Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bits or Nay?

What the heck is that thing?

It's been a while since I've put a saddle on Gabbrielle. I usually ground drive her with a surcingle. She's been driving like a pro, going over and through obstacles with agile steering and brakes. I'd say that once she passes her physical, she's ready for her first ride. However, she won't accept the bit.

The first few times I put a bridle with a bit on her, she obliged, but now she flat out refuses to open her mouth for the bit. I don't want to force it on her if it hurts. It's just a mild D-ring snaffle, but she has such an aversion to it that I'm considering purchasing a bitless bridle for her. She understands the cues well enough when I hook up the long lines to the cheek rings on her halter, so she simply may not need a bit.

I'd like to hear from anyone who has knowledge of and experience with bitless bridles. What are their pros and cons?

15 comments:

kritter keeper said...

about refusing the bit...has her teeth been floated lately? does she have any sores in her mouth from sharp edges? try smearing molasses on the bit and giving a treat after acceptance (if she does accept) and then immediately take it out as though it were a game. then try again later... same thing...then leave it in awhile. once the bit is in, does she head toss or try to avoid it? is the bit sized correctly? other than that, i haven't a clue but jess would always test me and it was just a thing she liked to do...sorry, i know nothing about bitless bridles...good luck! your blog is cute and i enjoy reading it!

fernvalley01 said...

I don't have any thing to say about bitless bridles , other than a mechanical hackamore and that is they have LOTS of leverage so be careful . the other style of bitless looks interesting but I don't know . I would have her teeth checked before giving up and maybe a rubber covered bit in case she is getting her teeth knocked (sometimes it doesn't matter how careful we are , the move wrong or close as the bit comes out and clunk their teeth)
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Lulu said...

I think nearly every youngster I've ever broke has had a good month or more of refusing to take the bit. I'm sure it doesn't taste good... Once they figure out that it really isn't negotiable, that behavior stopped and we went on with our work.

Having said that, I have also ridden most of my horses in a bitless bridle; but not until after they are broke to the bit. I want the option to do either, but will pick what is most comfortable for that particular horse once they have done both.

I ride Poco in a "turn and stop". Basically it has a rope nose band, and a piece of metal under her jaw for stopping leverage. It looks ugly, and is NOT meant for the 'unbroke' horse. Since she is very well broke I don't have to worry about the "turn and stop" turning into a weapon. I can post pictures if you are curious.

C-ingspots said...

This will be interesting to see what everyone says. I purchased a bitless bridle a few years ago, but have never used it. I put it on Ladde once, and he seemed to hate it. I ride him in a D ring snaffle still, and he's 13 now. The bitless bridle seems to pull or counter-pull rather, and might be confusing to some horses. Not sure what I think about it.

jmk said...

Is this a very young horse? If it is, make sure she doesn't have any teeth interfering where the bit is lying. Another thing is, not all bits fit all horses' mouths. Some horses have very high palettes,which can take thicker bits, some very low with not a lot of room between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, so anything in the mouth feels stifling to the horse. A equine dentist can help you with that info.
Sometimes a horse needs to learn to open it's mouth on cue. Lots of repetition, bridle, praise, remove bridle after a few seconds, rebridle, praise, remove bridle. This is so the horse understands the bit ain't there forever. Some people do the opposite and bridle and let the horse wear it without reins for awhile to get used to it.
Sweet iron bits, copper, happy mouth bits are supposed to taste better to the horse. My young gelding tolerated bits, but opens his mouth readily for the double jointed happy mouth snaffle bit I recently bought for him.
I hear good and bad regarding the bitless bridles. But I've never used one personally, so can't help you there. A friend of mine just started his horse in a bosal and loves it.
Good luck,
Jill

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

You know, a lot of trainers start their horses with a simple sidepull. I have started a few that way.
As a matter of fact, I have had two barrel horses that I ran with only a rope noseband hackamore called a "little S". It is not the same as a mechanical hackamore. If your comfortable with riding her in a bitless bridle-there is no rule that says you can't.;) You just have be aware that a lot of horses can start to get heavy on the frontend and make sure to not let her get away with rooting or lugging.

