:34

I would carry on using the dutch gag if the pony is happy in it but use it on the snaffle ring unless you are out and about in company or cross countrying when you need a bit more control. i used one for years to jump and draghunt my old TB mare who was very keen and very fast. rode her in a french link for normal schooling and dressage and then the gag for x country etc. Your daughter needs brakes to be safe! You could try a pelham but TBH a Pelham with one rein on the bottom and a curb chain is more severe than a dutch gag anyway. Some horses just dance around in company regardless of what bit you put in their mouth. what you dont want to do is get into a constant tug of war which your daughter just wont win

muppetisacat Wed 23-Sep-09 07:32:43

elastamum - what you say makes a lot of sense to me. I guess the main reason for my post was that one minute dd was riding a pony reasonably happily in a snaffle (with the odd non braking moment) and within 2 months she has changed to another bit and is now being told to get a different one.

You're right - she's not going to win a tug of war with her.

We do keep moving the reins to the middle ring when we can and the flash only goes on in certain circumstances - but I still hate it for some reason. Where she did the 8 miles at the weekend it looks like the flash has rubbed slightly on the side of our pony's mouth.

I wish I could get on her and feel what my dd is feeling - but at 5'10 and 11 stone I'd better not!

Southwestwhippet Wed 23-Sep-09 12:43:50

The trouble with the 3-ring gag is that it has become a very fashionable solution for strong ponies and most people resort to it (usually under guidance from the 'tack shop lady' or a 'friend') without really understanding its action.

In fact the 3-ring gag is a rather poor version of a gag as it has limited leverage due to the semi-fixed nature of the bit rings. If you look at the continental (rope) gag you will see that the leverage or lifting action is almost infinite which is why it is considered to be the only true gag. Gags are designed to have a head raising effect so ideally used on ponies that put their heads down and tank. However, the 3-ring gag is somewhat impure in its action which reduce the potential for severtity (why it has become popular for children) but also the effectiveness of the solution. In fact many 3 rings gags appear to have a head lowering affect as the pony learns to grab the bit and run through the leverage effect.

3-ring gags were also never designed to be used with one rein. they are supposed to be used with one rein on the snaffle setting and one rein on one of the lower rings. Roundings can be used to assist a child that cannot handle two reins but unfortunately most people are unaware of this and use the one rein option which gives the pony little option, even when behaving, but to endure the gag action. It sounds as if this is what has happened to your daughter. With the constant, inescapable poll pressure and lifting in the mouth due to having the gag on the lower ring only, the pony is now bracing her mouth against the bit (opening mouth), and just running through the discomfort meaning your daughter has to pull harder and harder to get any response.

In america 3-ring gags are also used with curb chains to prevent ponies grabbing them and running through them.

As you can probably tell I am not a massive fan of the 3 ring gag. It has its place but sadly it is usually misused (through lack of knowledge not deliberate cruelty) and it is also used far more widely that its action really requires.

You may find that you get a better response with a kimberwick for XC and SJ, and sticking to a snaffle with a french link mouthpiece (lovely and mild) for schooling. The Kimberwick has a fairly 'sharp' action on the curb chain but, if you buy one with a ported mouthpiece, within the mouth is fairly mild. the 'sharpness' of the curb, provided used with sensitive hands which you say your daughter has, means the pony learns not to pull. He has much more clearly defined boundries in his mouth - be nice and it feel comfortable, tank off and it will not feel comfortable....grin For preference get your local PC instructor or other professional to help you fit the curb chain as it is important for the pony's comfort that it is not too loose or too tight (both cause the horse considerable distress) and that the chain is not twisted.

Try to avoid the option of keeping the gag and strapping the mouth shut. Ponies are rarely being 'naughty' for the sake of it, if the pony has only just started opening his/her mouth it really does sound to me as if it is a way of evading the constant lifting dragging pressure of a gag on the corners of the mouth.

