a bit unexpected

Or, alternately, “pony knows best.”

This weekend, I decided to, on a whim, check out a consignment tack store not too far away from me in Phoenix.
I hit the jackpot in the bit department. A truly excellent deal on a Myler bit — which, as anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows, is a major weakness of mine. Bit Hoarders R Us.
I was quite excited when I found this bit, since I thought it was a Level 2-3 mouthpiece I’d been contemplating as one I thought might work pretty well for Princess Fussy Mouth. Plus, it was a kimberwick, which is my preferred bit for distance riding.
Bought it…used it the next day…
She LOVES it.
She mouthed at it a couple of times while I was messing with the adjustment (no matter if it looks like the same height as the previous bit…it will inevitably require adjusting of the bridle), and then that was it. Once it was comfortably seated in her mouth, she didn’t seem to give it a second thought.
No weird jaw-crossing or mouth gaping, no tongue sticking out, and most amazingly, no leaning on the bit. At all. Walk-trot-canter-circles-stop. All light, soft, and responsive.
“Okay,” I thought. “Guess I was right that this would be a good bit for her.”

And then I started doing some research this morning. Turns out it wasn’t quite the mouthpiece I thought it was. Very similar…but it’s actually a Level 3 mouthpiece.

Which, in a twisted way makes sense: it’s designed for finished horses who work well off of leg, seat and hands. Which is Mimi.
I just always figured a Level 3 would be “too much” for her and that her small mouth and (presumed) low palate wouldn’t like having the higher port, which was why I always tried to stick with the lower level bits, figuring a lack of high port would be “kinder.”
Turns out all my pony wanted was tongue relief — which is why she leaned-leaned-leaned on any of the lower-level bits that would lay across her tongue, and she softened more when I put her in a Level 2-3 with more tongue relief.
This mouthpiece (MB33) has the most tongue relief of any of their mouthpieces, and she is one happy little girl.
Granted, we only used it in the arena and I haven’t tried it out on trail, but for her, I still prefer the s-hack for going “out” and saving the bit for the arena schooling stuff.
So, go figure. I think the lesson here is that horses are always teaching us stuff if we’re willing to listen to them. (And even after 16 years, my pony still has something to say to me.)

A long post with a lot to cover

As mentioned earlier, Yay, I got to ride out today!!!

Pre-trailer loading snack time

We had a really nice ride…in typical Memorial Day fashion, the weather gave us a brief reprieve…it was only in the 80s today, and just a light breeze.  Perfect riding weather.  The trails were shockingly uncrowded.  I really expected more people to be out enjoying the weather, but maybe people actually traveled out of town this weekend?

Trail buddies for the day: Kenda & Spirit (chestnut);
Chris (Barn Owner) & Tuudy (grey)

Spirit is a big, experienced goofball that walks out at 5mph (*is jealous*) so he was in the lead the whole time.  Tuudy is young and green, so we sandwiched her.  Tuudy was also testing out a pair of Mimi’s Renegades on her hind hooves…first time trail test.  Even though I was really confident in how the boots would would stay on after seeing her work in them, it gave me a chance to keep an eye on them and watch how Tuudy did in them.  

Before, bare in the rear, she was pretty tentative on downhills, weighing her front end and protecting her bare back feet.  Today, she planted those rear hooves, tucked her haunches under her, and flew down the hills.  Very cool to see such a difference.

Rear-guard pony and surprisingly happy about it today

I was really tickled with how Mimi did today.  She’s been somewhat…strong of late when we’ve gone out, giving me a bit of an attitude about slowing down, pushing her limits with the s-hack, and she was disturbingly strong against it a couple weeks ago riding around the neighborhood.

Enter remedial training:
Myler Eggbutt MB27PB

This is a Myler Eggbutt MB27PB mouthpiece.  It’s a Level 2-3 mouthpiece, I picked it up about a month ago on a crazy-good deal, and have been playing around with it in the arena ever since.  I won’t go so far as to call in a miracle bit…nothing will ever make Mimi love a bit…but she goes surprisingly well in it.  The port is low enough it doesn’t interfere with her palate, and for the first time ever, she’s actually light in the face.

