Contact information:

Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

September 29, 2011

I'm considering trying a bit or a different configuration bitless

I've had a very difficult time getting soft vertical flexion with Journey.  We use the Little S-Hack.  Backing up is equally awkward.  Our last session under saddle I spent most of the time on turns, whoa, and backing.  She is starting to pick up a better whoa using seat and a lift of the rein.  She is resentful of the back up and will sometimes toss her head rather than just give to the pressure of the nose-band and take the step back.  What is interesting is that from the ground with a rope halter I can just touch the rope and get the full step back, so she is sensitive to pressure, but something about the S-Hack is not communicating as well as the rope halter.  I've done very little riding with a bit in the past, always preferring the freedom of a side pull or S-Hack for eating, drinking, and getting on and off.  Journey was ridden with a bit in the past, and I'm trying to recall our test-ride when we used one and  she was doing a lot of fussing and "teeth gnashing" with it to the point of distraction.  I'd describe her reining as "rough plow horse" at present.  She requires a really exaggerated direct rein to get her going where you want her.  She does understand leg in front of the girth and will move away from that pressure, but is oblivious to leg pressure to step sideways (such as a side-pass) rather than just a turn.  I'm trying to break down her faults and work at those a little piece at a time even if it means going back to the ground.

Other interesting observations:

Journey cannot walk over 6 inch elevated ground poles without a lot of hoof clanging.  Yet she can trot over them cleanly, and can canter over them cleanly.  These are six elevated landscaping timbers set about 3 1/2 feet apart.

She is resentful of my role as Alpha Mare.  Journey is an Alpha Mare.  More so than Phebes ever thought of being.  I have to re-establish my leadership each time we work.  She is easy enough to convince, but her ears tell me she is still thinking rebellion at times.

This all sounds like a bunch of complaining, but really it isn't.  Taking Journey's training back to the ground has opened my eyes to these many faults that would certainly create issues out on the trail, resulting in not only a cranky headstrong horse, but likely soreness as we struggle for balance.  I've much to accomplish this fall and winter to develop a tractable, balanced, and moving forward and backward horse.  It would have been a shame to just try and fight it out on the LD trail again.

Even though we haven't been getting miles under saddle the work we are doing seems to be good for her.  I'm noticing her hollow top line is beginning to fill in (yay!), and she is getting definition in muscle that she did not have before.  She is much more attentive of me on the whole, and has quit trying to rub on me when I take the bridle off (that one is a major coup) which drove me to distraction (and majorly ticked me off).  When I am on her radar now her ears are working back and forth and her focus is on me more than it is off me.  Prior to the ground work she was focused on where the other horses were and getting back to them.  Progress is being made, it is just incremental, slow, and steady.   ~ E.G.


  1. Ha! I REALLY really like your diagram. I can relate!!!

    My goal with going from bitless to bitted is to hopefully be able to go back to bitless again. I think it will happen. Progress has not been exactly linear, however!

    Keep at it, you'll get there. And hopefully have fun while you're doing it!

  2. I laughed aloud when I saw the diagram, I can also relate, a whole lot of scribbles, stress, and general confusion before we get it right.

    I'm moving Siaga into a bit now, mostly because I know that if he were to be rehomed, other people would use a bit, more likely than not, and I want to be sure that I've given him as much exposure to different pieces of tack that people use, including the back cinch of a western saddle. So far we've got a moderately ok woah and a good back up, with a regular snaffle with huge loose rings on the ends to prevent it from slipping through his mouth. His sense of direction however, is rather crappy, and does better with direction with the hackamore, but not so good with woah and back up with that. What a trade.

  3. when asking to back under saddle, iwhat is her back doing. If she is attempting to rund through her back, consider the saddle may then pinch, thus making her toss her head, I assume go hollow, maybe to get away from the pinch.

    Remember, we often look at issues the horse is having as an issue with "training", when they are often pain related some where.

    Hank is a very seasoned competitive horse, (having won the highest award in NATRC in 2009). He works well in an S Hack, but I found my detailed communication lacked. He will do everything I ask, any obstacle type situation etc., but he did not have the finesse as we do with a bit, so I use the Mylar Kimberwicke on him for competition. I can get results with much softer rein aids (in conjunction with legs, seat and voice) in a bit.

    There is no one piece of equipment that will work with all horses and riders, and that includes a rope halter IMO. Find what works best for the two of you.

  4. I don't think she's wanting to hollow out. Since I've switched to the Crestridge she is actually filling out along her topside which I would guess means she is using it in a better frame than she was. We almost have a positive indent along the spine now instead of the opposite .

    Last session she was beginning to catch on, but anything to do with the bridle is painfully sluggish. She isn't getting an understanding of what is being asked I think, because she is a "trying" kind of horse. She is also an "upset" kind of horse if you try to pressure her through something rather than thinking her through. I don't look at her failures as training issues so much as communication failures. We have to roll through a lot of attempts just so I can figure out what might work. Frustration needs put aside...or I'm not going to get it done. Other people's ideas have helped me so much with this horse as she is a wee bit out of the rhelm of my experience. For instance, the wind suddenly blew the other day while she was on the longe line (walking) and she startled so bad she nearly fell down (in fact, halfway did)...then it was over and it was back to business! I have a kimberwick snaffle that was Puddin's, I might try that with her. I'm going to let the trainer have a go at her and see what she thinks too.

  5. A kimberwick snaffle?

    If it has a curb chain, it will act like a curb bit. A kimberwick, even if it has a jointed mouthpiece, will not act like a snaffle bit. Many similarities, but a big difference in the bit's action.

