A Tale of Two Bits

I had ordered three bar relief bits from Fager and they arrived a little over two weeks ago. Bingo had been sort of nice with the Lilly single-jointed bar relief bit and I wanted to see if he got better with the double-jointed bar relief bits. With the “Lilly” he was still opening his mouth some with my rein aids though otherwise he seemed more cheerful with it, but I wanted to discover a bit with which he did not open his mouth in response to my rein aids. I bought the Fager “Oscar”, “Bianca” and “Max” bar relief bits and I was eager to try them out. Because of the weather (much needed rain) I only got to ride twice since then and just on Bingo.

I tried the “Oscar” bar relief bit first, it has the “Front Lock” which greatly limits the movement of the bit in the mouth, and a copper tasting center lozenge. This bit is particularly recommended for youngsters, and while Bingo is in no youngster I thought that this bit might be a relief for him. I was wrong.

Since Debbie has been sick her daughter Sam gave me my lessons. Sam is very good at telling me if a horse likes a bit. At first she was worried that the 125mm bit (4.9”) was too narrow for Bingo's 4 3/4” mouth, since she had not said anything like this for the 125mm single-jointed “Lilly” snaffle I figured that Bingo might be pushing against the lozenge with his tongue. As we proceeded Bingo took contact and was somewhat obedient to my rein aids but I never got the impression that he thought the bit was comfortable, and Sam told me that he was fussing with the bit more than usual, and he certainly gaped more than usual when I used any rein aids. The one bright point of my ride is that when we were headed toward the gate Bingo stopped immediately when I asked him to, but everywhere else in the ring he was super resistant to stopping. After some thought I realized that I had schooled Bingo a good bit on stopping when headed toward the gate, so that schooling did pay off.

But otherwise Bingo had to be convinced that a rein aid WAS a rein aid, that he was supposed to listen to it and react to it, but I might as well been blathering in a foreign language except when halting headed toward the gate. He was not bad, it was just that he was reacting like I had not been working on him for months on obedience to my mild hand aids. Why was he reacting worse to this milder bit? Did he not like the feel of the lozenge on his tongue? Did he not like the copper taste? Did he not like that this bit was stiffer in his mouth than the other ones? Sometimes I wish that the horses could talk instead of forcing us to correctly interpret their “sign language” which can be so eloquent about how the horse does not like the bit but gives little information of exactly why he does not like the bit.

That weekend I did not get to ride Cider. I had put the “Bianca” bar relief double-jointed bit with a titanium roller in the middle on her bridle. I was looking at the “Oscar” on Bingo's bridle, remembering my ride, and I decided that I would switch the bits. When I next ride Cider, who definitely likes the taste of copper, she can tell me all about what she thinks about that bit and if she agrees with Bingo. In the meantime I would try the “Bianca” on Bingo, hoping for a better result.

When we bridled Bingo for my next lesson he seemed to like his new bit better, he did not look as distressed and he was more relaxed as we walked out to the ring. When I started riding him I did not get the impression that he was pushing up against the center of the bit like he did with the “Oscar”. When I asked Sam how Bingo was reacting to the bit she told me that he was being much quieter with his mouth. Of course this did not mean that he was any more likely to obey the bit, in fact he was worse when I halted him heading toward the gate, but halting at other places in the ring was a little bit easier. Sam could see that Bingo was rolling the roller with his tongue but he kept his mouth closed when he did that. She also said that Bingo was not getting into a full wide-mouthed gape when I used my rein aids.

I noticed that his tongue felt more relaxed to my fingers, and he did not seem as confused about this bit. He was pretty amenable as far as obeying the rein aids, if I did not expect prompt obedience.

Bingo was not in top form Wednesday. Of course the night before was New Year's Eve and the pasture horses had to suffer the loud booms of the fireworks and the sudden bursts of light. Sam told me when she came to the stable in the morning all the pasture horses were huddled by the gate and they stayed by the gate even when the stalled horses were turned out and galloped to the round bale. Bingo? He acted like he was hung over, hurting, not too sure about where he was going and why, and basically he “told” me that he was just too tired to move much. My legs got a good work out as I kept him moving.

I was glad I had changed the bit. A tired, achy, unhappy and slow moving Bingo can be a minor challenge, but I think a tired, achy, unhappy and slow moving Bingo with a bit he did not like would have been much more challenging if he had decided to tell me in detail about how unhappy he was that I was bothering him after a hard night. His contact was fine, like it has been with all the Fager bar relief bits, and he was able to get into the groove with the turns in place after a few steps. Backing up was not very good but after such a rough night I was just glad he consented to back up at all. A lot of the ride I was in half-seat since Bingo did not seem to want me to sit down much, and I imagine that his back was not in top shape after all the big booms of the night before.

I really do not think that the horses enjoy New Year's Eve or July 4th very much because of all the fireworks at night. To horses night-time should be nice and peaceful, a good time to chill out and relax. They understand thunderstorms, and with thunderstorms they have the warning of the dropping air-pressure, the winds, the sounds of distant thunder and the scent of rain before it breaks loose over their heads. They do not have these warnings for fireworks, turned out at night, chilling out in the pasture, wandering around peacefully eating, then BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, out of the blue with intense flashes of light. Poor horses.

Hopefully I will get to ride Cider tomorrow, if Shannon's grass ring dries out enough. Cider is practical, if she does not like a bit she will “cuss me out” about it and I can rely upon her to give me her honest opinion. If she does not like the “Oscar” it will go into my bit box until a horse at either place seems to need a nice, gentle and stable bit in their mouth. Then I will try out the “Max” three piece lozenge bit on her which has no copper and does not lock up in the horse's mouth.

In the meantime the “Bianca” will stay on Bingo's bridle. Maybe when he feels better physically he will react better to everything, and his first ride with this bit was promising.

Since I started using the titanium bits I have become convinced that there is something about the stainless steel bits that the horses don't like. While the horses definitely like the stainless steel bits more than they liked the cheaper nickel bits, the titanium bits have convinced me that stainless steel is not the ideal metal for the mouthpiece. Maybe it is the chromium in the stainless steel, maybe it is the nickel in the stainless steel, there is SOMETHING in the stainless steel the horses do not seem to like when the horse learns that there is an alternative that does not taste worse.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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