The upper level bit is also making her extremely conscious of what I’m doing with my hands, and it’s forcing me to ride lighter, to rely on seat and legs first, then the bit.  Maybe there’s a correlation between my lightness and her lightness?
Whatever the case may be…I had BRAKES on the trail again today.  All it took was a couple of light finger taps on one side or the other when she’d start rushing, and she’d back off.  The real test will be speed work, but we kept it pretty much to a walk today.  (Except for a few times she snuck in a bit of a trot.)  But we did a ton of up and down hills and gullies, and she did really well.  No head tossing, no fussing, and minimal pulling weird faces when we’d stop.
Happy Pony
So now I’m convinced there is something to the Myler levels and the fact that giving an advanced horse who understands and respects cues and signals a more advanced bit is a good thing.  (Bit dealers across the country just sent up a rousing cheer…)
And then these got put to the test:

Don’t judge my bathroom unless you wanna come clean it

They’re the new Tropical Rider tights I got…”PrixTec” variety, in Mango.  They’re also the first pair of full-seat tights I’ve ever gotten or worn.  I really liked the grip and security of the full seat.  I got the microsuede patches versus deer or sheepskin…I don’t know if it makes much of a difference or not.  I wasn’t as wild about the fact that the full seat isn’t quite as cool and breathable.  But that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it means extra stickiness in the saddle.  But it wasn’t so sticky that I felt like it interfered with my posting or ability to get out of the saddle.  Also, the full seat means the mango color doesn’t end up giving the “pumpkin butt” effect.

Photo from barn buddy Angela who was hiking with us

As much as I love pictures, I rarely get ones of myself riding, unless it’s at an event.  Since pics are a great visual feedback of what you’re doing wrong, this is both a good and bad thing.  Looking at the above…*cringe*  

Could I be any more unbalanced?  Scrunching my left side, but weighing my right?  Wonder if that’s related to spending more time on the computer?  I don’t know what my right arm is doing, flailing off to the side like that.  I alternate between riding one-handed and two.  I know two-handed is more balanced and effective, but sometimes I like to switch it up…sometimes it’s laziness, sometimes it’s the need to fish something out of the saddle pack or grab my camera.
But riding posture aside…I love my orange tights!  And they color-coordinate nicely with all my Renegade shirts.

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.  ;)

Just when I’ve got things figured out…

You would think, after 15 years together, I’d have my pony figured out.

Except not.

I’ve written in the past about just how dead-set she is against bits.  Have yet to find one she really likes, blah-blah-blah, she goes best in her s-hack, so on and so forth.

Of course she had to prove me wrong yesterday.  I’ve made mention of my bit collection and how it is almost physically impossible for me to get rid of any bits I own, and so always have plenty of bits floating around for various experimental purposes and kicks.

Just for some of those kicks, yesterday I pulled out the Myler Full Cheek snaffle I own.  I used this bit on her quite a few years ago, when we were first starting out in NATRC.  I don’t remember if it was good or bad.  The couple of ride photos I have of her in it, she’s not tugging and fussing and pulling faces.  Always a good sign.

Exhibit A: (It’s hard to see, but trust me, it’s the full-cheek snaffle.  It’s a picture of a picture, since my computer ate my flash drive that had all of the images of my ride pics I had scanned and I wasn’t going to tear apart my ride scrapbook to rescan ’em all.)

Descanso Desperados NATRC
October 2002
Photo by Cheryl Erpelding

Especially when this is the alternative:

Chino Hills NATRC
April 2003
Photo by Ray Brezina

Safe to say she doesn’t like the loose-ring, French-link snaffle.  Especially since I have another several pics that look almost exactly like above.

So yesterday, out comes the Full Cheek again.  And she decided it was perfectly acceptable.

Of course.

She loves likes tolerates the one bit I don’t like to use.  (Something about those full cheek pieces getting hooked on things like belts, belt loops, bridle cheekstraps, water troughs…get the picture?)

What I’d like to know is if it’s the bit, or the mouthpiece.  It’s the Myler Comfort Snaffle with Twist.  The slightly rigid aspect of the comfort snaffle means it’s pretty solid in her mouth…not a lot of play or wiggle, so she fusses with it less. 


Apparently she likes to keep things interesting.


A Bit of A Collection

I have a confession to make.

I collect bits.

I probably can’t even count how many bits I’ve used/owned over the years.  Start between “a lot” and “a ton” and go from there.  It started with my show days and went from there.  I think I probably used seven or eight different Western bits over the years, starting with a snaffle and very quickly moving into all manner of ported/shanked leverage bits.  The joys of a young pony with no brakes and a young rider with no upper body strength.  Shortcuts R Us.  But I didn’t know any different at the time.   I was still trying to figure out how to ride a young horse, let alone train one.

English was easier…very quickly moved into a kimberwick and stayed there for pretty much our entire show career.

