Bits, bits and more bits. For my non horsey friends, bits are the part of the bridle that go into the horses mouth which the reins are attached to. There are many different types of bits, Western ones, English ones, training ones. I will admit, my experience with bits has been pretty limited, I’ve always looked for the opinions of others who know more than me when it came to choosing a bit.
What I do know, Alfie doesn’t have the best teeth, and he suffers from TMJ. Yes, even horses can suffer from that (his jaw doesn’t align properly so he can’t actually fully close his mouth – as a result, he gets pain from it that goes to the top of his head (his pole) and down through his neck. But he has a wonderful therapist that comes every 5 weeks and gives him adjustments. Between those adjustments and the massage I do on him we’ve managed to make his pain a lot better.
Alfie’s bit that he had been using for the last year or so is pictured below. Now prior to entering the dressage world, I was only familiar with western bits. I knew nothing about this type of bit except that because it’s rubber it would be comfy for him to be in his mouth.
When we started using this bit Alfie reacted really well to it. I was relieved that he was relieved that something in his mouth wasn’t going to hurt his sensitive teeth and jaw.
Last weekend when I went to bridle him before our trail ride I noticed that he really didn’t want to open his mouth for the bit. In fact, this was something I noticed a few weeks ago. And then I started to think maybe it was too big for his jaw.
I spoke with our barn manager Regina and barn owner Kari if they thought perhaps this bit was contributing to Alfie’s “opinions” during our lessons. One of the boarders, who’s been in the horse field forever explained that this particular bit is more like a training bit for dressage horses. She didn’t think it was actually helping Alfie since it prevents the horse from being able to move their head easily into the contact. In fact she said it could slow them down, making it challenging for them to want to move forward. Some of the pieces are starting to come together.
She let me borrow one of her bits to try on him. It’s called a rubber D ring snaffle and it’s very similar to what we used before the current one, minus the rubber. Here is a picture of the new bit.
You can see, it’s not one bar of rubber across, its jointed. Being jointed like this means when I jiggle say my right rein, he’s gonna feel the movement easier than with the straight bar. So our communication should be better.
Today was the first day with the new bit. I woke up bright and early, I was so excited to try it. I was ready to leave by 8AM but realized that was a tad early lol, so I sat on the couch watching The Golden Girls for an hour…it seemed like the longest hour ever lol. I left for the barn at 9.
I get my boy from the field, and as he’s eating his pre ride brunch, we make the switch of bits….hahahaha, say that five times “switch of bits, switch of bits”🤣🤣
I get Alfie all tacked up and I put his bridle on. He fights me a little with opening his mouth until he realizes this bit is WAY thinner than the other one. A few adjustments are made to the bridle to accommodate the new bit and we are ready to ride.
I line him up at the mounting block, climb the stairs and wait, hold up, HE STANDS!!! He doesn’t move, he didn’t anything, he just stood. I didn’t have to correct anything at all because for the first time in weeks, he stood on the first shot! I get on and off we go into the arena to warm up.
At this point we have an audience. Our barn manager Regina, her wife Jenna and fellow boarder Susie have all come to see if Alfie likes the new bit.
The first thing I notice – a lot of chewing and drooling – good signs. The next thing I notice…our circles are the most fluid they have ever been. It’s then time to trot. For the first time in months, Alfie voluntarily had a forward trot. He was able to bend his head beautifully to take the contact of the bit, something he struggles with at the trot. We trotted today the most we’ve trotted in ages. He felt good.
This also was the first lesson in a long time where he didn’t break out the dramatic head toss until the very end of the lesson when he was tired. We ended our lesson with the company of my trainer Kari walking next to us out on the trail.
Horses tell us how they are feeling all the time. It’s our job to listen to them. It’s not easy trying to figure out what might be troubling them or bothering them but when you do finally figure it out, it’s pretty close to perfection. I knew Alfie needed to hit the trails last weekend because he was getting ring sour. I knew he would be good today because he was “refreshed.” What I didn’t realize was what a difference changing bits would have on him. As I was putting his saddle away, I whispered “thank you” to him. Thank you Alfie for always taking care of me even when you are uncomfortable. Thank you Alfie for having the patience of me learning. Thank you Alfie for being you. ❤️🐴