Does Bingo Actually LIKE His New Bit?

I have spent this month experimenting with the Fager bits. On Cider I have been using the Fager “Lilly” single jointed bar relief bit with and actual improvement with contact. On Bingo I tried the Fager “Fanny” single jointed tongue relief bit (“uh, no, I don't think so”) and the Fager “Frida” double jointed tongue relief bit.

When I started my journey with these new bits I had bought into the dream that if we could just give the horses' tongues relief from the bit, contact and obedience to the rein would improve. During this time I've gone to the Fager site and read, over and over again, what they say about their bits. Finally I came to the conclusion that, for the horses I ride, I had been concentrating on the wrong type of bit, the tongue relief ones.

I ride older horses, who have had less than ideal lives, training or riding, and there is an excellent chance that their mouths had been abused in the years before I started riding them. That desperate rein yank when the horse is running away, the harsh hands when the rider gets REALLY exasperated, the possibilities for abusing the horse's mouth are endless and these abuses can BRUISE the horses' bars (and yes, I too was guilty of this decades ago.) A lot of horses are given no time off for these bruises to heal, often the same bit is put in the same place in the horses mouth, and the rider is DETERMINED that the horse will obey that bit, often resulting in even more abuse.

Nowadays I just assume that the horses I can afford to ride come to me with physically damaged mouths.

The Fager bit people write about painful pressure points in the horses' mouths and how they designed bits to avoid these pressure points. I bet that a lot of these painful pressure points are a result of abuse with the normal range of bits, single or double jointed snaffles with slightly curved cannons. The mouthpieces might be thick or thin and of one material or another, but most single-jointed and double-jointed snaffles work respectively on the same points in the horse's mouth. I have written about the positive improvements that the titanium snaffles gave me, but the fact is that one eggbutt snaffle acts on the same place as another, slightly different eggbutt snaffle even if it is made of a new “miracle” substance.

On Wednesday, for my lesson, I put the Fager “Lilly” single-jointed bar relief snaffle on Bingo. Of course he immediately noticed that this bit felt different in his mouth in subtle ways but Bingo, being Bingo, took his time to come to a conclusion about it. At the start Bingo reacted to my hand aids normally, and his halt did not improve at all, I still had to alternately tweak my reins 6 times to get a full halt. It did not matter where in the ring we were or where we were headed his obedience to my hand aids was slow and sort of grudging. He took contact just fine. We tried to back up and he finally obeyed my repeated mild aids but he gaped some.

Then I noticed I was having to use a LOT LESS LEG to keep him moving, and his response to my leg was sharper with more impulse while he kept calm. Bingo responded better to my leg aids than he ever had before, and as a result I was a lot less tired throughout my ride.

After a half hour of his usual halts the end of my ride approached. I had totally given up with the idea that his halts would improve with this new bit after 6 or more times of the same old, same old. Then I decided to school him further at the halt while he was headed toward the gate at the end of our ride. I alternately tweaked my reins once, and he STOPPED and stayed stopped on sagging reins. My mouth literally fell open.

Well, after a short rest I decided to continue to the gate and nearer to the gate I asked him to halt again. He gave me the same immediate response, with no signs of irritation from the action of the bit. I was flabbergasted and Debbie was very pleased with Bingo. He got loads of praise from both of us and I dismounted, the ultimate reward.

From our very first ride Bingo has usually been resistant to halting, especially when headed toward the gate. Thinking back I remembered that he had started to improve halting with the Wellep double-jointed snaffle, another bit with straight cannons, though the improvement was nowhere near as quick or dramatic (my mouth did not fall open.) After this ride I went back and re-read the Fager site, and I finally understood what they meant by the sensitive pressure points, and how because the bit is designed differently it avoids these pressure points. Bingo had no problems understanding my hand aids those last two stops and I think that he had finally realized that this bit would not press on the painful areas on his bars so he did not resist my hand aids at all, they immediately “went through his body” to his hind legs.

I really hope this improvement continues.

With my new understanding I finally realized that the TONGUE relief bits put pressure on the bars of the horse's mouth. The Fager site recommends these bits for, among other problems, horses who put their tongues over the bit and for horses who are ALWAYS FORWARD, definitely not for habitual balkers. These tongue relief bits seem to be for horses who do not want to listen to any hand aids asking them to slow down, they want to run and cover ground with impulse. In a way I would definitely put the tongue relief bits into the severe category of the Fager bit, to be used lightly and with caution to protect the horses' bars from pain or injury. Since the tongue relief Fager bits I bought have locking joints in the center of the bit these bits are not terribly severe, but they can still put pressure on previously injured bars. This is why I think Bingo did not like the Fanny tongue relief bit, and why he did better with the Frida double-jointed sleeved loose ring bit, as he could choose, somewhat, where the bit acted in his mouth.

Thinking back months ago I had tried a Bomber's titanium Happy Tongue bit on Coach with less than perfect results, as in I never used it on him again. I tried it on Cider, and again I never used it on her again. Both horses were fussy and reluctant to keep contact, just like Bingo was with the Fager Fanny tongue relief bit. If tongue relief bits automatically mean that the horse's bars get more pressure, it means that tongue reliefs bits are NOT MILD in spite of the propaganda.

The horses are always right about their bits. If your horse does not like a bit look for another one that is more comfortable to the horse.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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