Monday, January 19, 2009

Choosing a Bit

It's been a difficult couple of weeks to spend with the horses. After the snow and ice we had several days of heavy rain leading to flooding. Thankfully the property the girls are on didn't flood much, but it hasn't made for very nice riding weather. Despite that I haven't been idle. I've made sure that Sati didn't forget how to be polite though she would like to argue that point. She still doesn't like having her hind feet picked up, but we understand each other better now and when I reprimand her she doesn't throw a fit. She also moves nicely in a circle (most of the time) in both directions, stops on a dime (that will be fun in the saddle) and changes direction well.

She's had a saddle on her back several times now, and she doesn't much care. The next step then is a bit! I can't start ground driving her until she's taking a bit. So I did a lot of homework. After all, it's been many years since I picked out bits for Ketah and I'm not sure I knew much about it then either. I've also changed some of my preconceptions about bits. Curbs aren't as severe as I thought and snaffles aren't necessarily as nice either.

It's best with a young horse to start with a very mild bit and as Sati has shown herself to be fairly sensitive it's even more important not to shock or hurt her. I was going to start with a basic snaffle bit. Maybe an eggbutt. Until I started doing more research. The basics are simple enough, a bit works either by direct pressure (the rider has constant contact with the horse's mouth) or via leverage (all shanked bits work this way). There is more though, a bit puts pressure on the lips, tongue and bars as well.

The snaffle bit that I always think of is the single-jointed snaffle. It's a relatively mild bit in that there are no twisted wires or protruding parts that could injure a horse's mouth. It works by applying pressure to the tongue, lips, and bars with a "nutcracker" action. Turns out this is not the most mild snaffle for starting a young horse. Considering that Ketah has probably taught me to have "heavy" hands and I'm going to need to retrain myself while Sati learns I wanted to start even milder.

Most people rate a bit called a "mullen mouth" as the mildest bit. Usually it's made of rubber or a half-moon of metal. It places even pressure across the bars, tongue and lips. However, I haven't used a bit that wasn't jointed in many years and since I do eventually want her to go in a snaffle I decided against the mullen mouth.

I finally decided to use a double-jointed snaffle. Not exactly a French Link (very mild) because it looks too much like a very severe bit called a Dr.Bristol and I can't identify it by sight so I can't be sure of what I'm buying despite it's labeling. Instead I bought an oval link snaffle. It's a double jointed bit so the "nutcracker" action of the single jointed snaffle on the tongue is significantly less and it's fatter than my basic loose ring snaffle making it milder than the basic snaffle.

Two days ago I put this bit in her mouth for the first time. She was so easy! I put some molasses on it because unlike my other mare she loves sweet foods. Initially I tied it to her halter and let her mouth it for a while. After I was pretty sure she'd sucked all the molasses off I attached it to her bridle, added more molasses and bridled her. Then I turned her loose in the round pen. She was mouthing it lots, but she didn't get her tongue over the bit. She had this look of "what the hell" and kept coming to me to take it off. I let her do that for about 10 minutes and then I took it off.

Today I took it one step further. Again, using molasses, I bridled her. This time I put the bridle on over her rope halter. I let her mouth it for a few minutes, then I took her out the to arena and asked her to move in circles around me as I usually would. I could tell she was paying more attention to me than to the hunk of metal in her mouth when she would quit mouthing the bit to do what I asked. We did just a few circles to make her think about it and then I took it off. She was more than willing to play with it even after that though. That's got to be a good sign!

The step after this will be ground driving. I have to teach myself how to do that though. Lucky for me I have an old mare who will forgive my mistakes. I ground drove Ketah for a few minutes today to get the hang of it. I'll want to do that a few more times before I try to start Sati, but Ketah was great. After driving for a bit we did some arena work and she was happy and collected and moving out...She looks like a young horse when she does that. I think we'll have a good summer!