Bitting is a fascinating subject and one of my favourites. BTW I'm a BHSAI and a riding instructor just so you know my qualifications when reading this post grin

good luck Sorry a bit long.

Southwestwhippet Wed 23-Sep-09 12:46:17

Sorry, not continetal (rope) gag - I meant Cheltenham or rope gag.

Continetal gag is, as you said in OP, another name for the 3 ring gag.

muppetisacat Wed 23-Sep-09 20:07:27

Wow Southwestwhippet - lots to think about there!

Such an informative post and what you're saying makes lots of sense. I can't help but distrust the continental 3 ring bit on our pony as I had always thought it was to be used on a horse which pulled it's head down - and dd's pony never does that - it's the opposite really.

But as a total novice in many horsey things you tend to listen to what your instructor is saying - albeit now I look at this particular lady and am beginning to question her judgement about many things - not least the way she keeps her own horses.

My instinct tells me to put the snaffle back on in the school but for safety's sake I do feel we need something for braking whilst doing XC or jumping.

I should really investigate the kimberwick or dr bristol as options on this.

I can truly say the pony is not naughty, she loves to run but she has always looked after my dd and has never bolted whilst out. Her 2 previous owners didn't ride her in the week and would just bomb up and down on her at the weekend. At 17 years of age she's suddenly having to do a bit of schooling!

dooit Thu 24-Sep-09 07:54:21

Has anyone suggested having her teeth checked?

The first thing I would do is call in a qualified Equine Dental Technician or your vet if you prefer to check for overgrown teeth and sharp edges.

Any kind of bit evasion as you describe could easily be the result of pain and very quickly resolved.

Pixel Thu 24-Sep-09 15:56:48

Ooh Dooit, you've put us to shame, we should have said that shouldn't we. blush

dooit Thu 24-Sep-09 18:32:45


muppetisacat Fri 25-Sep-09 19:37:42

doit - you are right - and she is due her vaccination soon so will get her teeth checked then by vet and talk to him about all this.

I put the snaffle back on the bridle today ready for dd to try her in sand school tomorrow with it.

She apparently also came with a martingale which the current owners removed, but I'm wondering whether this would be a better option for a while if used in conjunction with the snaffle, to encourage her neck to bend and give dd some more braking potential...

what do you think???

Butkin Fri 25-Sep-09 20:23:48

We think you should have it's teeth checked then try putting a flash on with your snaffle. I wouldn't worry about what happened on the sponsored ride as many ponies will get excited in this situation.

I definitely wouldn't use a pelham or anything else with a curb chain. Try and sort out the problem by keeping it's mouth shut with the flash and only the snaffle. If he crosses his jaw you could try a Grackle noseband.

MitchyInge Sat 26-Sep-09 12:35:20

how's it going?

am OBSESSED with bits, especially as we get to this exciting time of year when there is a nip in the evening air and the brakes start to fail

I want a Dummies Guide to it all though

skihorse Sat 26-Sep-09 17:25:20

Gosh - it's funny how everyone has different opinions - it seems a very emotive subject!

I personally hate gags and I hate the way they're so fashionable. I also am in the minority in that I hate flash/grackle nosebands as I believe they can inhibit breathing and again it seems to be a fashion thing - try buying a bridle without a flash these days...

I like a Pelham in such an instance assuming you fit the curb chain properly!

My girl can pull very hard when we're hacking and she'll open her mouth to try and avoid contact with a snaffle (eggbut), but in a pelham even with extremely light contact she moves and reacts so much better. In fact I should use the pelham more it's just I feel it's kind of a "cop out" and I should be able to manage in a snaffle.