    A gentle, jointed loose-ring or egg-butt snaffle would be well worth the price if you choose to go the bitted route, I believe. I will have to root around in my tack room - I may have an extra, depending on what size she'd take. I'll look this evening and if it works I'll give it to you.

  6. Hmmmm...the bit I have here is brass? jointed, and has D shaped rings (no shanks).

  7. I don't actually have an extra bit currently - I um....I had my husband turn it into a homemade version of a blocker tie ring...

    Kimberwicke bits work really well on a lot of horses. It's just that they do typically have a curb chain. But you know, I guess you could just leave the curb chain off? (I never thought of that until just now, yes, I'm slow...) I think you'd get a different action if you attached to the bit hangers rather than the D-ring portion. So leave the curb chain off, hang the bit from the D-ring part (not the special slot) and you would have a basic snaffle bit, action-wise.

    But, in my opinion, to go from bitless to a straight up Kimberwick, with the bit-hanger slot and curb chain and all would be quite a change. And might not result in positive change in the horse with the type of retraining work you are looking at doing.

  8. I discovered early on that my mare WANTED a bit because she couldn't understand my cues with a hackamore or sidepull, and not understanding made her very anxious. After 5 years of working together on trails and in dressage, we understand each other better.

    We use a french-link snaffle in the arena, where quiet, precise cues are needful. My mare also demands that I use a Prince of Wales spur so that my leg cues can be tiny, quiet, and precise--my legs are too short to deliver that to her big body without the spurs.

    We use a kimberwicke (solid bar, not broken, and on the mildest configuration with the chin chain) for the first leg of a competition in case I suddenly need BRAKES (hasn't happened yet, but I'm still quite young), and then I drop the bit entirely and use the sidepull for the rest of the miles. I can usually take the bit off after 5 miles, but it took years to get us both comfortable with that--and it was the *horse* who wanted the bit, not me. We had to learn a common language before we could start using slang with each other.

  9. I was told that this bit was a kimberwick when it was given to me. However, after internet research this morning it appears to be a 1930's Dee Ring Racing Snaffle Bit. It doesn't have the extra slot, just a large D at each end. So a fairly mild bit, yes? I wonder how this will work on the bit hangers/halter bridle, or should I just hang it on a traditional bridle for now?

  10. If that bit has regular D rings, it will work fine on bit hangers on a halter bridle. The rings are not offset are they? The mouthpiece goes to the middle of the dees?

    My Arab was very like Journey. Very resistant to an S hack. He really hated that. He was better in a sidepull, but really liked a mild snaffle best and was much softer and more responsive in it. I switch to a kimberwicke or a Myler combo bit for competition though.

  11. Come and post your interesting equine blog or a newly launched Equine Blogging Network We would love to see you there!

  12. Your diagram really spoke to me. It's so true.

  13. Yes, sounds like just a D ring snaffle. And, worth a try at some point, because you have it, and it really is just a basic snaffle. That said....

    .... I am not a fan of single joined snaffles any more. But, I have horses who often have a lower pallet, and the single jointed snaffle will nutcracker up, and bump the roof of their mouth. I love a french link snaffle, with will be double jointed, and the center link is sort of a little figure 8. Do not confuse a Dr. Bristol which has a squared edge on the link. Having the double joint means, you can communicate with one side of the mouth independent of the other.

    I like the Mylar bits, but I suggest try before you buy, as they are expensive to keep buying to see if they work or not.

    I'd suggest you see what the trainer gets out of her, and then find the right combo of a bridle that works for you and the mare

  14. I think any type of mild snaffle would be a great place to start. Someone mentioned Myler, they make great bits, but they have a whole lot to choose from. It can get overwhelming.

    I also like the 3 piece snaffle bits. I have a KK that Doc really likes. It was the bit I went to when he didn't like the big ole FAT D-ring snaffle my dressage trainer wanted me to start him in. These days he can go in any type of snaffle, curb, and even rope halter because he understands what the cues come down the reins mean.

    I think the hardest part of "bitting" is that we go too fast and don't take the time to teach our horse what the cues we are sending down the reins mean. The best advice I can give is take it S L O W E R than you think you need to go and then slow it down some more. Everyone always comments about how light and sensitive Doc is to the bit. Well, I can't tell you how many hours we spent working on that at a stand still. I have a video that will put you to sleep of me working with Doc back when he was a 6 year old. :-) Pick up the rein and wait for the desired response - RELEASE. Pick up the rein and wait for the desire response - RELEASE. Lather, rinse, repeat over and over until neither your horse or you need to think about it. My friend hooked me on to John Lyons Giving to the Bit method and it really worked for Doc & I, but it is pretty detailed and takes a lot of time. Here is a link to an article my friend Suzon wrote about it. She actually flew from NY to NC to work with me and a friend on this method.

    I can bring my bits with me when I come to your place in a few weeks if you are still planning on that. I have a KK snaffle, a Myler regular curved snaffle, and a Myler combination bit.

  15. Also, just saw this video on YouTube of John Lyons teaching his wife the GTTB method from the ground.

    If you are interested in learning more, let me know. I think I still have my print materials on this.


  16. Another lover of your diagram. So true, so true. I'm trying to think of just one thing that was straight forward to accomplish, that was significant and I cna't think of one. My journey to vet school looked like endurance journey looked like's hoping that my training of Tess to be an agility dog doesn't look like that, but with my history, I should probably resign myself to the inevitable. *sigh*