This week, we hear from Debbie Hight. She is a horse owner, a former BHPS board member, and occasional guest columnist for Cayuse Communications. She writes from her home in Maine, where she cares for dogs and horses, especially her lovely Morgan mare, Roxy, who was a demonstration horse at the Summit in Maine in 2019.
Eight thousand. That’s the number of references to “horse bits” on Amazon. Type in the same on YouTube and there are more thousands to consider.
Just exactly how do you wade through all of that?
Is it any wonder that my first instructor selected a bit for me twenty years ago and, since then, I haven’t done anything different?
It is a relief to find a trusted source and I was thrilled to learn that Daniel Dauphin was presenting at Best Horse Practices 2022. I didn’t know Daniel, or his work, but since BHPS is the “conference that my horse wants me to attend”, at least I could learn about bits from someone who had the ear of Maddy Butcher, who, as the Summit director, has no tolerance for fluff.
Maddy says of Daniel, ”He has an engaging website that catches my attention for the depth of information he puts out there. Most specifically, he’s written a treatise on bits. Actually, it is manifested in video, in More Than a Bit…’of Information DVD and download. It’s informative, well-researched, and funny. Not often folks manage that trifecta. You can read the review here or visit Daniel’s website here.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was using for a bit. I came to riding as a 50-year-old and I had no idea what I was doing. For a time, I couldn’t control my horse, so my instructor gave me a harsher bit. I used it for awhile and went back to the snaffle (or, what I thought was a snaffle). I think that my horse has forgiven me for that earlier misadventure. I also tried Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle, and while many do not like it, I found that it helped me with “feel,” especially when I returned to using a snaffle.
I kept trail riding and began to work on some dressage moves, using a snaffle. Roxy seemed happy and I was developing more and more feel. All while I tried to avoid that nagging feeling that I had no understanding of bits.
In Daniel’s two-part presentation last fall, I heard the words “get more done with less.” That’s music for someone who was working to improve dressage moves. Watch Daniel’s Summit presentations here.
I went home and assessed that my 20-year-old bit was pretty worn out and started on my quest to find the “perfect” bit. I mean, who hasn’t bought something new because, surely, newer technology improves everything??
First some hurdles:
- I live in the middle of nowhere.
- There are no tack shops where I could find knowledgeable bit advice.
- My favorite websites were confusing: too many bits, not knowing how to choose, and not knowing how and if they worked.
Ever frugal, I was also not interested in spending $100, repeatedly, to find the perfect bit.
So, I turned to a friend, and to my current local instructor, and I borrowed bits. I also contacted Daniel for help. I tried several bits, from Mullens, to other snaffles, to even a spade. I paid a lot of attention to my hands, and tried to feel the results.
I asked my instructor for feedback; this was invaluable, as ultimately, she selected a bit that helped my horse with her movements and shoulders. I demonstrated another bit that I thought gave my horse more lightness, but my instructor told me it put her more on her forehand. I learned that an observant expert can certainly help. I chose a couple of new bits and purchased a French link snaffle to replace the original. Training and riding and fun continue.
But – returning to Daniel’s “getting more done with less” – What about this? I have found that while the right bit might help a little with movement, it is still the basics of seat and hands that matter most. Unless you have a proper grip and swing, a new tennis racquet or set of golf clubs won’t really improve your game. In “Dressage for All of Us,” Katrin Silva writes:
Using a different bit won’t make your horse light, happy, and balanced overnight.
No bit is a substitute for a rider’s soft, quiet hands or consistent training.
I am grateful to BHPS for the presentation and for Daniel’s follow-up emails. I now know that the bit is more than a simple connection from my horse to my reins and my hands. I know how a bit works, and what to look for.
Of course, I am also grateful to my buddy, Roxy, my (relatively) patient horse. I still have one empty bridle, and I’m currently looking for that bit that will allow me to do tempi changes!