Saturday, March 23, 2019

bit + equipment changes

I like nice bits and I cannot lie. But I'm also a somewhat aggressive spendthrift and moderate first-world-guilt-laden environmentalist. Meaning: I like to repurpose equipment I already have, and buy used where possible.

In the world of expensive horse gear, this usually ends up working out pretty darn well tho. For my available dollars for any given piece of equipment, be it a saddle or bit or whatever, buying new usually relegates me to the bottom tier "economy" level of quality.

When buying used, however, those very same dollars, in the very same quantities, can suddenly transform into high quality, albeit second hand, goods.

i'd like to introduce you to my latest frankenbridle, brown with just a snaffle for more everyday type schooling. fun fact: it's a figure-8 noseband + bradoon hanger + BoT crown pad + DJD snap-on brow band, and... that's kinda it haha. no proper crown piece or throat latch. seems to work out just fine for schooling tho!
Case in point: Bits. I'm not a connoissuer, let's be real. But there are certain accouterments of riding life that give me a disproportionate amount of glee. Like fancy stirrups! And bits!! So maybe I have a weird hardware or fittings fetish?? Lol... Let's not go there. Ahem.

Seriously tho. Bits are cool. The technology that's being integrated into improving their construction and feel for the horse is cool. The materials science going into the new alloys is cool. And like. Ya know. Actually feeling like I can communicate effectively with my horse -- or at least, feeling like there's one less noise-generating interruption between me and the horse -- is cool.

i also admit to being a self-described stirrup iron junkie. not that i know much about them, exactly. but i liiiiikey them haha. these lovely Stubben Maxi Grips came home with me from Kentucky last year, after striking a bargain basement deal ($100 off list price!!) with the reps for the mildly dinged demo pair. gosh i love these irons too!
So over the years I've allowed myself to indulge a little bit in bits (puns). Except, by buying used I've been able to have my cake and eat it too.

When you buy a used bit on ebay, esp if you did your homework in comparing prices etc, it's a relatively safe bet that you'll be able to sell the bit for the same amount (in some rare cases, sometimes at a profit) if it doesn't work out. But if it does work out for your horse? Score, right? Win win haha.

To be perfectly honest, it's kinda unreal how many Sprenger KK Ultras I've bought and sold over the years. Why so many tho? I own 3(ish), and have sold countless more. Why do I keep buying them? It's all a mystery lol. At least in one case I bought one for $40 and sold it for $70 so... ya know. Maybe that's why haha.

my current stable of loose ring KKs. the small ring one is technically a bradoon snaffle, and is all silver... the aurigan version with the bigger ring is now on our new schooling frankenbridle
At heart, tho, I'm actually not much of an experimenter. I have some friends who are constantly trying out new bits. Some bc their horses need it, others out of sheer curiosity. Me, tho? Generally, if what I'm using is working, I don't really mess with it. So once I find something that feels good, that's what I use.

As of last winter, Charlie's gone in a loose ring Myler Comfort Snaffle for dressage. I actually really like this bit for him; the different shape and action was enough to help us with a few breakthroughs at first. This bit runs about $85 new, tho I found mine on ebay for $50.

We've actually done most of our standard jump lessons in this bit too. With the idea being: I want to spend our training sessions working on the minutiae, the refinements in making Charlie a more sensitive and adjustable horse. Compared to, say, that moment at the back half of a cross country course when we make the turn toward home and Charlie basically morphs into an unstoppable force of nature lol.

our myler bit. not much for braking haha, but charlie seems nicely quiet in the contact with it!
Since Charlie's main jump bridle has the big guns bit on it, we have mostly jumped in Charlie's dressage bridle for lessons. Which was fine, right? Nbd to jump in the Myler. But after my KonMari tack clean up episode, where I found that pretty figure-8 and my bradoon hanger, I made the separate brown schooling bridle pictured at the top of this post. So now at least match tack in our lessons lol.

Long story short, for the last few weeks I've gotten to re-experience riding Charlie in a normal Sprenger KK on the flat, after so many months of the Myler. And? It's different. Just ever so slightly unfamiliar in feel.

