“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem” (A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh). As dressage riders, we understand the importance of a two-way conversation with our horses. Connection (acceptance of the bit through the acceptance of the aids) is right in the middle of the Training Pyramid. There it is… BITS!!!
I’ve always understood the importance of bits and generally how they work. Pony Club taught me to understand the function of different types of bits and how they work on a horse’s mouth, poll, etc. Until the LDS Bitting Clinic with Kim Gentry, I had NO IDEA of the massive extent a slight difference in the bit could make on the horse. It was eye opening to watch, and even better to feel on my own horse. I’m sure many of you wonder how the bitting clinic went, so I’ll give a brief overview.
In general, Kim started each session with watching the rider warm up their horse. She was evaluating how the rider and the horse work together, picking out any training issues or areas needing improvement. As a hugely successful international Grand Prix rider, Kim’s knowledge was crucial to the process.
Next, Kim would have the rider dismount and take out the horse’s regular bit. She assessed the horse’s mouth, including shape, size, tongue, bars, teeth, lips, etc (So much to evaluate!!!!). While analyzing the mouth, she was educating the rider and auditors on what she was looking at. Luckily, the horses we had were saints and tolerated many hands and fingers in their mouths. She would pick a bit and show everyone what she was looking at, why she picked that bit to try and let us feel the differences as the bit would wrap around our wrists or bend in our hands. I can’t even say how interactive and engaging this was!!!!
The bit would be placed in the horse’s mouth, and off they would go. Sometimes it only took a few steps before we could see the change, for better or worse! Kim would engage with the auditors, as we all looked for relaxation in the horse, the horse stepping up under himself and engaging the hind end and lifting the shoulders up. Sometimes, if the horse didn’t like the bit, we would immediately see tension, shortening of the back, dropping onto the forehand, etc. This was an incredible opportunity to be able to listen to the horses! The differences were not subtle. They were large, obvious changes.
Some skeptical people thought the horse was improving because the ride was going on and the exercises were making the horses better…. then Kim would change bits. (After all, we were there to try a bunch to determine what was best. Just because we had a 75% improvement, didn’t mean we wouldn’t shoot for 200%). Some horses would suck back, get behind the leg, spook, tilt its head, grab the bit, etc. Then came another bit change and BOOM, back to loose, freely forward, using its entire body, including hind end and back. AMAZING!!!!!
Honestly, I didn’t think I had a bit problem at all with my horse. His tendency is to get tight and want to get behind the leg. He has a soft, light mouth. I had no clue a bit change could make that much of a difference. It was funny. With my horse, he really liked one bit. We tried the exact same bit, but in an eggbutt instead of the original loose ring. Just that one change was huge. He HATED the eggbutt, immediately sucking back and tensing up. I thought the loose ring version would be the one we would choose, but then we found a single jointed loose ring snaffle that he LOVED even more. I’ve never felt a canter so light with him sitting on his butt without me working my butt off! LOL. I didn’t want to stop riding. It was the BEST feeling ever!!!
There’s no replacement for good, correct training, but we should take advantage of tools that make the ride better and more pleasant for both rider and horse. Just like a good saddle fit, bits are crucial to how our horses move. The bit is the link for communication from our hands to our horse. Why wouldn’t we want to make it better?
Not only did I have fun and learned an immense amount, I really felt like I was able to do something good for my horse. I gave him the opportunity to talk to me. I listened. Kim Gentry made that easy. I can’t thank her enough! I’m sure he wants to thank her even more!!!!! We can’t wait to have her come back!!!!
- Kristen Young on Elsbeth’s Shiloh, 3rd level