I forget, is Gabrielle 4 this year? The 4y/o year can be hard on a horse with all their permanent molars coming in. It can make them sensitive to being bridled.

Vaquerogirl said...

There is an old saying that goes ' An open marriage is no marriage at all". I mention this because I feel the same way about a bit. A bitless bridle is really no bridle at all. There is no contact, no give and take, no realease, no way to flex the poll or the wither or move the shoulders, all things we have to teach our horses to make them collect and drive up under themselves. A bosal would be much better- but that too is just a step to a bigger picture and a well broke horse.
I agree that having her teeth checked by a professional dentist is the first step- wolf teeth are often missed- even by a vet- if he isn't a dentist too.
Then stop to think about yourself in the picture of bitting this horse- are you giving signals that it is okay to refuse?
I start my colts first thing by making them drop at the poll when I touch the top of their head,(press the poll and when they move down even slightly,release the pressure.)
Then I teach them that they must submit to my thumb in the corner of their mouths, no head tossing and fighting.(both sides) Then I stand to the off side,ask them to drop their heads when I put my arm over their neck,just behind their ears. I hold the bridle in my right hand, mid cheek, slip my thumb in the off side corner of the mouth,push the bit with your left hand fingers at the same time draw it up into their mouths with your right hand. Slip the crown piece over the ears and adjust the straps. It helps if the bit is a little loose at first, then they don't feel 'trapped' This method has worked on literally a hunderd horses- and a lot of them were arabs and thoughbreds.
Good luck!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Hi NM,

I can tell you about my own experiences with a Bitless Bridle.

I have the original Dr. Cook's brand Bitless Bridle. I bought the black leather style and I bought it off the website online. They only come in black or brown and only in leather or rubber. And in Western or English style.
Their policy is nice in that if you try the less expensive rubber style and you love it, you can return it for the leather with the cost of the rubber bridle applied toward the leather bridle.

I've been using mine for a year and have been over-all very pleased with it.
There are a few issues that I've come across, though. Namely being control and communication.
If a horse is fully trained on a bit and is respectful of pressure...is not barn sour or obstinate, the Dr. Cook's bitless bridle works great.

But my mare tends to be those things I just mentioned and I've had a few problems with playing 'tug-o-war' with her head when she feels we need to return to the barn or go a different way. The nose pressure is not firm enough to persuade a determined horse to do as asked and when the horse pulls it's head away, the criss-cross action under the jaw ends up pulling one rein all the way to one side, while the nose band squeezes the nose (without any real meaning to the horse).

After the pulling argument is over, it's impossible to straighten out the reins and criss-cross from under the jaw, without dismounting, so then you've got one rein longer then the other and a huge loss of control.

There is defintely more control than only a halter, but I'm not sure that a Dr. Cook's can work for all horses.
And some folks don't think a Bitless would be able to stop a horse.
But that wasn't the case for me. My mare bolted on me once when a pack of dogs came rushing behind us and harassed a couple horses in a field beside us. I was able to quickly stop her after applying a one-rein stop. The Bitless has also been effective at simply stopping, with or without using the seat aids.

So, in the end I think it all depends upon the horse and rider and what sort of control they already have and if the horse is very unhappy with a bit, too.

I would think a horse would need to have the basics down first before going bitless, but I've no experience with green horses.

My mare will go in a simple jointed snaffle, a hackamore or the Bitless, but I plan to use the snaffle bit on her when I'm finally able to ride again (in another 2-3 months) and until I get my confidance back.

Once I feel she's ready (and me) I'll go back to using the bitless again sometimes, especially on our own land and in the arena and round pen.

For the last few rides that Val's taken on Baby Doll she's used a Half Breed Side Pull (a side pull with a built in jointed snaffle) and this has been very helpful in getting my mare to pay attention, take everything seriously, and for Val to have more control.

I know folks who've had great success with Bosals too.

Good luck,
~Lisa

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Thank you, everyone, for your great comments. A little more information from me... I have trained Gabbrielle to lower her and also to open her mouth when I slip my thumb in the corner. She does both independently and together, however as soon as she sees that bridle and bit coming near her head, she pops it up as high as it will go. I have to work with her some more to get her to lower her head and keep it lowered while I bring the bridle near her face. Then I have to work on getting her to open her mouth with the bit near her mouth. Eventually, she obliges, but knows when I'm really going to put that bit in, and clamps down, refusing to open her mouth.