Southwestwhippet Sat 26-Sep-09 22:21:52

Skihorse I think we were raised in the same equine school!!!! I dislike flashes and grackles as well... far too fashionable for a start and inveriably fitted incorrectly so they pull down the nose and restrict breathing. Plus I also often think if a horse is opening his mouth to avoid the contact, chances are this is due to pain... holding mouth shut and forcing pony to endure the pain seems sad to me sad

BTW should be able to manage in a snaffle is all very well but sounds as if your horse is far happier in the pelham. I'll never forget the day I gave up on snaffles with my old mare and moved to a kimberwick. No more coming back from hacking with rubbed mouth, was hacking on a loose rein and enjoying ourselves for the first time ever.

skihorse Sun 27-Sep-09 09:34:50

SWW I will make that move to using the Pelham I think - it will save her mouth and my fingers - I constantly have bleeding blisters. As for the link with pain, time to get a dentist in I think!

I think the worry I have about the snaffle vs. pelham is that ALL the "old skool" stuff tells you to get on with it (and school) using a snaffle and I think Pelhams were always for "grown-ups". Mind you, I'm not at Pony Club any more, I am that aforementioned adult shock and IMO, a Pelham is actually a really mild bit.

Whilst we're on the subject of nosebands - do you SWW ever "go wild" and remove the noseband in its entireity? I've done that and I'm sure people think I'm a lunatic! wink

Southwestwhippet Sun 27-Sep-09 20:22:01

LOL I work at a riding school where NONE of the ponies wear nosebands. My pony hasn't worn one for about 6 months. Personally I think it is just more bloody tack to clean grin

With regards to the snaffle... the thing I have realised is that yes, ideally you should be able to do everything in a snaffle. In fact, if you watch some of the Natural Horsemanship people, they do everything with no bridle at all! But generally the people that achieve this are

a) absolute experts in their field, riding almost entirely off seat and leg at a level most of us can only dream of
b) riding horses they have started themselves, trained in their very delicate sensitive methods
c) doing dressage - or at least not hunting/XC or other adrenaline sports where even the best trained horse may get a little hyped up.
d) have endless hours to spend on the basics and the patience to settle for spending 2 months just walking if that is what it takes

Most of us need to find a middle ground where we take the skills as riders we have, the schooling our horses have, the time we have and what we want to do with our horses and find a compromise. Although my pony is currently being reschooled to hack, school, hunt and jump in a snaffle it us taking a long while and in the mean time I still want to compete so used a stronger bit to SJ.

skihorse Mon 28-Sep-09 10:22:43

You're right about the IH people (Richard Maxwell is my fave) - I'm happy enough that I can neck rein with her with "washing lines" but of course that goes out of the window once the adrenaline kicks in! Oh to have 6 hours a day to do nothing but "bond" with her... now, back to reality, the Pelham is going on and the noseband probably off, it's only bloody decoration and as you say - just more tack-cleaning!

(And she has such a beautiful stripe it seems a shame to cover it with a strap blush.)

Right now I can't ride because the tossing farrier left a bar longer than the wall. I am like this angryhmm - at the same time, I don't want to pare it down myself because I have another guy coming weds morning and I want him (if poss) to be able to confirm this as the root of her lameness, rather than me taking it off and then him saying "oh it might be". I am so livid though that an effing farrier would make such a fundamental mistake.

muppetisacat Tue 29-Sep-09 14:48:29

Well - dd rode in snaffle and is convinced she couldn't stop her quickly enough.

I hate all this mucking around, changing bits etc - surely the pony must just get fed up. She is doing a little SJ competition at local riding club at weekend and i want her to be safe but just hate the flash.

Think I will persevere with snaffle and adopt the martingale tonight and see how it goes.

Everyone has a different opinion on what is best and what is cruel etc. Is there such thing as a bit expert??? if there is then I would certainly be calling them out!

skihorse Tue 29-Sep-09 20:44:16

muppet Yes, there are "bit" experts - but like all things horsey they'll all have personal preferences. Do you want Pony Club old skool, German neue schule? etc., etc. grin

IWantCleanCarpets Tue 29-Sep-09 20:59:50

Ooooh I haven't ridden for years but this thread took me back a bit (excuse the pun). For what it's worth my rusty memory says "no" to a gag.

I used to ride a strong pony with a Dr Bristol, grackle noseband and running martingale.

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