Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Every Little Bit Counts

Bits and bitting are endlessly fascinating for me.  I have been collecting bits since I was a kid; I actually have every bit I have ever owned, and most of them are still useful, even if they were manufactured 20 years ago.  Many things make them so alluring to me.  First, it is the myriad of configurations that bits come in.  The mouthpiece shapes, the side rings, the shanks, the differences in size and heft, and all the different functions that each individual bit is intended to accomplish point out man's long and complicated relationship with the horse.  Each bit tells a story of a horse and what his job was.  There is also the decorative allure of bits, from the sleek and simple English snaffles that I own to the fancy engraved western show bits, they are the perfect blend of functionality and beautiful design.  Yes, I have been known to decorate with bits.  LOL!

The most fascinating part of bitting for me, though, is the challenge that comes in finding just the right one for a particular horse that I am working with.  Each horses' mouth is unique, their age and training needs are different, and of course, there is their intended job that they need to fulfill for their owner.  I have never gotten rid of a bit because I almost always use them again.  Sometime, down the road, I will inevitably have a horse that needs a certain size or configuration, so I keep them on hand to try them when I need to.  I encourage everyone to keep and collect bits - you never know when you might need them!

I recently graduated one of my training horses, Broque, to a loose ring copper slow-twist snaffle.  He had been doing pretty well in the plain D-ring snaffle that I was using previously, but he was ready to get a little lighter, and needed to collect more at the lope.  And what a difference it made.  He was VERY happy in the new bit, light and responsive, and his lope was fantastic!  My philosophy toward changing bits is that it should be a reward for doing well in the previous, more 'elementary' bit - truly, a graduation up the ladder of education.  Usually, I find that horses like to learn the next step, if the bit fits them well and is a logical progression from where they just were. 

There are many riders who use the same bit all the time, and if it works well - all the time - that's fine.  Some people only use one bit because they understand that particular bit and trying something different is daunting.  I say, even a small change can make a big difference in your horse's performance!  Adding a dog bone (a small bone-shaped bar) to the center of your plain snaffle, or advancing to a light curb can do wonders for your horse's maneuverability, self-carriage, and rating of speed.  Always measure your horse's mouth and the bits you use to make sure the horse is going to be comfortable.  And remember the most important rule in bitting - the bit is only as harsh as the hands that hold the reins.  Make sure you are riding with an independent seat so that no matter what bit you use, your hands will be soft, still and responsive.

If you are interested in learning more about the art of bitting, check out "A Whole Bit Better," which is a fantastic aid in understanding how your horse's mouth works.  Another inexpensive addition to everyone's tack room is this tool that helps you measure your horse's mouth - makes it wonderfully easy!

Enjoy your day and enjoy your ride!!