She is scheduled for a teeth float at the same time of her physical at the end of this month, so it's been a year since her last dental appointment. I have no doubt that her teeth have a lot to do with her not wanting the bit. I'll try the bit again after her gums heal from the dental work. Unfortunately, clamping down has become a habit, so she'll need some retraining. Convincing her that the bit won't hurt after her dental work will be the hardest part. I'll have to get it in her mouth before she'll understand that whatever was bothering her is fixed.

I may also just purchase a better bit. The very first one I used during ground training was a cheap O-ring snaffle, but as she grew it got too small and pinched her cheeks, so I now am using an old copper D-ring snaffle. This one fits her better and actually has a thicker bar, but it has smooth scratches in the copper. My other horses love their Mylar bit, but it's too big for Gabbrielle. I might invest in a smaller Mylar bit for her.

Thanks again.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

NM-that copper D-ring should be good for G. for a while. I have a couple of old copper inlaid snaffles that I use to start colts with because they say that copper is something they like and the old wives tale is that copper helps keep mares from getting cranky when in heat.

From what you are saying, it sounds like she is just uncomfortable with the bridling process. A lot of colts just don't like the headgear going over their eyes. The clamping of her teeth is also kind of normal. If possible, just hold the bit in front of her teeth and massage the gum a bit with your thumb. Eventually, they cannot control the urge to lick and will unclamp. There can be a lot of head waving and moving around, but just do what you normally do when bridling your other horses and eventually they realize that it isn't going to hurt them.
Here is the thing, even if G. does have some rough edges, just bridling her will not hurt her. The bit does not set where there are any teeth, so just putting the bit in will not cause any pain. If she is shedding teeth, her jaw might be sore and that could cause her to want to avoid any pressure there, but doesn't explain the clamping. So I would just continue to practice bridling and letting her set bridled for a while each day. Licking, chomping and playing with it is normal. They just need the time to learn how to carry it. You can even do your normal work sessions. If you really think there may be a problem with her teeth then just continue to hook the reins to her halter.

Andrea said...

My four year old HATES to be bridled. I have raised him from a foal and he just hates it. He also hates to be dewormed. I don't get it, because I have dewormed that horse myself since he was little. But not he hates all of it. So, I am guessing it's teeth coming in.

I always ride my horses in a sidepull first. Then I use a D ring or something of that nature. I would just keep practicing. Just make sure you are not hitting any of her teeth and go slow. Sounds like you are doing the right stuff. Just keep it up. And try that rope halter on her when she tries to pick her head up too high. Good Luck!! Oh, and just a little tip. Have her put her head lower than you want it to bridle. That way when you have it too low and she picks it up a bit, she sill be right where you want her!! Does that make seance?

Leah Fry said...

I also have a Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle. I have ridden both horses in it. I like it and have never had stopping issues.

I would be more than happy to lend it to you to see if you like it. Email me privately if you wish.

Sunnytwo said...

I used the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle, one of the English Style, black, neoprene/rubber (?) ones for a solid year with my 18 year old, no-known-history-rescued Arab gelding.

When I first got him, I rode him in a plain single jointed D-ring snaffle, which is what the rescue had used with him. When I bridled him, he would hurl his head up, and twist it away. No fun. I had his teeth floated, but he still made it a battle. Wearing the single-jointed snaffle, he bolted for home one day, tightly clenching down on the bit. Very much not fun.

I told this to my riding instructor, and she said that my hands were too heavy --they were always "on" so he never felt any release or reward for listening.
When horse feel too pressured, with no release in sight, they either shut down or panic. His Highness was in full panic mode that day, and so was I :)

Then, I read a study on the web by one of the MSU's equine researchers, Dr. Hilary Clayton, who often works with MSU's McPhail
Equine Performance Center. If you look up the McPhail Center and Dr. Clayton on google the link should come up (I just checked!) In December 2005 she published an article "Bitting: the Inside Story"
She x-rayed horses wearing various bits in the snaffle family. Bottom line: the double jointed (the KK Ultra is what she used) french link snaffle and the Mylar Comfort bit were the easiest on the horses. Also, MSU has one of the largest Arabian breeding farms, and Dr. Clayton researched the Arabian's palate and tongue too in an other article. She found that most Arabs have low palates and thick tongues --again a vote for a french-link type snaffle or the Mylar Comfort bit.

