Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thoughts on Bits

So far, I have had four rides in the Garcia bit . . . one lesson ride the first night we tried it, one trail ride on Saturday and two arena rides on Sunday and Monday. I believe we are in the middle of the Halo effect, as far as the bit goes, with brilliant rainbows and sparkly showers of happiness. I'm almost afraid it is too good to be true.

In order to continue to document this journey, I want to get my thoughts down now about how he is responding to this bit. That way, if things change, I can go back and look at our journey.

First off, a jointed bit of any kind will not work with Ashke. I have tried pretty much all of them, and even though the online bit selector quiz says "myler level 2 comfort snaffle", that is one of the bits we have tried, and short of tying his mouth closed (which I will not do), that bit is too harsh for him.

Second, the width and thickness of this bit seems to be something he is more comfortable with than past bits. The Mona Lisa mouthpiece is wide and heavy. The Spanish bit I have been riding in is heavier than most of the bits I have tried and the Garcia bit is heavier still. The thought behind a thin bit is that it has more bite to it, since the pressure applied is focused across a smaller surface in the horse's mouth. The thicker the bit is, the more surface it covers, and the less pounds per square inch. The thinner the bit, the more pressure on the bars of the mouth and the thicker the bit, the more diffused that pressure is.
  • Ashke seems very comfortable in this bit. He opens his mouth to accept (not always the case in the past, so this is not a given) and immediately begins to play with the roller. When work intensifies, his tongue is quieter as he focuses, but then he plays with the roller while we take walk breaks.
  • Crazy as it may sound, he is so much more responsive to my seat that I'm still a little in shock. Last night we were doing canter-walk transitions without him blowing through my ask and he was listening well to my seat and legs.
  • Lateral work is at least as good as it has been. Backing is better. We are struggling a bit with bend to the right, but I am wondering if the base of his neck is out again. (It seems like every time he plays with his neighbors something happens and he wrenches himself.)
  • He is very responsive to this bit and has yet to throw his head up or brace through the jaw. The weight and feel of this bit encourages him to reach down and seek contact, something that he hasn't been as comfortable doing in the other bits we have tried.
  • I don't think he will ever have a "quiet" mouth. Some of us do not. I have a tendency to stick out my tongue when things get hard, and watching my son play video games tells me he has inherited my trait. I think you are either born with the need to use your tongue to do things (have you ever watched Michael Jordan play ball?) or you aren't. I think horses are the same way. Ashke moves his mouth when he is concentrating. Its usually his lips, and he doesn't do the tongue thrust thing unless he hates the bit, but his mouth moves when he is trying to do what I am asking him to do. (I think this may also be why Nilla sticks her tongue out when she is jumping. Some things are hard and need the extra help.) 
  • Ashke has a very high play drive. During the winter, he drags his empty water trough out from under the fence to bang on it with his feet. He has dog toys in his stall to chew on and squeak. He plays with both geldings on either side of him, playing bitey face through the poles of his pen. He has to have clips on his stall doors that prevent him from opening them, clips on the outside gates of the horse runs so he can't undo them during turn out, and the clips have to be used all the time or the likelihood of finding a loose horse wandering  around inside the barn is very high. He is curious and inquisitive and very agile with his nose. Giving him a bit he can play with has had the same effect as giving an active child a fidget spinner to distract them. I can hear and feel him play with it during our walk breaks.
  • Probably the only downside I have seen so far is that he will not be able to eat on trail in this bit. Or take treats. The food gets crammed into the hood of the bit and the roller will not spin. 
During our ride last night I had an epiphany. I cannot just allow him to fall out of the canter. I need to use my connection to him through the bit to help him remain balanced through the transition. Saying that makes me feel stupid, but for the first time last night I could feel what I was doing wrong. We were doing canter-trot transitions on the serpentine and he sort of locked up his hind end and stumbled down into the trot. He has done this before but I have always kind of blamed his physical issues for the stumble. Last night, I could feel how my position effected his ability to transition and I needed to give him more support through the process. We tried again and this time I held up my end of the deal, giving him the support he needed and we didn't have a cross-firing issue for the rest of the night. Neither of us are ready to do this one handed, which I thought might be softer on his mouth, and he is reaching for the bit when I'm not keeping up my side of the conversation.

Additionally, he did not get as upset last night when we were working on canter work as he has in the past. We did serpentines with canter-walk-canter transitions, then worked on the shallow serpentine, similar to the single slalom, without the poles to guide us around. I was very pleased with all of the canter we did and then we went back to working on the trot (I need to make sure we are not just stopping at the end of the canter work, since he starts expecting to be done and gets a bit pissy when we aren't). I was working on bend to the right through the trot by spiraling in and out on a circle, then went through the shallow serpentine with him again. He offered a canter a couple of times (I need to be really clear with my outside aid as to what I want) but I just laughed and asked for a transition down. Mostly, we worked on connection and communication with the new bit.


  1. Which shoulder did you wrench recently? When Lily has issues with bend to one side or the other, it's because I'm riding crooked or compensating with one hip over the other (my right leg is stronger than the left from years of compensating for my old cracked left hip). I wouldn't be surprised if the issues with bend to one side might be more a result of your injuries and compensating for them than physical issues with Ashke. Just more to rule out. :)

    It sounds like he really loves this bit! He has expensive taste. ;)

    1. Good point. My next ride is a lesson, and Amanda won't let me list to the side, so that will be a good test.

      J just laughs that he has a saddle ordered from Spain and now a fancy-prancy $500 bit.

  2. I had to think of you directly tonight when my horse got in a losing fight with a freaking wheelbarrow. WTH! I said, "You're just like Ashke, except Ashke tends to do this kind of damage to his legs directly before a horse show!"

    AGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He's not gonna live to be 10 years old, I'm afraid. And I really like him by now, so it sucks to see the scars over scars happening.

  3. It always amazes me how alike our two horses are . . . and Ashke is 12 so there is hope.

  4. Glad the initial response to the by has been a good one. I hope he continues to like it.


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