"It is not important whether or not the bit is mild or harsh; what's important is the way the rider uses her hands. The mildest bit in the wrong hands can be harsh and the harshest bit in the right hands can be mild."
- Julie Goodnight
However, you can't say that EVERY horse is going to ALWAYS respond well and be happy in a double jointed snaffle. It's like saying EVERY horse will respond the same way to the Parelli method. It's like shoeing every horse the same way regardless of anatomy or hoof shape. It's like riding a string of horses with different body shapes in the same saddle and expecting every single one to be happy in that saddle. Each horse is an individual with different conformation, different body types, different personalities, and yes, different personal preferences.
The horse can be trained to Grand Prix dressage level, have a mouth of butter and be ridden with feather-light hands. But if he has a low palate, hates bar pressure, has a fat tongue, has a narrow bit seat, or any other particular oral anatomical peculiarities, that double jointed snaffle might not make him a happy camper.
If a horse's training is up to speed for the expectations we have of him, if he is light and responsive to the style of riding and handling we are using, if he has no pain anywhere in his body, if his tack fits and his teeth have been examined thoroughly, and he is still evading the bit he's going in, I'm going to switch bits and let him tell me what he prefers, what works best for him.
Lily has been the hardest horse I've ever had to figure out when it comes to bits.
When she first became mine, I toyed around with all of my double jointed snaffles trying to find something she was happy with. She did NOT like any kind of bit pressure, even after I had her teeth floated, her wolf teeth pulled, she was adjusted by a chiropractor and we found a saddle that fit her correctly.
|Myler Comfort Snaffle loose ring. We were using this exact same bit.|
I won't deny it: I was terrified when I got in the saddle our first time we used that bit. I thought Lily, who is notorious for being the most sensitive mare in the Universe, would flip her shit when that curb chain engaged, when the leverage action of the bit was put into effect by the shanks of the bit, placing pressure on her poll.
|Spanish curb with a sweet iron mouth piece. Low to moderate port depending on who you ask, especially if someone considers this a high port (ugh. No no no no. I have never ever ever used bits like that on my Pasos or any gaited horses I've trained, for that matter!)|
Per my standards, I consider this a moderate port. Shanks are 6" and it is used with a curb chain. You can attach reins to the rings at the ends of the shanks and/or to the small "D" holes directly next to the bit ends. We used double reins for this bit at the trainer's suggestion.
You know what? She liked it. My jaw dropped from the difference in my horse caused by simply changing the mode of action of the bit in her mouth. All those issues with the snaffles? She just didn't like the focused action of that style of bit on her bars and tongue: she preferred the way the curb distributed the pressure across her face and mouth and the tongue relief provided by the port. Huh...
|Completely different horse. And there is slack in the reins.|
We were doing a counted walk exercise, which is why she looks pissed off: she has always been impatient with that exercise.
|Love the way she looked here.|
|Effective use of her body.|
So I started playing with other options, especially when the Spanish bit started to rust and the sweet iron began flaking off. :( It was an "economy" version that even then had been more than I normally spend on bits. Note: if you're interested in trying a Spanish or Portuguese bit, get a stainless steel version.
I discovered that a low ported pelham with 6" shanks would give me the exact same results as the Spanish curb, except she was much happier in this than she had been in the Spanish curb, either because of the angles of the bottom rings (less "noise" from the reins at this angle. Yes she is that sensitive!) or the lower port or both. It was our bit for a good 6 months. I rode her with a single set of reins on the shank rings.
|Low port pelham with 6" shanks|
|Light, light contact. Note her happy, relaxed demeanor. And note the changes in her body! Beefcake Lily.|
|Reaching lightly for the contact.|
I almost vomited my heart up that day, I'd been so terrified she'd get hit by a car.
That was the last time she wore a snaffle of ANY kind outside of the arena.
We stayed in the low port pelham for a long time after that.
