Enlightened Bitting – The Developing Horse – Kind Control

1st May 2019
Andrew Heffernan copy 640-453

NS Ambassador Andrew Heffernan

On the advice line and during bitting clinics I often talk with riders who recognise that they need extra control in order to remain safe. However, they are reluctant to upgrade from a snaffle. The main reason for their reluctance is that they feel with all the effort and building blocks they have put into their horse’s basic training in order to communicate – this should not be necessary. They many times feel inadequate and that they have failed in some respect. Let’s just cast our minds back to our initial training objectives.

We set out through our formative training to physically build our horse’s strength. We develop the muscles necessary for self carriage so as the job we have in mind is easy for them to perform. A lot of our basic training is repetitive school work and not really very exciting. We also teach them to be confident individuals in so many ways. For instance the systematic riding away process which will ultimately allow them to hack out alone confidently. Left to their own instincts and devices they would not stray from the herd or their stable mates for a walk down the main road and a trot round the local park. So we now have this stronger, fitter, more confident partner and we are ready for the next step.

Charlotte Agnew

NS Ambassador Charlotte Agnew

Personally for our first party I would suggest some low key prelim dressage, or riding club flatwork activities, before embarking on fast, fun times such as drag hunting or sponsored rides. It is when we reach this stage that many riders find they do need extra control, and under these circumstances it is a wise move to upgrade the bit immediately.

Some horses will ultimately settle once the novelty of these fast, fun jaunts has worn off. But meanwhile the damage done to the mouth by sustained pulling may well be irreversible and permanent. Many of our Neue Schule bits are designed for kind control. Successfully staying mild within the mouthpiece, whilst simultaneously employing many other external pressure points in order to give control and thus save the mouth.

We are not over greedy with any specific pressure points. If discomfort is the first thing the horse experiences then he may either fight or simply run through the bridle, and if we don’t bring him back within the first couple of strides he will switch to flight mode, the adrenalin will kick in and he will even forget why he went in the first instance! Using humane bits in order to give the pilot directive, refocuses the horse back on the rider and as he responds this allows us to soften and reward instantly.

When upgrading from a snaffle we shouldn’t just career off to the beach in order to test our brakes! This is not fair to the horse as he has not experienced the action of the new bit. Also bear in mind you may suddenly discover airbrakes and rapidly exit the front door! So, school in the bit first in a safe environment such as indoor/outdoor school or part of a familiar field, taped off. Build up methodically through walk, trot and canter on both reins, employing soft rein aids in order to determine how much pressure you need to exert. Before dropping yourself in at the deep end, set up a test situation with friends who do have control in order to more fully assess your horse’s response.

Continue to use your snaffle for flatwork and save your control bit for faster, fun work. Your horse should be just as responsive on the flat as you have not hardened the mouth through excessive pulling. Also your snaffle mouthpiece is employing different pressure points thereby keeping the mouth fresh and soft.

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