Or, as it may be, every big bit; it depends on the horse.
There are so many bits out there these days, and even more opinions floating about on the Internet from so many different sources, that bits and bitting can be an utterly bewildering subject. I tend to go with my usual philosophy: the less gear the better, but it depends on the horse, it depends on the rider, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
While there are a lot of people out there who deem it a ridiculous cruelty to put a piece of metal in a horse’s mouth, I feel that you can do about the same amount of damage with a rope, Dually or Parelli halter, or a bitless bridle. It’s not so much about what’s on the horse’s face as what you’re doing with it. No “legal” piece of equipment, if properly fitted, should hurt the horse when no pressure is being applied, and the amount of pressure applied is entirely in the hands of the horseman. I would rather see a good horseman with a spade bit than a bad horseman with a halter.
Hands are not my strong point. I am not as soft-handed a rider as I would like to be, but I trust myself with most bits and can listen to the horse and adjust my contact accordingly most of the time. (When I get scared and pull, that’s a different story). I also think about two million times before changing a bit, because in my perfect world, all my horses would go in snaffles except for advanced dressage or reining horses. But when Arwen started to pull so much on outrides that my fingers eventually gave up on aching and just went numb, it was apparent that a change was in order. If she was doing that to my fingers, then what was she doing to her mouth?
So yesterday I put her in my Pelham for our hill work. At first I was going to use connectors, but I decided to give her a chance with the reins on the top ring to see if that would work, since the action is gentler. Once she got used to the idea, she was quite a pleasure; less head-tossing, more brakes, and, critically, much less pulling. I could feel a massive difference; she was still eager, still took the contact happily, but my shoulders and fingers didn’t hate me afterwards.
The best part was that today I could put her back in her snaffle for jumping; the eggbutt has actually grown on me and she goes beautifully in it, plus it looks quite pretty (can’t say the same for the Pelham). She didn’t pull at all; in fact, she was lighter in my hand than before being ridden in the Pelham, so I’m going to go ahead and use the Pelham for interval training this weekend and see how she goes.
Magic has the opposite problem. He was starting to curl up behind the bit and didn’t want to go forward. Plus, he’s bouncy and I have confidence issues on him, so my hands are at their worst when I ride him. The Mutterer recommended changing him back out of the Pelham to his eggbutt snaffle, so I gave it a shot and he felt loads better. He is still fussy with his head and tends to open his mouth, flip his head when he’s upset and poke his nose out when he canters, but not as afraid of his mouth as he was with the Pelham. He also jumped beautifully today; in fact I think I am boring him as today we went up to 75cm and he was nearly taking rails. (For the record, Magic never, EVER takes rails). Tomorrow we’ll put together a little course to kindle his enthusiasm and I might even pluck up the courage to take him out.
Forgive me for the supremely dull post today. I’ve got some more interesting stuff in the pipeline!