A Bit of Knowledge

(I can go ridiculously crazy with the “bit” puns…humor me.)

I’ve had my equine knowledge world turned on its head a little bit over the last week or so.  I got a copy of “The Level Best for Your Horse”, the book Myler Bits puts out as an in-depth explanation of their different mouthpieces and how they work.

Having ridden for the last 19 years, I was feeling pretty smug and secure in my knowledge of bits and how they work, and all my tidy little theories of why they didn’t work for Mimi, and what was happening when they did.

And then I read the book.  (And have been watching parts of the accompanying DVD…but it’s like 85 minutes long, so haven’t had the patience to sit down and watch the whole thing.)

Eye opener!

I was basing all my theories on years of riding with regular bits and what I knew about how Myler bits were different…so they weren’t entirely incorrect.  But neither did they translate over into exactly how the Mylers are supposed to work effectively.

My base assumption, working with the “Levels” system Myler does: Level 1, 2, 2-3, and 3, was that lower=kinder, and therefore the “strongest” bit I own is a level 2, and I ditched the one level 2-3 I had years ago.

Turns out that one I ditched is probably the one I need now.

The whole Myler system revolves around the concept of tongue relief.  As you go up in Levels as your horse has better training, the tongue relief increases and the bit employs other pressure points for communication.  What was surprisingly to me was the Myler’s opinion that few horses need to spend much time in a Level 1 bit, and most will quickly advance to not needing the tongue pressure.

That might explain why Mimi fusses at bits…virtually all of mine are Level 1.  *sigh*

Level 2 bits start to offer tongue relief, and Level 2-3 seem to be the best compromise between tongue relief and control, since you give up a little control when you start providing tongue relief.  But the theory goes that by that point, the horse is well-trained enough to listen to the other pressure points: lips, bars, poll and curb pressure, to not need the tongue pressure.

D’you see the irony in me getting rid of the Level 2-3 bit that I had?  It was the first Myler bit I bought, after years of traditional bits, and I followed the guidelines provided of what level to get based on the horse’s training.  Mimi was well-trained and appeared to fit into the Level 2-3 category perfectly…what I didn’t take into account was maybe I should have gotten her a lower level bit and transitioned her through the levels properly, so she could get comfortable with a bit for a change.

I don’t think I’ll ever try to move up to a full Level 3 bit…they’re designed for “finished” horses with no control issues…and let’s face it, unless you have the absolutely Most Perfect Horse on the Planet at rides who trolls along the trail with nary a murmur, at some point, especially during the always fun Ride Start, you’ll probably have to take up on your reins and the horse’s face for at least a modicum of control.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a truly loose-rein start.  We got to the point where we didn’t have shoulder-dislocating pulling, and that was enough for me, and after a couple of miles, she’d settle into a loose rein.

So it seems that a Level 2 or 2-3 is the best compromise, especially for an endurance bit.

After having my eyes opened by reading this book (I really can’t recommend it enough…if you have any interest in bits, it’s worth getting), I re-evaluated my bits, Mimi, and training.  And we went back to the drawing board.  I’m using the Level One MB02 Wide Barrel Comfort Snaffle mouthpiece with the Kimberwick cheek pieces.  (Myler has a saying: “The mouthpiece is for the horse, the cheekpiece is for the rider.”  I love the kimberwick and the options it gives.)  Instead of just relying on the “lip wrinkles” for fit, I pried open her lips to see where on the bars the bit was laying.  On her, a correct fit translates to barely one lip wrinkle.  I adjusted the curb chain correctly.

And in the last week, Mimi has accepted the bit.  We’ve done nothing but arena work, focusing on getting her to flex and bend and break at the poll.  She’s stopped fussing and leaning on the bit.  She’s softer and rounder and moving out.  Yesterday, I got the perfect huntseat English trot out of her…the epitome of breed standard “long, low and stretchy.”  It was beautiful.

I’ll wait and see if this remains a consistent thing, and if it does, I’ll look into bumping her up to the level she should be at, now that I’m taking the time to do it right.

