Small Bit Guards are a Total Pain

And once I realized it life became much easier.

I have been using my new Fager titanium mouthed bits and I got interested in their bit guards. The promise was that they were easy to put on (and take off), and that promise was fulfilled beyond measure. Since I have cursed out bit guards more than any other piece of tack in the last 49 years I was definitely interested them and approached them with great hope.

Yes, these bit guards are super easy to put on the bit. However the problems came when we bridled the horses, and this problem happened with three people, me, Debbie and Shannon. As we maneuvered the bit into the horse's mouth somehow or another the small (2 3/4”) silicon bit guards ended up INSIDE the horses' mouths causing the horses distress resulting in lots of chomping and tongue wringing. Last Sunday I had to reach into Cider's mouth to get a hold on the bit guard while I prayed that my fingers would not end up between her teeth.

That was enough for me. After I got home I took off the silicon bit guards, easily, and put on a pair of my old buckle leather bit guards (4” wide). My next ride Debbie had no problems getting the bit into Bingo's mouth, the bit guards stayed out of his mouth, and Bingo did not get distressed about the whole deal.

Throughout all our struggles with the bit guards Bingo has been remarkably patient with us. He may have gotten distressed and therefore confused about the bit, but he did not cuss us out, sling his head around or even look sullen. This surprised me, maybe he likes the taste of the titanium bits enough to forgive us our fumbles.

Since I changed the bit guards I could finally see what Bingo thought of my new bit, the Fager "Frida" titanium side lock loose rung double jointed snaffle TOL. Out of all the Fager bits I've tried this particular bit gives the horse great freedom in dictating how the bit acts on the horse's tongue, especially if the rider has relaxed and supple hands. The loose ring goes through an “egg-butt” sleeve. The center link is flat and is not as long as the French link, lozenge or Dr. Bristol centers, which means that the action on the tongue is different from the above bits, and Bingo seemed to enjoy this difference (he did not particularly enjoy the French link or lozenge bits I tried on him.)

My lesson on Wednesday was with the pesky small bit guards, and I think that Bingo may have misaligned the center joints during his chomping and tongue wringing until we got the bit guards in the correct place. He was not very responsive to the bit, he was sort of confused by how it felt in his mouth, so I dialed back my expectations and rewarded him for any and all hints of cooperation.

I think he took my little lecture my last lesson on halting to heart, he improved halting as in it did not take as many repetitions of my hand aids. Even with all the problems from bridling he seemed to like this new bit and did not fuss much at all in spite of the problems from bridling. Backing up was another matter, I settled for two reluctant steps back while before we had gotten up to six steps back.

Friday, with the leather bit guards, everything improved. Bingo actually acted like he enjoyed this bit in his mouth, and he had no problems with my hand aids even though obedience was still sort of slow. His whole demeanor was more cheerful. I could feel him making little subtle changes of where the bit lay upon his tongue and he seemed to appreciate his freedom of choice. We were both achy so we just walked, and he sort of was resentful of my leg since he did not feel like stretching out his stride but I had no problems keeping contact with his mouth.

This bit, the “Frida”, feels alive in my hands. The only other bits I've gotten this particular “alive” feeling have been the Dr. Bristol and the Wellep three piece snaffle, so I finally have another bit that encourages the horse to “talk” to me with its tongue! To me this is a safety feature, when the horse “talks” to me with its tongue I get early warnings about what the horse is thinking about doing in reaction to my hand, leg and seat aids, and I can better “tune” my fingers to get the results I want from the horse. Split seconds before the horse starts resisting my leg and seat aids I can alter my hand aids so that the horse relaxes and decides that obedience need not come from pain, but from communication between horse and rider. This makes my rides so much more pleasant for me and the horse as we both work to fine tune the horse's responses to my aids.

I think I have a new favorite bit. Of course I will have to try it out on the other horses I get to ride to see if I get equivalent results. If the horse does not mind the great freedom of motion that the mouthpiece of this bit has in action, it seems to be a really humane bit, comfortable in the horse's mouth, while at the same time giving the horse some freedom of choice of where the bit affects the mouth. I find that many horses seem to enjoy the fact that they have a choice of how the piece of metal in their mouths affect them, and since I give them this choice they are more likely to cooperate with me in spite of all my myriad riding faults. Horses who prefer stable bits in their mouths probably won't like this bit though.

I own many bits, collected over 49 years of riding. This gives me a good range of bits to find the bit that the horse prefers. I can find bits that the horse finds comfortable, likes the taste of, that fit their mouths properly (quite important), and that ameliorate my hand problems. Changing bits occasionally also serves to relieve the horse's boredom of week after week of carrying me around the riding ring.

The Fager bits act differently in the horse's mouth. The pressure on the tongue is different, the pressure on the bars is different, some of the bits are loose, some quickly “lock up”, some protect the tongue and some protect the bars. Except for the fact that they do not have 4 3/4” (120mm) alternatives for their regular snaffles and curbs, I am delighted with the choice they give me.

Every time I am in a tack store I go and look at their bit selection, always hoping to find a bit that will be more comfortable to the horse while giving me the control I need. Now that I own a few of the Fager titanium bits I think I will stop looking at the tack store bit collections since I have finally found some bits that fill in the holes of my bit collection, holes that needed to be filled since I ride several horses over the years.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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