(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.)
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. ;)