Until I again decided I really, really wanted to bit her down. We were already living in Maryland at this point. She went very well with the low port pelham in the arena but was fussy with it on the trail: the second that chain and shanks engaged when she was being a pill, she tossed her head furiously about not being able to get her way. So we played with other options. Our first experiment was a flexible rubber mullen mouth pelham with 5" shanks. She did okay in it. And I can't find a picture of her working in it, so you'll have to believe me. On the trails with Tina, however, Lily wouldn't fling her head but she would gnash her teeth so hard against that bit in the anxiety I was trying to figure out, that I became afraid that she would bite right through the bit. It was just a soft flexible rubber mouth piece, no metal core to it.
|Pelham with soft rubber mullen mouth piece|
|Baby mullen mouth pelham with 3" shanks|
|In the stainless steel mullen mouth pelham with 3" shanks|
*Gets on soapbox* I refuse to use a noseband as a means to keep that tongue under that bit by squeezing my horse's jaws shut. If my horse gapes her mouth open from the bit or gets her tongue over it, there is a problem that needs to be addressed. She should be happy in her bit regardless of whether she is sporting a cavesson or not. I'm not faking bit acceptance with a tightened noseband. On a properly adjusted noseband, you should be able to easily slide a finger in between your horse's jaw and the leather strap. It's yet another reason why I have a problem with modern competitive dressage with its crank cavessons and flash nosebands. *Gets off soapbox.*
Around that time, Lily was diagnosed with her tendon injury (spring of 2013), during which she was placed on stall rest. Her rehab was a stressful process for both of us: she was a fireball and I never knew when she was going to explode, no matter how much ace she was given prior. Lily has one of the nastiest bucks I have EVER ridden in 20+ years spent in the saddle. She gets 3' of air easily if she is able get her head between her knees. She threw my trainer in FL. You ride that out in a freaking snaffle and then we'll talk.
|Oh yeah. She can totally do that with a saddle, bridle and rider aboard.|
I have witnesses: both Kathy and Charles!
|Walking from the arena to the field with harder footing where the vet wanted us to work.|
|These rides were NOT fun. I was constantly tense, unsure of whether she would explode or not.|
|Sleepy mare on acepromazine last summer, wearing the Weymouth.|
And yup, on 2 separate occasions she did explode despite the sedative.
|This photo was my blog header for a very long time|
And that's the bit she has stayed in for the last 10 months. She likes it, she's soft in it when we're working whether in the arena or on the trail, she doesn't fuss in it if she gets worked up about something (no head flinging), and if she acts up it allows me to stay in control. Lily is an incredibly athletic and agile creature and while she is a very good girl most of the time, there have been enough bad moments in the past that I like to know I can stop the shenanigans before they escalate. Especially when we're riding in company.
|Our first trail rides at the current barn|
|Our first canter sets out in the open|
|Haunches-in in the arena|
|Our first beach ride|
|I stressed over which port to get. I felt the next size up in port was too high, while this one didn't seem to offer enough tongue relief. There was no inbetween option, so I settled for this port.|
|Stretching but using herself correctly with impulsion, without leaning on the bit: right hind landing before the left front.|
Back she went into the kimberwick.
Some day I'd like to get her a Myler ported kimberwick like this one.Why? Because it's a Myler, because the higher port offers greater tongue relief, and because of the individual play of each side of the bit. It would add an extra degree of softness to what we are already using.
But until then? In the current kimberwick she stays. She's happy, I'm happy, our communication is effortless without complaints from either one of us. Why fix something that's not broken?
And Gracie? When I first started riding Gracie I had no idea what she would be like. I had been told she could buck, was opinionated and liked to go fast on the trail. I wanted something mild that would give me brakes if I needed them in a hurry while also encouraging her to stay in self-carriage. My Pasos both went happily in Colombian Paso bits with rubber-covered mullen mouths. One bit had 6" shanks, the other had 4" shanks.
|This is the Colombian bit with the longer shanks.|
|Indio in his rubber mullen mouth Colombian bit. He was assigned the bit with the longer shanks because he was a very spirited horse. Someone had trained him to bolt the second a rider mounted up.|
|Lucero had the one with the shorter shanks. This is the bit I rode him in for the last 12 years of his life.|