I priced out those two bits, and yikes that KK Ultra is expensive! I decided to wait on buying a bit until 1)I could buy a used quality french link bit and 2) work on lightening my hands.

So, I sent away for the Dr. Cooks. Things I liked: 1) ease of care --rain, mud, snow (Michigan's weather for over 1/2 a year) don't bother it. 2) My horse's relaxation in it. Within two wearings of it he was eagerly putting his head into the nose band. No more fighting or head tossing.

What I didn't like: the bridle, as others have said, doesn't easily fully release rein pressure. After a few minutes of riding circles, it seems snugger around his face than when we started. However, this pressure did not seem to bother him at all. In fact, after a year His Highness was a bit too comfortable with it --taking a few steps longer to stop, insisting that he HAD to look a different way from where we were headed...
He was getting rather saucy.

Meanwhile, over this year I was taking weekly lessons on a Schoolmaster horse and my hands were getting better at being communicative and lightly steady, rather than either too heavy or too not there at all.

Then this spring a friend went to a used tack sale and found a 5.25" french link snaffle by Stubben for $5.00! You have to love used tack sales!

I switched out of the Dr. Cook's and into the Stubben. Although His Highness doesn't dive into it like he did the Cook's, he does seem more resigned to it and he starts chewing and salivating right away--things my riding instructor said are signs of a thinking, relaxed horse.

The proof though, is in the ride. His Highness, in the Stubben only, has been offering up moments of beautiful collection. He stays relaxed, and does not pull against me or seem to feel trapped by any form of uncomfortableness. He likes it, and therefore, I like it. Now granted, I hope I am a better rider now too, but I think that his time with Dr. Cook let him think more about the message (turn, slow, stop) the rider was sending, and not the messenger (the bit) It is easier to train a horse if we focus their attention on one thing at a time. It could be that the single-joint snaffle creates enough uncomfortableness (esp. in an Arab's mouth--they have thinner skin on their bars too = more sensitive) that the horse has to chose between listening to the rider or listening to their discomfort---not a good choice to ask a horse to make, esp. a new-to-riding horse.

I am glad I used the Dr. Cook's, and plan on going back to it again, in rotation, to check out how well my horse is listening/how well I am riding.

In the long run, it is the horse's training over time and the rider's use of all of the aids (weight, seat and hands together) that create a willing, understanding horse, not the equipment the rider has put on the horse--in the sense that there are riders who with their horses have achieved amazing rides with NO equipment on the horse at all--have you seen those videos on you-tube of Stacy McFall riding bare-back and bridleless? I don't mean that equipment doesn't have its place, esp. in training, but it should not be a crutch.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Check out Dr. Clayton's research, it is food for thought--just like your blog is for me too! I am glad I can share something; your blog is one of my daily favorites. ----Sunnytwo

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

This is all great information. There are so many different views. I am researching bitless bridles. It's been a crazy week at work, so I'm hoping to really dig into my research this weekend. I will also continue working with Gabbrielle and the bit using everyone's suggestions.

Leah - What a generous offer! I'd be afraid to take you up on it, because I could just see my dogs getting a hold of it and chewing it up or something stupid like that. I have learned that I am a magnet for disaster when I borrow things. I might email you with some questions, though.

Nor’dzin said...

My mare was always getting her head up and taking control of the bit, and generally nervous and unsettled. I kept adding more tack - martingale, drop noseband... Then after some research I decided to go in the opposite direction - less rather than more. First I tried a hackamore and then a Dr Cook style cross-under bitless. She is like a different horse without a bit - much more relaxed. She always accepted the bit when putting her bridle on, but is much happier and better behaved without it. I now have my gelding in the same style bitless bridle and he goes great in it as well. I would never go back to a bit.