And I maybe figured something out from this new different feel: it's jusssst different enough from normal that suddenly I can feel some of our ingrained issues more clearly. Like little oddities or blips in the connection, or a different feel when I hang and deaden on the reins. Funny how that works, right?

what we've been competing and schooling xc in for the past year. sprenger kk with universal cheek pieces, plus curb. looks like a lot of hardware on the outside. just a kk on the inside tho
What stood out the most in getting this different feel in the bridle? It really drove home the point that.... Well. I'm just not comfortable with the feeling I get from Charlie when we're galloping or jumping at speed. He pulls hard. And since I don't trust that the brakes will be there when I need them, I basically ride with one hand on the e-brake at all times. Just hanging kinda dead on the reins, riding backward. Which isn't great, right?

For the past year, we've been competing and schooling in the Sprenger KK Ultra with the Universal (ie: 3 ring gag) cheeks and double reins. I initially added a leather curb strap to the top ring, but eventually swapped that for a curb chain.

This variation on the KK ultra aurigan bit retails for just over $200, but again I found mine used on ebay for $98, shipping from the UK. That's a lot of dollars for a bit, but I also felt relatively confident that I'd be able to sell it for more than I paid if it didn't work out.

throwback to the first farm where i learned to ride, where went in a hackamore, until riders were advanced enough to be "approved" to ride with a bit
And it's kinda been "good enough," for the most part. I like having a very very simple mouth piece for Charlie, for two reasons: 1) For my own riding abilities on the flat, I have the easiest time getting an effective warm up using a plain snaffle. And 2) Charlie has, on the not-so-rare occasion, been difficult to get going at the beginning of a course.

He can be sticky leaving the start box, and will sometimes suck behind my leg for the first few jumps on course. For this reason, I'm extremely reluctant to "bit up" when it comes to mouth pieces. HOWEVER. The sticky horse who doesn't want to leave his friends in warm up is NOT the same horse underneath me when we make that turn toward home down the backstretch lol.

Once Charlie is cruisin?? He is GOING SIR, YES SIR. And that's where I kinda start to get into trouble with the backwards riding. Plus. Ya know. The whole "getting run away with" thing.

throwback to exactly one year ago, wherein charlie demonstrated blatant disregard for my half halts, the bit, and probably our combined personal health and well-being lol
Realistically, it makes sense tho, right? Like. Charlie is 10. He raced from 2011 to 2016, winning 4 races, placing in another 6, and retiring as a 7yo. This horse had an entire successful career before he met me. He understood it and was good at it: Get Home As Fast As Possible.

And hooooo boy, but Charlie has taken that message to heart lol.

Combine that with his big rangy 17+hh, 1,400lb brontosaurus build..... And, well. He's a force to be reckoned with lol. Realistically speaking, Charlie's honestly too big for me. He's probably a little too much horse. EXCEPT. He's such a good boy, he wants to be good. He wants to do the thing. He wants to jump. And I trust him implicitly and completely, inside and out.

These alone are the only reasons I'm able to be even marginally successful with this horse.

then back to my first barn again: even when i got far enough along to be allowed to do solo dressage tests in our annual show, instead of the group drill rides, i still rode in a hackamore
But if I want to do bigger and badder things with this horse who is so extremely capable... Well. We need a bitting solution. Bc from what I can tell right now, in the hypothetical scenario where we are out on course facing a turning or accuracy type combination question at jump 16... Honestly I think I'd be screwed if Charlie didn't hunt the fences himself. Bc by that point on course, if our history can be any guide, it's unclear how much control I'd actually have.

One thing has been very consistent with Charlie tho since I've owned him: He's a dream to ride in the hackamore. I've been riding in mechanical hackamores basically my entire riding life, since all the lesson ponies wore them at the place where I learned to ride. I also like having a bitless option for carefree hacks, while having the brakes there if needed.

So Charlie inherited Isabel's hackamore early on, and we do all our conditioning rides and gallops in it.

fwiw, i LOVE jumping charlie in the hack too! it's a whole different feel for him!
For shits and giggles, last year I experimented with jumping Charlie in the hackamore. And? Omfg I LOVE jumping this horse in a hackmore! Love it! The feeling is so completely different - he doesn't lean into it and totally respects it. So I can get in and get out with my half halts.

