MJ and I Try a New Bit

In my eternal search for a yet more perfect bit I decided to try one of Fager Bit's two new types of Weymouth curbs. Unlike the Mullen mouth Victoria curb these new curbs have a “port”, but it is not angled like the Cambridge mouth port which is parallel to the shanks of the bit. The Fager “port” goes up vertically from the line of the shanks of the bit. The Fager site said that the new orientation of the “port” allows more room in the horse's mouth for the bradoon. There are two, the Elisabeth which has a lower “port” and the Sofia which has a higher “port”. I decided on the lower “port” and bought an Elisabeth Weymouth, and it only took seven days to get here. I was excited and put it on my bridle after I put the lip strap on, replacing the Mullen mouth Victoria Weymouth curb. All these bits' mouthpieces are made of titanium.

I had talked with Debbie about this bit last week just after I ordered it and she said it was alright to try on MJ. On the bridle I had the 125mm Elisabeth Weymouth curb and a 130mm Fager Madeleine double-jointed fixed-ring bradoon. When I got to the stable I showed her the Elisabeth curb and how its “port” was different from the normal ports of Weymouth curbs. She had no problems with the bit and she remarked on some minor differences in fit when she bridled MJ.

MJ usually is a stoic horse, with the attitude of “whatever” when I introduce a new bit. This time he looked puzzled and kept on mouthing the new curb bit with his tongue. When Debbie gently pulled on the curb reins to check the tightness of the curb chain MJ looked mildly askance when the “port” rotated down further forward toward the end of his tongue. After Debbie walked him to the ring he was still anxious about how the new curb bit felt in his mouth.

I mounted with no problems. I asked MJ to walk and he cautiously ventured forth into a “new” world. He was reluctant to extend his walk, he was not too sure about contact, when I gave a gentle rein aid he would ignore it and when my aid strengthened he gaped. After a few minutes of walking around Debbie noticed that he was drooling, with a thread of drool continuously dropping from the front of his mouth. MJ had gaped before from my hand aids, but he had NEVER drooled, at most his lips would have a little “lipstick” of foam.

I even tried keeping contact with just the curb for a minute. Often I can get a horse to relax about the curb bit by keeping contact with it for a little while, it gives the horse a chance to find out that the curb bit is not an instrument of torture. It did not work this time, MJ never reached his tongue up to establish contact with the bit, he shortened his stride, and his whole attitude was “I'd really rather not” in response to my aids.

This even effected my contact with the bradoon even when the curb rein was sagging a good bit. His contact with the bradoon was much better than his contact with the curb, but it was nowhere near as good as before.

MJ was politer than most horses when voicing his objection to the bit. He did not violently fling his head about, he did not grab and yank, he basically just sucked back and refused to “meet” the bits, gaped at my hand aids and drooled. Unless the horse actively established contact with the bit any contact is imperfect and the horse can get fretful when the rider insists.

So we practiced halting, our turns in place, backing up, and I even trotted some hoping that the increased impulse might help with his contact. No deal. MJ decided that this particular Weymouth was not a nice bit. I promised MJ I would never use it on him again.

Yesterday I was lucky and got a “homework” ride on MJ. When I got home on Wednesday I had switched back to the Fager Victoria Mullen mouth Weymouth curb, and I decided it would be a good idea to use my double bridle on MJ so he would have a better memory of the last time I used a double bridle on him. Horses do think about their sessions under saddle during those idle hours in the pasture and stall. I did not want to give MJ a week to decide that Wednesday's ride proved that double bridles were evil.

Debbie bridled him on Friday and made sure everything was right on his head. Once MJ felt that we had gone back to the Victoria Weymouth he was fine, he did not fuss, he did not continuously work the bits with his tongue, and he was back to his usual laid back self. When I asked him to walk after I mounted he set forth more confidently though I could feel that he sort of expected that uncomfortable contact further forward on his tongue. Finally I decided it was time to keep contact with just the curb bit again to lay his fears to rest. He was not sure at first, but I did my usual normal super light contact as he head went back with my fingers giving him more room as his head went forward. After a few strides at the walk I felt his relaxed tongue reach up gently to meet the mouthpiece of the curb and I rewarded him by going back to sagging reins. After that he was more confident about contact with the bradoon, I had proven to him that there would not be any unpleasant surprises from the bits.

This weekend, as long as the rein from the latest tropical storm holds off, MJ will be competing in Debbie's horse show. He won't be jumping because of his navicular front feet, but he will be carrying two riders, one in the Walk-Trot class and the other in the Walk-Trot-Canter class. This will probably mean that my ride next week will be mostly to remind him that when I ride him stuff is different, with different riding and different expectations. MJ is a good boy, I do not foresee any problems, just the usual “but Mommy, no one else makes me do this!” that I often get from lesson horses.

About the Elisabeth ported curb. I thought a lot after my ride with this bit and I decided that with the Fager bits I am just going to have to resign myself to the fact that the horses DO NOT like me using the Fager bits that promise more tongue freedom. The fault is not with the bits, lots of other horses use these bits with no problems, but with my hands and how my MS has messed up my hands. I have hand tremors, not too bad but there. My proprioceptive sense that tells me where parts of my body are just does not work well at all. My hands often tend to wander out into the ether, luckily my relaxed fingers reduce the discomfort to the horse. My coordination is nowhere near perfect.

I came to the conclusion that when I use the Fager “bar relief” bits the horses use their tongues to protect their mouths from any mistakes from my hands. With the Fager bits that promise more “tongue relief” the horses are not able to use their tongues as much to protect their mouths from the imperfect actions of my hands, and the horses get upset with me. I don't blame the horses, I don't blame the bits, but I do blame my imperfect handicapped hands and nervous system.

And, as usual, what the horses say is what I listen to. Horses, you don't like the tongue relief bits, well I just won't use them any more. I will stick to using bits you are happy with.

I have found that when I make a point to listen to the horses and fix whatever bothers them as soon as possible, they end up trusting me more. Trusting horses are more relaxed and fun to ride.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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