How Do You Choose a Bit?

Eli’s job is now in the hunter ring and my bitting choices for competition have dwindled significantly. Pretty much any bit is acceptable in the jumper ring, provided the show officials don’t deem it as cruel or abusive. I never really used all that many bits on Eli anyway–I like him in the Herm Sprenger Dynamic RS D-ring. Or the eggbutt. And sometimes the WH Ultra dee. However, these bits are easy for him to slightly ignore for a few steps, as he demonstrated by running through my hands a few times at the show in March. He still has a SUPER SOFT mouth and I am not about to ruin that with a “harsh” bit (in quotes because I think we will all have different versions of harsh).

But over the years I have used a variety of bits on different horses with different jobs and then of course bits are like precious jewelry so there are a few I’ve been coveting, too.

Ah, the Cheltenham gag. I rode with a trainer for 15 years who threw this bit on a handful of jumpers, including mine. He explained to me the action and the difference in the action when you use either rope gag cheeks or leather gag cheeks, and he also taught me how to use the gag rein on this bit (never without a snaffle rein on my particular horse). It worked out great for my jumper, although it wasn’t the only bit I showed him in. That choice was made the day of, and he went in HS KK Ultra bits, too, and a hackamore for a brief period of time while a lip injury healed up. (One day I will write a proper post about this horse!) The Cheltenham exerts a good bit of poll pressure via the gag rein and I wouldn’t dream of using one of these on Eli.

I used a Dr. Bristol eggbutt snaffle as a junior. My QH went quite well in it. I know that there are two ways you can put the Dr. Bristol–the nice way and the mean way. The plate is angled for a particular type of tongue pressure, and if you put in in your horse’s mouth the mean way, the edge of the plate slices right into his tongue. I used it the nice way, where the plate lies flatter on the tongue.

My first off-track guy, a little chestnut, seemed to go best in a rubber dee. He chewed through a few of them, but he’d only take a feel on the rubber dee and pretty much avoided any other bit by tucking his chin.

My favorite bit for Eli, the Dynamic RS dee. What can I say about it other than it works for Eli? I am a fan because of how anatomical this bit is, and also I like the double jointed bits generally because of the reduced nutcracker action on the tongue and I have also had problems with narrow mouth TBs getting hit in the palate by single jointed bits, which must suck for them!

But let’s not stop there with the Herm Sprenger bits. The hunter ring limits bits — you are pretty much going to see dees, full cheeks, and pelhams. The rules limit bits mostly to these types (eggbutts are okay, too, but NO ONE uses them in the hunter ring). Now, the mouthpiece on those dees … that’s where a little anything goes comes back into play, and many hunters go in custom bits that have mouthpieces tailored to their style in the bridle. But pelhams are okay, too, although not as common–I see them more in Eq. I’d be curious to see how strong Eli would consider getting in a pelham, although I think ultimately it’s too much bit for him. The pelham has both poll and curb action, as strong or light as the rider’s hands, so it’s a bit for educated hands only in my book. Pelham converters drive me up a wall. If you don’t know how to use a curb rein, don’t use a pelham.

And on to another common hunter option–the slow twist dee. The longer I work with horses, the less and less I like this bit. I think it has its place, and I used it on my jumper when he was very young and learning the show ropes in the hunter ring. However, I am not sure all horses react the same to this texture on the mouth bars–I think it panics some horses and actually makes them lean on the bit and take off (I think the same of corkscrews and twisted wire bits).

Now onto the bits I am currently coveting and am so curious about and want to try on Eli. Probably never will, but I can dream. First is a Bombers elliptical lock full cheek. Honestly, I have been wanting to try just about *any* Bombers bit for ages (okay, not all–they make some serious leverage bits and I don’t need that). I like the amount of thought this company puts into their work. Also, the blue sweet iron is SO PRETTY. Not that it lasts after oxidation, but whatevs.

I am also extremely curious about bauchers, and sweet iron, and copper, so why not throw it all together? Mostly just curious to see baucher action for myself on my own horse–the arguments are whether bauchers exert or relieve poll pressure. Maybe what the horse does with his head is a part of determining that? I can think about bit physics for hours.