It sometimes takes me a while, but I eventually get it.  ;)

21 thoughts on “A Bit of Knowledge

  1. Agree, interesting! I'll take a look at my bit when it warms up and I feel like going out to the trailer. Mine is a short-shank curb, but I can't remember if it's ported or not – it's a level 1 or 2. Dixie doesn't fuss at it, unless we're doing the “I SAID SLOW DOWN DAMMIT!” fight, lol.

    You know, I did start Rides of March on a loose rein. Well, very light contact, just to remind her we were going slow. Nobody wanted to bolt off at the start and we ended up marching out first, totally calmly. I was amazed.

  2. I don't think there's a bit out there that won't incite fussing over the Slow Down fight when they just don't want to slow down! Even with all this, though, I'm still sticking with my s-hack for out on trail…that's incited the least amount of fuss ever and still gives me plenty of control.

    Oh for that kind of a ride start out here. Mimi's always been good despite her surroundings (idiots jumping up and down all around us), since no one out here goes slow at a start unless you hold back 10-15 minutes (which I hate doing because then I feel like I'm playing catch-up right from the start) or there's a controlled start (rare). She just wants to Get On With It…preferably at a trot…and just move down the trail. No sight-seeing or dawdling for her.

  3. Well, remember, I was doing the 30, and we don't really have LD racers out here. People do seem to treat ROM 30 as a training ride – they move out briskly, but nobody's trying to WIN. I think the 50s took off pretty smartly, but I was hiding in my truck blasting the heater then!

  4. Very interesting. I had assumed that the higher number on Myler bits meant stronger, too. And this even though it goes against my current experience. Dee hates tongue pressure. For her a bit that's on her tongue is a gag inducing ugly face making device. And my bit with the medium port that at one point would have made my hair curl (and I have really straight hair, just so you know) makes for a quiet and relaxed mouth. I wish I could find a dressage legal snaffle that had the same effect.

  5. Ya'll must have flatter turf there. Of my six rides three have had controlled starts. For some reason they just don't like us racing wiley niley beside ravines and across busy roads… no idea why…

  6. You're always the one to have me thinking about bits! Not too long ago I changed Rose out of an Argentine snaffle after realizing when I asked for brakes I got high headed antics and that I had absolutely not control over steering or speed. Riding her around in a O Ring, 3-piece with a copper roller and I have no complains about her now on the trail. We do still have a little argument that first few miles about wanting to fly down the trail at a dead run but she settles in nicely and usually by mile 10-15 I'm riding her loose reined and only picking up the bit to change speeds. My only complaint is we still struggle with collection but that's a training issues and not a bit issue.

  7. Yes and no, depending on the part of the state you're in. A lot of our base camps are usually pretty flat, and then the climbs start once you're out of camp several miles. And then some are pretty much flat and/or sand wash the entire way and some people just haul ass.

  8. Bits are an endless source of fascination and a guilty pleasure acquisition for me. I was well taught…my old trainer was a major bit collector…she had a whole box full of bits out in the barn and we spent a great deal of time going through tat box, always searching for “the perfect bit.”

  9. Thank you for the link! I love that they have a trial program for the Myler bits. It's one thing to pick up a $20 bit and have your horse hate it, totally another if they hate the $100 bit!