And bc you can't really hold a contact on a hack the same way you can with a bit, it forces me to let go a little bit. A side effect of constantly wanting to hang on the reins is that I take my legs off. Which you may recognize as being completely the opposite of what I need to do. But in the hackamore, since I'm not preoccupied with hanging on for dear life, I can remember to keep supporting with my leg. And suddenly everything is magical.

loose ring KK + plain mechanical hackamore, combined with bit converters repurposed as cheek pieces haha. we've had exactly **one** test ride but early results are promising
There are two distinct disadvantages to the hackamore, however. 1) Again, per my earlier comment, I have a hard time getting a nice fluid supple dressage-y warm up in anything other than a plain snaffle. Ymmv. And 2) It's..... not the greatest for steering haha.

So my latest harebrained idea is to combine the two into a double bridle of sorts. Except the curb is bitless -- just the hackamore. Tho I had to pick up a different style of cheek pieces to avoid interference with the snaffle. The nifty bit converter used to hang the two pieces is actually intended to be a rein converter, but I thought it might work for this purpose too.

We've only played with it once, but damn did Charlie feel good! We didn't fall into any sort of weird tug-of-war trap with the hackamore, but I still felt like I could ride him round off the snaffle when necessary. And, ya know, steer lol.

we're learning together, slowly but surely!! and, hopefully, safely lol
It's not clear if this is our solution yet or not. Personally, I'm fairly pragmatic about stuff like this. I need to ride Charlie forward. If we want to move up, we have to get comfortable at higher speeds. But we also need to be quicker about adjusting between speeds for more technical combinations etc. Even then, tho, I must ride the horse forward, not backward.

The feeling I got in this bridle on this one test ride was exactly what I'd hoped. But obviously we'll do a little more testing to see if it's the real deal. And probably a few adjustments. Like adding sheepskin to the noseband, or possibly replacing it altogether, bc it's oddly heavy and I suspect Charlie would respond just as well to a softer material.

We'll see, tho. As a pragmatist I also recognize that.... The optics of this bridle are not great. Folks straight up hate the sight of thin metal shanks, no matter what they attach to, and no matter that they have the same effect as the broader more "friendly" shanks of my other hackamore. It *looks* like extreme hardware, I get that. You better believe I pulled on my flame suit before even thinking about posting pictures on the internet haha.

Ultimately tho, none of those external perceptions will matter when we're actually out on course in the heat of the moment. What I'm searching for is that magic "click" that gives me confidence, that perfect feeling between what Charlie can be and what I can do.

So again, we'll see what happens. At least one main advantage of missing our season opener is that we have a little more time to adjust our setup before things really kick off for the year!


  1. I love shopping used too. That bit setup seems like an interesting idea-best of both worlds! It can be so hard to find the *perfect* bit/bridle setup lol

    1. Maybe if I already knew a certain bit would work I’d be less annoyed at paying full price... but with so many high quality bits available used it seems like a no brainer! Esp like you say, since it can be so hard to find the right fit!

  2. Omg I didn't realize that was a bit converter! #brilliant

    1. Lol I fully admit to being quite pleased with that particular little moment of inspiration haha. The reduced bulk is a big reason why I thought it might actually work. One downside tho is that there’s very little room for adjustment, tho I did punch some extra holes already in the converters

  3. I too am a spendthrift and have first world guilt! I like to buy on sale or used or slightly damaged. Full confession: I have never ridden with a hackamore. Although I d like t9 try one with Carmen. Your gear set up looks good.

    1. Used or slightly damaged is where it’s at haha. I feel like that’s honestly a metaphor for my life anyway ;)

      Re: the hackamore, the mechanical type isn’t for every horse but I love it! It was great for Izzy on the trail bc she could be very strong and jiggy, but it was an absolute non starter for any purposeful type of work bc she would wayyyy over bend and duck behind the curb. Charlie is much more comfortable with curb and leverage pressure so it actually works much better for him.

      It might be fun to try for Carmen (I might actually have an extra set of hackamore plates lying around somewhere, but not a nose pad....), or maybe try a side pull type bitless bridle if you think the leverage would be too much for her too. Esp in the winter it’s so nice to be able to ride without fussing with a cold bit haha

  4. I think experimentation is 90% of riding. Which is why people have trouble in clinics sometimes- we have to try something perhaps new to us. I think playing with bits is a great idea. And buying new is for the birds, lol

    1. that's a great point about the clinic piece, hadn't really thought of it that way but it makes sense. the experimentation side is possibly what can be a little challenging to me bc i'm actually somewhat change averse haha. but hey, sometimes change is good, right?

