Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Horse Illustrated" Feedback

So, for any of you who are subscribed to Horse Illustrated, I'm sure you read the article by Gina Miles on choosing a right bit in the August 2011 issue. My response to the magazine (probably won't be published, it's a bit long haha). My opinions, which I'm sure might be wrong in some aspects, so feel free to correct me. I do not know everything!

I agree with many of the points Gina Miles made in her article "A Bit of Advice" about choosing the right bit in your August 2011 issue, and I would readily trust her judgment and her riding skills. I believe that any horse should be able to go in a basic snaffle and still be able to perform well, and some horses do need stronger bits. I was worried, however, that certain aspects of the article might be misinterpreted and that the use of a bitless bridle or hackamore as an equally useful alternative was not mentioned. A stronger bit certainly does not always mean better performance or a happier horse. I have done catch rides on horses of several disciplines, mostly dressage and hunters, and sometimes reining, eventing, and western pleasure horses, so I have seen lots of different bits in different mouths, and I can attest that they are not all beneficial or used correctly. I sometimes see a stronger bit in the stead of proper training: they simply hide problems and make for a horse that is unhappy and does not use their body properly, which can lead to injury. The feeling of “suppleness” a rider can feel in a stronger bit is sometimes a horse simply gaping and/or over-flexing at the bit. The horse is not truly supple, and often even more rigid than before. Horses that rush jumps may jump worse in a stronger bit and should instead go back to basic gridwork and ground poles to correct this. If a horse is strong or misbehaving with a current bit, riders should also check for body pain and any dental or nervous system problems before putting a stronger bit in a horse’s mouth, and even training faults of their own such as heavy or unsteady hands, or a hard or unbalanced or unsteady seat. Bitless bridles and hackamores are also other alternatives to look into. It can re-teach a horse and rider to be much more reliant on and attentive to seat-aids rather than pure mouth control. None of this is to say that stronger bits are bad. In the right hands or on the right horse, they can be quite beneficial. But riders need to think very seriously before going to a stronger bit, do lots of research on how that bit works, consult professionals, and most importantly consider their own horse’s health and happiness before “upgrading”. I just worried that riders might misinterpret some of the article information. Keep up the good articles in this magazine and those with Gina Miles and I cannot wait to read more!

-Breanna, Texas


  1. A well-balanced response with lots of insight. I would go you one further and say that usually "stronger bits are bad", because I have ridden some very strong horses in a snaffle. The pulling or leaning of the horse into the bit had more to do with his entire body and balance, not the bit, so once that was straightened out, the hard mouth disappeared. Likewise, I do not like seeing horses go in leverage bits, unless their is rarely contact such as western riding or correct use of the curb in a double bridle, because I often see a hard mouth developing at the animal leans against the bit with an arched neck and the rider has a large amount of pressure in the hands despite the strength of the bit. The next step for both parties is to pull harder and, as you stated, this is not training. The bit that I have seen used in this way the most is the Kimberwicke, which some mistaken for a snaffle.

  2. I didn't want to come across as anti-strong bit haha, although I am less of a fan of them than I hint at in the response. I also didn't want to sound like a "crazy bitless and/or simple snaffle natural horsemanship person" to some people (an unfortunate stereotype that, while it does have plenty of prime examples, is often just that: a stereotype!) So I wanted to just barely mention the bitless bridles (although that has made me much lighter in the hands which in turn made Greta much lighter in the mouth, and we transfer that over to the snaffle.)

    I do still see leverage and curb bits being used in western horses and GP dressage horses with the same amount of contact as you would a snaffle, so as to "get the horse round." And yes, Kimberwickes are also greatly misused sometimes haha! It's why they're not allowed in dressage! I'll just leave it at that :/

    I love seeing the GP riders who can have a consistent contact with the snaffle and a completely slack curb bit every time they ride and on almost any horse (my favorite example is Courtney King-Dye and her mentor Lendon Grey). There are some times in an electric atmosphere that even those riders need that extra leverage to keep it all together even if it certainly won't be as good of a ride as usual, but that's understandable I suppose haha.

  3. I just wanted to say, that sometimes a stronger bit DOES help a difficult horse. I struggled for years with my horse in many different snaffles. When it came to jumping he was so strong and out of control I decided to try that pelham I have had collecting dust for many years. My horse knows all basics, he is trained to second level dressage quite nicely. There was an instant change with the pelham. I could finally school my horse over fences without the head tossing, the pulling, and the mach 10 speeds.

    I was unable to do any jumping before I tried the straight bar rubber pelham, and since switching we have completed 2 events nicely in control. Videos to prove it on my blog.

    I think in regards to bits its more of a "find the right fit for your horse".

  4. I agree with everything you said and hope they would be big enough to print your comment.

    In my un-expert opinion any bit can be harmful to a horses mouth and training when used improperly or harshly. On the other hand even the stronger bits can be useful if used with restraint and education, it all really comes down to knowing what you're doing.

  5. Exactly, it's not to say that stronger bits are bad, but the way the article was worded almost sounded as if a stronger bit was the solution to multiple problems whose causes might lie elsewhere. Greta was ridden in a pelham before I got her, and she certainly does not have a hard mouth, which goes to show it was used correctly and not with harsh hands. Some horses just need certain bits! but as always, it should be the owner's responsibility to use them correctly.

    It's a very lengthy comment, thus I have a feeling it will not be printed.

  6. GHM sent me a link to this... i didn't read the article, but thank you for this response. i hope they print it! this part really gets to the heart of the problem:

    "The feeling of “suppleness” a rider can feel in a stronger bit is sometimes a horse simply gaping and/or over-flexing at the bit. The horse is not truly supple, and often even more rigid than before. "

    so often what these riders, trainers and even judges are misinterpreting as 'suppleness' is actually evasion. and that evasion is usually a reaction to a rough or restrictive hand and/or excessive bit pressure.

    i'm a big believer in using the least bit possible. the training of the horse and the education of the hand matter more than the bit itself. i'm not opposed to a mild curb as part of a pelham or full bridle if it's used properly (which it rarely is) and i'm not opposed to a gag if it has a smooth, thick mouthpiece, as i've seen a lot of horses who dislike tongue and bar pressure really lighten and relax into the gag as it lifts into the corners.

    what i hate to see is severe mouthpieces - from what i remember, corkscrews, double twisted wire and razor mouths (usually with a full-cheek, bit keepers and a tight noseband!) were standard issue in the h/j world, but everyone told themselves it was ok because it was still a snaffle :-\ there's a lot of misinformation and just plain scary thinking about bits out there.

  7. hahaha

    "Well, it's still a snaffle!"
    "Yeah, a snaffle of death!"

    I don't think I've ever heard of a razor mouth. I don't like the sound of it though haha!

  8. Good response! Hope it does get printed :) While stronger bits do have a place (rarely) the problem is usually elsewhere. I'm trying to get my horse not to rush and brace and actually she does best in a sidepull!


Comments are greatly appreciated and, most importantly, Greta loves you for commenting ♥

Thanks guys!