Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Bit of Fun and Information

Greetings!

I’ve been remiss in writing because I’ve been having too much fun this week taking a private bitting clinic from Dale Myler, of Myler Bits USA. Dale was kind enough to come and give us his undivided attention for a couple of days to impart a lifetime of information on bits and bit design. I invited a several friends—all riders and/or trainers and over the course of two days, we worked with 15 different horses. Everything from an unbroke three year old who never had a bit in his mouth to Rich’s finished bridle horse—with a big variety of training levels in-between .

It was the most fun with horses I’ve had in a while and I don’t have enough time today to write all the things I learned (hence the fun). I fell in love with Myler bits years ago when they first came out and gradually through the years, they became the only bits to hang on bridles in my tack room. I knew intuitively why I liked them, knowing from the beginning that they had an ergonomic shape and must be more comfortable in the horse’s mouth. Although I was the only one in our group that had much experience with Myler bits, we all figured out right away, from Dale’s power point presentation, why the bits would work. It wasn’t until we were in the arena trading horses and bridles like crazy, that we could see the results first-hand.

What I got the most from the clinic, was learning why I love the Myler bits so much. First off, looking at a dental picture with the horse’s teeth closed but lips opened by a speculum, you can see that the tongue fills the entire mouth when his teeth are shut—just like yours does. Having your tongue up in your palate is normal and feels good. It is not possible to put a bit in a horse’s mouth without it being pressed into the palate by the tongue. Pressure on the tongue does not feel good and if you don’t believe it, try poking your finger into your tongue.

Everything a horse can do to evade bit pressure has to do with him looking for relief from tongue pressure—whether he throws his head up, roots the reins, gapes at the mouth, sucks his tongue up in his throat, puts his tongue over the bit, comes behind the vertical. He’d rather have pressure anywhere than the tongue and by going through these gyrations, he always finds tongue relief. Even the bars of his mouth can take a lot more pressure than the tongue (try pressing on your bars—behind your molars and you’ll see what I mean). Myler bits are designed to relieve tongue pressure and distribute the pressure to other areas (like the nose, chin, poll, bars) in order to make the horse more comfortable and relaxed so that he is trainable and can perform to his fullest.

Here’s another interesting thing Dale said, a rider will never learn to have quiet and soft hands until she rides a soft and relaxed horse. That makes so much sense. If your pulling and struggling and hanging on for dear life, where’s the feel comes from? What I learned was that sometimes we can bit a horse differently so that he can tolerate the rider’s uneducated or inarticulate hands. Because I sell a lot of finished horses to novice riders, I already knew this and it’s one reason why I always send the horses to their new home with the right bit.

What was fun about the clinic was switching bits on horses and seeing instant results. I was pleased to learn that the bit I was already using on my horse Dually was probably the best thing for him but I realized I can get the same mouth piece in a snaffle side piece when I want to do more schooling on him. Rich had bought a Myler hand crafted reined cowhorse bit for his new horse a few months ago and Dale felt it was the ideal bit for him for show and we tried a few different bits on him for home-use. It was really interesting to feel the different bits on a very finished horse—a small change in the bit would be very noticeable in how Diggs responded and we settled on the same bit that I use on Dually for Diggs.

A lot of people these days seem to be asking, “why use a bit at all?” While many, if not most broke horses will work okay in a halter, a bit can provide the communication and precise cues that will help you achieve great performances. When used improperly, the devices can be treacherous, but with education and proper, kind use, a bit can help you better your communication and control. There are many things that compel us to use bits: more control, subtle communication, training to a high level of performance or maybe because the rules for your discipline compel you. What about you? What do you think about riding in a halter only or riding bridleless and without a bit? And are you happy, or more importantly, is your horse happy with the bit you use? Every time I’ve given a presentation on bits, the room has been full of people with lots of questions. I find it's important to ask horse owners a few questions, too: How and what have you learned about bits? Why are you using the bit you use? If you have reasons beyond "that’s what someone told you to use," do the reasons make sense? It’s a big subject! Post your thoughts here!

All the best,

Julie




8 comments:

  1. To a certain extent, my discipline (dressage) compels me to use a bit. But much more importantly, a bit is just another way to communicate with my horse, and just like the other aids, the goal is to be subtle and to understand pressure and release. Just that alone will definitely take me a couple more lifetimes! My trainer says that the bit allows us to carry on a constant conversation with our horses. I'm just beginning to sense a glimmer of that truth.