And gymkhana quickly complicated things again.  Snaffle while I was still teaching her the patterns, then over to a mechanical hackamore when we started picking up the speed.  But of course it couldn’t be that simple…maybe one style of mechanical hackamore works better than another?  And then on a whim, the week before our last show, I snagged an S-Hack while at the feed store.  I had done about a year of distance riding at that point, and had seen distance riders using them.  I figured I might eventually be able to use it.  The real whim came about at the show when I put it on Mimi (without any testing/pre-riding at all) and ran all of the games in it.  (And had some of the best runs ever.)

But distance riding really fed my bit obsession.

Mimi’s always been a bit fussy.  She has a low palate and a tiny mouth, and spends half of her time evading the bit rather than working with it.  My trainer and I spent a lot of time swapping out bits, trying to find one she would work in.  Fortunately, I learned my bit collecting ways very well from my trainer, and she had an entire box of bits to raid.

Distance riding also expanded my horizons and really furthered my education.  For the first time, I was really examining the why of things, instead of accepting that something was “traditional and always done this way.”  Bit function was one of those areas of education, and that exploration brought me to the Myler bits.

I love Myler bits.

Mimi tolerates them.

I’ve gradually gotten rid of all of my other bits in favor of just keeping the Myler ones.  I really appreciate their form and function and how they’re designed to work with the horse.  I feel like I end up with more of a connection and softer feel of the horse’s mouth.

(Not a spokesperson/representative/paid mouthpiece for Myler.  I just really like the product.)

And irony of ironies?

I barely use any of the bits I have.

As mentioned, Mimi really doesn’t like bits.  She tolerates the Myler ones.  But she prefers to go bitless.  Remember that S-Hack I mentioned earlier?  Yep.  That’s her preferred headgear of choice.

It sort of looks like a jumble of purple spaghetti, but that’s Mimi’s trail bridle.  Zilco Deluxe Endurance Halter/Bridle with the Wind Rider Aluminum S-Hack and Hought Beta-Biothane Noseband.

I really like the flatter beta nosebands that are out there now…much easier on their faces than the stiff rope-style nosebands.  I’ve seen the rope-style used on horses that pull, and they eventually develop a bump on their nose from rubbing/pressure. Several layers of Vetwrap is supposed to combat this…

My major caveat on the hack: I prefer to use it on a horse that’s already well-schooled in giving to pressure and going along nicely in a bit.  Mimi responds really well to it, and I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact she’s just happy it’s not a bit, and therefore will cheerfully obey without fuss.

It still took me a couple of years of doing NATRC to work up the nerve to try it on her at an actual ride.  She did great when I did finally use it, but then right about that time I started getting involved in endurance, and the idea of the faster pace and more race-like environment had me scrambling back to my comfort zone of a bit for our first year of endurance.  October 2007, I used the hack on her at a ride, and haven’t gone back to a bit since, except for schooling.

My preferred set-ups for schooling at the moment.  Myler Kimberwick with Comfort Snaffle mouthpiece (MB02).  It’s considered a “Level One” (mild, typically used for intro level) mouthpiece.  I like that it acts very much like a double-jointed snaffle, but it has less “play” in it and it’s less work for the horse to hold it in their mouth.

I pulled off the regular kimberwick curb chain and replaced it with a biothane curb chain, because 1) the constant jingling from curb chains annoys me and 2) I’m lazy and hate having to always fiddle with the on/off of a curb chain.  I like the ability to switch between the curb and snaffle setting on a kimberwick.  When I was competing with this bit, I’d often start with the reins clipped to the curb setting, then switch to the snaffle setting after she settled down and quit pulling.

My only grumble is that they only stock the kimberwick in 5″ sizes.  Myler bits tend to run just a touch on the large side anyway, so 5″ is really too big for pony’s pea-head.  They do custom orders , but I use a bit so little now that it hardly seems worth it.

Exhibit B is my “cowgirl” set-up.  Myler Western Dee Snaffle with Sweet Iron Bristol Roller (MB11).  Also a Level One bit.  It’s basically a “dog-bone” double jointed with a little spinning copper roller around the middle of it.  Mimi works well in it, mostly because I think she likes the copper and sweet iron.  She tends to drool and slobber after a while because she’s so busy working the spinning mouthpiece.  Not a good bit on days when we’re working on “quiet mouth.”  Rides “looser” than the comfort snaffle because the joints on the snaffle have a lot of play between them.  Not as good in the “subtle communication” department.  But it’s a pretty bit that appeals to my inner cowgirl.  (Me, shallow?!?)