  5. I will see if I can find pictures of our "frankenbridle." Dutch goes WAY better in the same fleece mechanical hackamore that you started with. If fact, after a few years of only having to deal with the hack or a rope halter, putting a bit back in his mouth was super insulting. Our dressage trainer helped us rig up double bridle so that it had the hack up a bit higher and the loose ring with bit guards to the outside of the hackamore shanks. This allowed me to switch between the two as need during our rides.

    It was a bit softer than what you ended up with due to the fact that the nose part of the hack was just a piece of leather, and the optics were much nicer.

    I wouldn't worry about what stuff looks like - (almost) any set up that lets you be SOFT with your hands is a good choice.

    1. glad to hear that a similar set up worked so well for your horse too!! i'd like to try a softer noseband too, bc that's worked perfectly fine with my other hackamore. but i need the thinner shanks to avoid interference with the snaffle action, bc yea both of these in the pic above can be used independently as well - each off its own rein.

      and agreed completely - anything that helps me LET GO has to be a good thing, vs a "softer" bit that leads me to hanging more and more, or being too strong with my rein aids.

  6. Anyone who follows this blog should know by now that you don't overbit for the sheer joy of it. C is a biiiig guy with a one-track mind when it comes to XC, so brakes and steering are, ya know, sorta important.

    Pretty genius how you pieced it together to make it work! My brain practically exploded when I replaced P's XC bridle cheek pieces with the gag straps.

    1. lol thanks - and that is the TRUTH haha, homeboy is GOING once we get out onto course! i'm not sure yet if this will be our final solution, but hopefully it gets us closer!

      and re: building the actual bridle, yea i kinda love piecing things together out of separate parts. idk why, but this is probably why i had so many spare parts lying around for so long!

  7. I love using hackamores though Levi and Nilla despised being jumped in them. I use them a lot for trail riding and did a lot of hackamore work in the arena in the beginning with Nilla because she wasn't controllable via a bit. I really like the PS of sweden hackamores though. They have the mid cheek "throat latch" that keep the strap from going into the eye when you activate the leverage. I heard that FEI is going to disallow hackamores on XC in 2019. I'm sure USEA will follow as they pretty much always copy FEI.

    1. omgosh i just had a minor heart attack reading your comment haha, bc the hackamore is so so so good for charlie. but i just googled the proposed rule change and found an EN article from Nov 2018 saying that "Hackamores without bits will not be allowed on cross country."

      it's not exactly clear to me why this is, considering i literally just now learned of it from you haha, but my guess is that it has to do with something i experienced with isabel once: the noseband of my hackamore fell apart mid gallop and the whole mess was flopping around her neck as we continued galloping on along. thankfully she had good brakes and i could get her stopped before something bad happened, or before she got tripped up with all the loose straps, but i can see how that could be a pretty terrible thing for other horses (like charlie) in the midst of xc crowds.

      based on my quick read of that EN article tho, i'm guessing that adding the snaffle above, and connecting it all the way I did, would actually make this variation legal with the new rules. i'd have to double check on that tho, so thanks for bringing it up!

  8. Jesus H!!! You're running NOVICE in that contraption?!? Do you ride with Marilyn Little? I would say 1. Get a new trainer. 2. Learn how to actually ride your horse and get rid of the crutch. 3. Buy a damn snaffle. 4. For your own safety, do not consider Training until you don't need that bit. 5. Buy your horse many bags of treats in apology for what you've done to the to the poor thing.

  9. One of the thing I miss about my old Trainer was the sheer number of bits she had acquired over her lifetime of being a horse trainer - it did mean limitless experimentation and borrowing. I only owned 3 bits of my own 2 bought on consignment (seriously love consignment tack stores) and one I bought brand new. I just bought 3 bits recently because they were in an online bargain bin and I had a coupon for that store which conveniently covered the price and shipping so free bits! Will I ever use them? I dunno but like you it's nice knowing that I could resell them for probably more lol


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