Bit Thoughts

Strap yourself into the ramble seat.

Let me just say at the outset that this post is not advice or counsel or applicable to horses in general. This is my experience with one bit for my slightly quirky horse. Anything I write here applies to me and to him. Only.

Myler bits have been a curiosity to me for a little while now. I know some equestrians lament the sale of the Myler imprint to Toklat, and I have no experience with the Myler bits of ye good olde days. I also recognize that Myler is an aggressively marketed brand and any claims surrounding the action of the bit should probably be questioned. I am not saying the claims are wrong, but no bit will fix training issues.

And I didn’t think a Myler bit would “fix” anything Eli is doing or not doing. He goes quite well in the Dynamic RS (yes, Herm Sprenger is also an aggressively marketed brand but I have years of experience with the bits and I am not shy about being a devotee). Our biggest struggle right now is Eli getting flat and on the forehand through the corners while jumping a course. We do lots of flat work and exercises over fences to address this, and a lot of the issue is more my upper body position than anything else (LEEEEEAAAANN what why not).

But would a different bit get Eli’s attention in the corners? A bit with a different type of action and a smidge of leverage? Faster than my leg, seat, and atrocious posture could?

I do remember when I first started riding Eli, the leg confused and startled him. The seat was a bad idea. But he wasn’t my horse and I rode him in what I was told to ride him in — usually my Sprenger snaffles were readily approved. A few times I was told to ride him in draw reins.

But then I bought him, and I could experiment wholeheartedly with my little psycho shark project that jumps so willingly and relatively well. I ditched the draw reins and the short version is after years of work and care, Eli gets the leg. He even understands the leg WELL. He accepts a deeper seat (or, erm, not when his back is tight and it’s 40 degrees but whatever). He is very light in the bridle at the trot. Can be a bit heavier at the canter but seems well-balanced enough for our purposes. The journey to adequate gaits has no end.

What I am getting to is that the Myler with hooks is not a bit I would have used on Eli early on in our relationship. He didn’t understand the leg, and a bit with a little leverage and independent action on each side would have been counter-productive; at least that is what I believe. I wanted to keep it simple and comfortable, so that when he did take up the bit and respond to leg, there was not a question in his mind about what I was telling him. He needed a bit with basic, straightforward snaffle action that wouldn’t pinch his tongue or nail him in the palette.

But he’s a different horse now, and at least a little more sophisticated in his understanding and acceptance of the seat and leg. I can play with a different bit now as a tool of communication without causing confusion in Eli. We pretty much trust each other. He knows I am not heavy-handed, and that I am not going to put anything drastic in his mouth. (Can we melt down all the double twisted wire bits yet?)

I picked up a Myler dee “comfort” snaffle with hooks, the exact variety of which I am not sure. It doesn’t seem to have a port and I don’t know what “level” it is or whether it’s what Myler calls a wide barrel. I bought it used knowing I could easily sell it if I hated it. (Doesn’t all that “level” stuff seem a little gimmicky?)

Ultimately the hooks offer a little bit of leverage and tongue relief at the same time. Slight poll pressure, but nothing extreme. (I cringe at the thought of using a Cheltenham gag with rope cheeks on Eli, although I did use one with leather cheeks on a different horse with excellent results. It’s interesting to me how individuals respond to leverage.)

But the hooks do something else, and this is my primary reservation about the Myler with hooks: provided the horse is at or behind the vertical, the top hooks hold the mouthpiece off the tongue. So yes, the horse gets relief from tongue pressure. But maybe not if he’s poking his nose out a bit, which we like to see in a hunter flat class (for example). Like. Whoa. What if someone puts one of these on a young horse, a green horse, a horse that is not well educated to the aids? That hasn’t accepted tongue pressure well yet? This in my mind is an invitation to evasion and could potentially encourage a false head set and hollow back. All to avoid tongue pressure, rather than encourage it, which in some instances is necessary. That’s how a lot of bits work! It’s not a wonder the hooks aren’t dressage legal. This is not a bit for the inexperienced, in my mind — horse or rider. I could not have used this bit on Eli with any success 4 or 5 years ago. My preference is for a bit that relieves some tongue pressure but doesn’t remove it entirely regardless of how the horse carries his head. I think a horse has to learn that a little tongue pressure is okay and part of a concert of aids from the rider.

But Eli’s 15 and he is what he is, so knowing what I know, I tried the bit on him. I have ridden him in it 4 or 5 times now, to really get a feel of the action in my hand, on my horse, before passing further judgment. And this is a truly interesting bit. Eli did not and does not seem bothered by the changes in tongue relief and pressure, and half the time I’m riding him on a loopy rein anyway. I took him over a few jumps the first time we rode with the bit, just to get a sense of how Eli might respond. While the bit seems to add a boost to our power steering, and a bit more of a check to our half halts, it also exacerbates our problems in downward transitions. While Eli doesn’t seem to mind a little poll pressure during work in a gait, changing that gait is perhaps too big a move, too inelegant in terms of my own faulty aids and he tosses his head — a thing he does not do anymore while working on downward transitions in the Dynamic RS. He does lean and poke his nose out in downward transitions (working on it for all eternity) and I think when he tried to do that in the Myler, he was like wait wtf was that, lady?

So will I keep it? I think so, at least for now. I have no plans to jump in it, and I don’t think I will use it regularly for flat work, but just periodically. Because, somehow through the dynamic of the extra check in our half halt, the bit helps through those corners, and Eli takes fewer steps downhill with the Myler, in transitions within the gait. He seems quite comfortable with the action of it, and doesn’t even mind leaning on it a little (but don’t fear, he’s never heavy in my hand, never has been). It’s almost like that minute poll pressure is some kind of comfort to him.

I will say I do use this bit in a bridle that has a heavily-padded monocrown piece. That is probably a part of why the poll pressure is mostly acceptable to Eli. I am definitely interested in trying the same bit without hooks — although the independent side action intrigues me; Eli seems responsive to it. The mouthpiece itself is unquestionably forgiving.

But of course if I stayed tall, kept my inside leg on, and lifted and squared my shoulders through the corners, that might, you know, help some, too. None of that needs any kind of bit.

3 thoughts on “Bit Thoughts

  1. Wow, I am surprised/not surprised by how your experience with this bit mirrors what May and I experience with a similar one (no port). With May, we had to establish forward before anything else, so I could never have started her straining with this bit. Now though, this bit gives me something to PUSH her into to fix the balance without backing her off. I also like the isolated sides to help me LIFT the right shoulder when it wants to get buldgey.

    Like you though, my HS (or NS) bits are better for our flat work. It’s very hard to get her to push consistently into the Myler in a way that I would want her to for Dressage, but it’s great over fences.

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  2. Frankie is fairly ambivalent to bits, but definitely feeling your point about different bits being appropriate at different points in time as we train and progress. While Frankie was still learning that forward is always the right answer, any sort of leverage would have been really hard for him to cope with and would have shut that down. Now that we’re both a little more educated, the slight leverage gives us both some better balance and communication.

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