  10. I'm discovering in dog training and horse training that human “assumptions” lead to a lot of problems and miscommunications. Some examples that I can think of is the preception that those big rubber bits are “kinder”. Not always. A horse with a small mouth, thick lips, who values tongue releif is going to be miserable. Farley would probably kill me if I put her in a myeler level 1 bit – she would be absolutely miserable because it doesn't fit her needs. By putting away preconceived notions of what our animals *should* want, and actually observing their behavior, I think many of the miscommunications and issues would go away. I spent far more time on the great “bit search” than any other single piece of tack. What I ended up with was a rather narrow toklat french link baucher. I've gotten more than one comment about how “severe” it is – but it's the bit that makes her the happiest and willing accepts it. When I had to find a bit she liked equally as well for dressage that was different, I went through 5 or 6, figuring out the exact elements that she values in order to improve my chances of making her happy a second time (it can't squeak, be fairly narrow, be double jointed, etc etc.). Finding exactly the right tug toy for my puppy reminded me of the same. She wanted a soft toy that squeaked, moved dynamically, but had to be durable enough for her wild tugging behavior. I think it's a lot of fun to listen to my animals and be able to please them and meet their needs by really observing what they like and don't like. Which is why it frusterates me when I see blanket statements on forums etc on absolutes for toys, bits, and other animal equipment. I think that not all horse people are as in tune with their animals so taht's probably where the basic guidelines come in – to help people out.

    This was written pre-coffee so sorry about the grammer etc! I had meant to do a post on this a while back, but it probably wont' ever happen… :(

  11. The fact you're even reading and commenting pre-coffee is impressive. I just dragged my butt out of bed 10 minutes ago and first priority was a beeline to the kitchen for coffee before even turning on my computer.

    One of the biggest eye-openers for me was endurance. I grew up in rigidly traditional equine environments…old school huntseat, then old school western. “We do it this way because it's always been done this way” could have been the motto of my first 10 years of riding. It wasn't until the out-of-the-box distance world that I started exploring the “why” of riding and training. Now, it fascinates me, and it makes me happy to see that some of the accepted conventions out there are being turned on their head as more people start exploring the hows and whys of how we interact with out animals.

  12. And just think – I'm in a different time zone!!!!! LOL.

    And that's why I get frusterated with pony club. I think they are a wonderful organization, I was part of them as a “horse master” for a couple of years, and I think they produce wonderful riders and good horseman……BUT – I also think that they produce riders who do LOTS of stuff because “it's always been done that way” or “because that's how they do it in Pony Club” without really examining why, and if those reasons are valid/true in the circumstances in which that person is now riding. For example. A very talented pony club kid was doing endurance, in a bridle that included a cavasson. I asked why she was using it – and was given a shoulder shrug and a non-committal “I don't know, because it's part of my bridle” answer. If you know the purpose and why behind what you are using, than you can evaluate whether it is necessary in EACH circumstance. (Why would you need a piece of equipment during a 50 mile ride that helps keep the horses's mouth closed and on the bit? And a bridle that doesn't have a halter underneath so in order ot remove the cavvasson, you have to take off the bridle and slip a halter on, risking escape at a vet check?).

    It's similar to the concepts that are hammered into our skull in vet school. Treating a patient isn't like going to your “Diarrhea chart” and saying “we have ot do these tests because my chart says that xyz has to come before abc” (like is done at many “corporate type” clinics. It's using the results of your exam, practicing evidence based medicine and creating a list of appropriate differntials. Anyone can look up some symptoms in a book and treat diarrhea. What *should* make vets different is the thought process critical thinking skills – just like what should makes endurance riders different (or any other equestrian sport where we are trying to get the most out of the horse).

  13. I think your priorities are reversed – my FIRST priority is to get out of bed and check for new comments on my blogs!!!!!!! Yes, I am a comment whore :)

  14. Actually same time zone right now…Arizona and its weird “never change time zones ourselves” thing. This time of year we're the same as the West Coast…come fall, we then become part of the Mountain time zone. Took me years to figure that one out, and I'm an AZ native.

    You *need* to come to AZ and start a vet practice! I really appreciate an independent-think vet that doesn't just follow along down the checklist, but rather practices the application of critical thinking and not being afraid to look outside the box. That's one of the reasons I love my horse vets…they have very much that kind of mentality. Our original dog vet was that way too, but he's since moved outside of our area and we've yet to find a small animal vet we like as much.

  15. I love AZ. Except for a couple months out of the year when it is HOTHOTHOT, but even then, cooler weather is only a couple-hour drive into the mountains away. And you'd get that consistent access to training in sand, for sure.

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