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  2. Goodmorning Julie

    I am very new to horses and bits are one of the most confusing issues I've encountered so far. Everyone I ask has a different opinion about what bits I should be using. I have 3 horses, a 2 1/2 yr. paint mare, an almost 2 yr. QH mix and an 18 yr. arabian. The arabian uses a regular curved bit and seems to do fine most of the time with it. The two younger horses I've been trying to figure out the right bit to use on them. I sent the paint to a "trainer" when I first got her and although she did come back rideable she still has a lot of attitude, the "trainer" never used a bit he used a hackamore and says it's all he's ever used on any horse. I also have a "trainer" that comes out once a week to help me work with the horses and hopefully teach me a few things but when it comes to bits he just confusses me as much as anyone else. He insist that you shouldn't use a hackamore, he says you can't get enough control in a hackamore, he has had the paint (Daisy) in a chain type bit (sorry I don't know the correct name), he just switched her to a Tom Thumb bit. She seems to do ok with it once you finally get it in her mouth, but I just feel like she doesn't like it as much as the chain bit. Topsy my QH mix has been in a Tom Thumb for a couple months now I've been concerned with it because he would throw his head like crazy, chew on the bit and just give you a hard time when turning or stopping. I had the vet out the other day for shots and checkups and found out that Topsy had a wolf tooth hanging there, the vet took it out and it's like riding a different horse. So maybe the bit he has is ok for him and it was just the tooth. I know he's quite young to be riding but he's a very large horse and the vet says he's fine to be ridden. I love my horses very much. I've wanted horses all my life but was never able to have one until recently ( I'm 48 now) I want to treat my horses the best I can and I think using the correct bit for thier comfort is very important but I'm concerned that the "trainer" is more concerned with the control he can have. My question (finally!) is What is your opinion on a hackamore ( I like the idea of them not having anything in thier mouth) If a hackamore is not advisable would you reccomend another bit or should I stay in the Tom Thumbs and quit worrying about it?

    Would appreciate any advise you could share.

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  3. Boy Julie, you and I are on the same page these days.
    Circle Y saddles and Myler bits.
    I have a MB11 (snaffle with copper roller). I kept reading people asking on a gaited forum if anyone had this or that Myler bit for sale so I checked into them.
    Belle came here as a bit chewer. She would crunch crunch her snaffle bit and was not happy. She sounded like someone chewing ice! 3 or 4 bits later, I found a bit at a tack shop that had copper rings and it was funny to watch her crunch then roll. It worked better, but the crunching continued the whole time she wasn't playing with the rollers.
    I found a Myler MB11 snaffle with copper roller. What a change! She still will crunch a little while at first out of habit but it soon stops once she realizes the Myler is in her mouth. Amazingly, she is much easier to bridle too.
    I always get excited when I see a rack of Mylers in a tack shop. Nice to see such quality bits and I am sure my hubby thinks I am crazy sometimes when I call out "come over here and feel these bits!". They are pricey,but you get what you pay for.

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  4. I have a 17 yr old, 17 hand, 1350 lb. AQHA gelding that I use for dressage and trail riding. I'm using a snaffle on him right now for both western and english riding. He pulls, he roots, he throws his head up in the air, he pulls his head down. He will do anything he can to pull the reins out of your hands and wrestling with a horse this big is quite a chore. I don't mind spending the money on the right bits for him but I don't have the money to spend trying one bit after another. I ride with a mecate when I ride western; I use a D-ring snaffle when I ride dressage. His teeth have been floated so that's not the problem. He's just acquired some bad habits that he's discovered work for him. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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  5. As the sales manager for Toklat, the company that distributes Myler Bits, I've been to a lot of clinics with Dale Myler. I was lucky enough to attend this special clinic with Julie and Dale. Watching these two professionals work together for the sole purpose of improving the relationship between horse and rider was awe-inspiring. It was one of the most educational experiences I've ever had. Bitting horses is difficult enough in person--it's extremely difficult long distance and via email. If you need specific help with selecting a bit, you can get suggestions and advice directly from Dale. Email mylersinc@earthlink.net or info@toklat.com. The Mylers have a simple questionnaire they will ask you to complete, either on the phone or through email. I also recommend you read the Myler book, and watch the DVD. No one knows your horse better than you do, so take in as much information as you can to make the best selection.
    Many thanks to Julie for hosting the event and bringing together a terrific bunch of riders and horses.
    Judy Auble

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  6. I use Myler bits as well. I have an almost finished WP horse. I have been working on finishing her in the bridle, and we're getting there. I use a Myler correction on her. It swivels on both sides, so I can use it two handed, for more schooling. I show her in it, one handed. It's a level 2-3 bit.

    Recently, I've been wondering if I should go to a level three bit. Something with more of a port. This one has a medium port. I have soft hands, or I wouldn't be using this type of bit.

    I would love a myler bit clinic. You are very lucky to have had one!

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  7. I have a mare that seeks the alpha mare, which was her mother, and , is the protector. She runs the fence when the alpha mare is removed. She scares some of the boarders. I haven't seen this behavior and need some advice how to quickly and effectively remedy this behavior.

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  8. I have also been using and recommending Myler bits. On the training side, I have seen multiple chronic head-tossers become quiet and soft in the mouth. As a riding instructor, I have seen improved softness and communication between horse and rider. I balked at the high price at first, but once I got my first Comfort Mouth Snaffle (used, no less!), I haven't bought anything else. The key seems to be the double joint, which prevents the bars from pinching the tongue or poking the roof of the mouth. And with my curb, I can use it to direct-rein or neck rein. Knowing what I know now, I steer as far away from Tom Thumbs as I can!

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