Finally, an Acceptable Bit

This week, after the promised three weeks in the 23mm egg-butt stainless steel snaffle, I went back to experimenting with my new collection of titanium coated snaffle bits with Coach. Debbie and I both decided that, due to Coach's extreme fussiness with bits off contact, we should next try the titanium coated Mullen mouth snaffle. This bit addresses two of Coach's dis-pleasures with the bits we have tried, it is not stainless steel and the mouthpiece does not move around in his mouth.

When Debbie put on the bridle we had to adjust the cheek pieces until Coach was happy with where the bit rested in his mouth. At first he chomped, gnawed, and ground the bit between his teeth, moving the bit as much as possible with his tongue. A minute or two after we got the bit situated to where he wanted it ALL signs of irritation disappeared. Coach seemed prepared to give this bit a chance.

When I mounted and I walked off on a loose rein Coach did not fuss at the bit. When I gave my turn signal of lengthening my outside rein Coach did not grind the bit between his teeth on that side. The first time I asked Coach to halt by alternating twitches of my little fingers, Coach stopped immediately and his mouth stayed calm during the halt. Coach even consented to STAND STILL for more than half a second! His transformation was amazing, especially since the heat and humidity were affecting me badly and I am sure my hands were less steady than usual. Coach even passed up several opportunities to take a rein between his teeth. It was not that Coach was particularly forgiving that day, when my left lower leg wandered back when I did a “rider's push-up” Coach reached his head around to point out the offending leg, telling me to correct it.

Fortunately Coach's front legs were more comfortable on Wednesday, he had been re-shod with pads and that was enough to make his feet feel better. He felt good enough under me that I asked him to extend his walk and he responded though I did have to use more leg to keep his walk stretched out.

Halfway into my lesson, once I was pretty sure that Coach liked this particular bit, I told Debbie that while she may be tempted to use a Mullen mouth snaffle on Coach with elementary level riders I could not recommend it. Coach is an OTTB, many race trained Thoroughbreds are trained to run FAST while the rider takes a hard hold on the reins. Since the Mullen mouthpiece is so much more comfortable there is a danger of the horse deciding to let the rider support the weight of the horse's head and neck while the horse runs faster and faster. On such a horse it is a really good idea to have an independent seat so that the rider does not try to stay on the horse by hanging on with the reins while the horse runs faster and faster. Mullen mouth snaffles, like some other gentler bits and even bitless bridles, often require BETTER use of the reins than a more severe bit to keep the horse in tune with the rider.

Unfortunately backing up still posed problems. While Coach did not invert, gape or resist as strongly as he had with the other bits, when it came time to ask for the second step back his old problems reappeared, though not as vehemently as before. I think I have to work at lightening my rein aids for backing up.

Whew, Coach finally accepted a bit!

On Friday it was even more humid and we were dodging scattered showers. Mia looked like she was stiff when she was led to the wash stall, but as usual she reveled in her grooming. Luckily the drizzle let up and we did not get wet riding. We did out usual perambulations around the ring, then I asked her to halt, alternating twitches of my little fingers. She stopped immediately, yeah she learned when I re-schooled her at the halt last week! She also improved backing up—basically Mia proved that she could be just as educated, responsive, and accurate as she was previously with the stainless steel bits.

Which brings me to something I've noticed when introducing the titanium coated bits. When the horses taste this new metal it is like something in their head says “ALL the rules have changed.” The horses are not upset, they are not mean about this, it is like that a horse that I've ridden for over a decade all of a sudden is just green-broke. I find that I have to re-explain my aids to the horse, that this particular aid STILL means this particular thing. Mia took the longest, but Mia is OLD and somewhat set in her ways.

I am coming to some tentative conclusions about the titanium coated bits, tentative in that I have no scientific proof and no way of getting scientific proof. I do know that titanium is “bio-compatible” for mammals, in that our bodies do not mount an immune reaction when titanium appears in the body. Could it be that some bit problems arise because the horse's body mounts an immune reaction whenever a stainless steel, iron, copper, brass, nickel or aluminum bit is placed in their mouth? Could this be one of the roots of horses' problems with bits? Could this immune reaction increase the temperature of the horse's mouth, the sensitivity of the horses' gums, and the ouchiness of the horses' tongues? Yes, I know, the rider's hands are extremely important for bit acceptance by the horse. I have good hands, I know this because riding teachers with decades of experience teaching thousands of riders have told me that I have good hands though I do have some imperfections when my MS acts up. Even though I can get most horses to accept contact with the bits I've selected for them (including some of the more “severe” bits), I have never had the degree of acceptance that I have gotten from the titanium coated snaffles.

I get the feeling from the horses is that they consider the bit to be a deeply personal bit of gear. Horses can get very picky about the type of mouthpiece, cheek pieces, bit material and placement of the bit in the mouth. It is like the horses consider bits to be a type of jewelry, whose selection is deeply personal for the person wearing the jewelry. And as far as the horses I ride are concerned, titanium is the metal they prefer in their mouths.

Unless I can come up with over $500 USD for the pure titanium double bridle bits before my hands improve enough in the colder weather, I will be able to experiment with this since I found a “Kangaroo metal” (Dewsbury) double bridle bit set, made of a copper-nickel alloy. I got this set because it was not stainless steel, just to try out on Coach. If he reacts to these bits like he does to the stainless steel bits—grinding and inverting, I will suspect that the same type of immune reaction occurs with the copper alloys and I will have to resign myself to saving up for the pure titanium bits. The pure titanium bits are A LOT more expensive than the titanium coated bits, up to four times the cost.

Of course I could experiment with combining one of my titanium coated snaffles as the brandoon, hoping that one titanium bit will make Coach happier with the non-titanium bit. I could us my titanium coated single jointed Baucher snaffle, the rings of the cheek-pieces are as small as most brandoon rings. Or I could try the thinner mouthed titanium coated “comfort” snaffle though the rings are bigger. If those do not seem to work well I could put my titanium coated Mullen mouth snaffle on though it is 1/4” too narrow for a “classic” brandoon and its rings are normal sized for a snaffle. I just wish that someone would manufacture a titanium coated 5” Weymouth curb and 5 1/4” Mullen mouth brandoon, then I would be all set up to make Coach happy with me!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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