And then I’ve got several “homeless” bits…ones that live in my drawer of extra tack, ones that are either similar to something I’m already using, or have been tried and discarded as absolutely unsuitable by the Pony Committee of One.

Round up the usual suspects. Clockwise from upper left:
Myler Western D w/ Hooks, Mullen Triple Barrel MB32-3
Jumping Hackamore
Myler Loose Ring French Link MB10
Myler Full Cheek Twisted Comfort Snaffle MB01T

I’ve used all of these for training and rides (except the jumping hack…haven’t done a ride with that yet, want to replace the noseband with one of the beta ones) at some point.  The Western D was a good ride bit and I used that one several times, but the flat mullen mouthpiece made eating more difficult.  A like something with a little more “lift” in the mouthpiece and more room for the tongue.  The Loose Ring Snaffle is kind of a joke…I have more ride pics of Mimi’s head almost vertical as she gleefully ignored my requests to slow down.  And the full cheek snaffle is relegated to used as a training bit under strictly controlled circumstances only.  Those full cheeks, while wonderful for teaching a young horse concepts like turning and steering, really suck when they get caught on various things…like the cheekpiece of the bridle, or your belt, or the water trough…ask me how I know this.  ;)

And of course, I have a couple other bitless rigs floating around as well.  This one’s a vosal…mechanical interpretation of the old-time rawhide bosals.  I’m on the fence about this one.  Definitely a lack of fine-tune control.  No side-to-side lateral control whatsoever.  I still keep it around, though.
Not pictured is a traditional sidepull.  Well, the braided nylon variety of traditional.  It lives down at the barn as my “backup” headgear, but I rarely use it other than for aimlessly wandering around the arena for a few minutes.  Requires way too much force to get Mimi, in a strong-and-opinionated mood, to listen to it.  But I keep it around because it’ll probably be a good young horse training tool in teaching them to give to pressure.  But Mimi needs a little more authority in the form of the curb chain and leverage of the S-Hack.
And I have, of course, the rejects.  Those aren’t pictured, since they got sent on their way a while back.  Aside from some of the show bits, I’ve gotten rid of comparatively few bits and/or headgear that I’ve used for distance.  The ones that stick in my mind are:
– Myler Combo Bit with triple barrel mullen mouthpiece.  I didn’t care for this bit at all.  It was too fussy to mess with, harder to use with a halter-bridle on pea-headed ponies, and it just seemed like it was too much at one time.  Mimi hated it and fussed a ton with it on.  Down the road it went.
– Myler Kimberwick with Forward Tilt Ported Barrel (MB36).  I liked the comfort snaffle mouthpiece better. This was one of their Level 2-3 bits, and it was a lot of bit.  It was great for the arena, but I tend to have “controlling hands” when out on trail, and prefer to ride with a mouthpiece that is a bit lighter and doesn’t give them so many signals at once.  Plus, I don’t think Mimi’s tiny mouth accommodated the more forward set of this particular mouthpiece.  Didn’t see the sense in leaving it around, so…sometimes I wish I’d held onto it, jsut in case I need it again.
– Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle.  As far as bitless goes, not my favorite option.  Used it on the latter half of a NATRC ride and spent that seven-or-so-mile loop feeling like I was getting the proverbial middle ringer from the pony as she gleefully barged through it.  Nice.  Also didn’t like the fact that it was tough to get it to release the pressure once it was tight.  It found a new home pretty quickly.
To a lesser degree, I passed some of the bit interest along to Dad.  His horses have been less complicated.  Lucky him.  His Foxtrotter mare Kelly came to us with a good old Tom Thumb snaffle and a habit of head-tossing.  Gee, wonder why?  We quickly swapped her over to a Myler short shank comfort snaffle and the head tossing really settled down, then several years later, put her in the same Myler kimberwick as Mimi.  She really loved that bit, and when she went to her new home, we sent the bit with her in an effort to keep her happy and encourage the new owners to keep using said bit.
Beamer was even simpler…Myler English Dee snaffle with French Link mouthpiece (after schooling him in my Loose Ring snaffle…but the English D doesn’t have the same “pull through the mouth” potential as the smaller-ring cheekpieces, and therefore doesn’t need a curb strap attached…one less thing to fiddle with) for several years, and then transitioned him into an S-Hack.  Sent both of those along with him, since he works well in both, but prefers the S-Hack.  (Anything that makes eating easier…and it’s less work, not having to carry a bit.)
And I have no doubt I’ll still keep collecting as I eventually expand the herd, since I’m big on each horse having their own bit.  You might say I’m a bit obsessed.  ;)