Last, we come to the bit I have selected for Eli that I would like to try at our next show, the JP Korsteel copper ball link full cheek. So far, so good the first two times we’ve used it. I hemmed and hawed over quite a few styles–full cheek or dee, waterford or ported barrel … and settled on this. Barely more bit–just a touch more. I will probably jump him in it soon to see how it goes. I had actually tried Eli in a JP Korsteel copper lozenge dee, but the lozenge was too big for Eli and he was pretty fussy in it. I think the copper ball link is a better fit for him.

So tell me … how do you choose which bit for what horse and which discipline?

Cashel Quiet Ride Fly Mask Review

While it seems so far away now, Eli did have some sinus procedures that left a hole in his face the size of a half dollar. He could go back to work before the hole healed completely. I had a high level of apprehension about this and wanted some degree of protection for his face while he worked under saddle. He wore a regular fly mask 24/7 for a while, but I wanted something less obtrusive for riding. I found the Cashel Quiet Ride Fly Mask and Eli wears it now for many of our rides, just as he did when he went back to work after the sinus procedures.

Although the intended purpose of this fly mask is obviously to deter pesky flying insects, I have found Eli seems especially to prefer wearing it on super sunny, super windy, or drizzly days (or nights), too. I jokingly call it his sensory deprivation fly mask, but really this is just one more essential piece of equipment for Eli to help him stay focused. We also tried the Cashel Nose Net, but he strongly objected to that. He occasionally may have head-shaking tendencies, but I don’t think he’s truly a head-shaker to where the behavior interferes with daily activities — he just objects to extremely bright light and I can relate. If I can do something to ease the discomfort sunlight, wind, or drizzle can cause Eli when I need him paying attention to me, I will do that thing. That thing is this fly mask.

I can most definitely recommend this fly mask for riding — it helps deter pests and for Eli it has some added benefits. He has two because I always want a clean one ready to use. Conveniently enough, Riding Warehouse carries them for a great price.

 

Weenie Wednesday: Two Horse Tack Bling Collar and Leash Review

Lest you think I have been depriving Conrad of proper attention, toys, and adornments, I would like to tell you about his latest look. He rocks orange like no other.

Two Horse Tack sent Conrad a dog collar and leash made from Beta Biothane and some extra shiny adornments added, i.e., bling. I picked orange for Conrad because it seems to be his favorite color. Before the collar and leash arrived, I admit I was somewhat skeptical about what the material would be like. I have zero experience with synthetic tack; Conrad’s other collars have been nylon or leather.

As soon as I unwrapped the collar and leash, I thought there had been a mistake. They were soft, flexible, and felt like leather in my hands. I was completely surprised by how much the Beta Biothane seemed like leather! I tried the collar on Conrad immediately and he got a few extra cookies for modeling.

Okay, so I know we all describe fancy French bridle leather as buttery soft, so is it a little weird that that’s what I thought of when I picked up the leash? Conrad and I test-drove the collar and leash on our Saturday walk, and I am really pleased with not only the quality of the material and sparkliness of the stones, but the hardware also seems very durable.

And all you have to do to clean it is a little soap and water! There’s no way for it to get grimey like nylon does. Not that Conrad is into getting dirty, but maybe your dogs are a little more adventurous or mud-loving.

Two Horse Tack is also, don’t forget, a tack shop, and offers all kinds of custom things in Beta Biothane, beyond their selection of dog collars and leashes. And for any of you wishing to check out Two Horse Tack, I have a 10% off coupon code for you all.

You can also sign up for the Two Horse Tack newsletter if you haven’t already for more special offers and updates.

Maybe Eli needs a green side-pull …

 

Lund Saddlery Running Martingale Review

2016-12-12_02-46-19.jpgThe running martingale is a fairly common piece of tack for the jumper ring. But just because it’s the jumper ring doesn’t mean it can’t be raised and fancy-stitched. The Lund running martingale shares added features and classic touches as the rest of the Lund line of strap goods. It means taking a little extra time to break in because of the Sedgwick leather, but ultimately it is another piece of tack that can last you a decade or longer.

stitchingAs you can see, the fancy stitching on the yoke of the running looks lovely. Obviously appearance is not a consideration in the judging of jumper rounds, but to say that jumper riders don’t want to look good would be a blatant lie. The Lund running also comes with a clip for the girth dee and the rubber stopper to hold the neck strap in place and prevent the yoke from slipping.

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Shown here are the Lund running martingale and Lund 4-point.

I don’t always even use a running when schooling my horse at home, but it’s an essential for shows. Just that little extra bit of control that only kicks in when necessary helps and the Lund running martingale does the job perfectly.

I have noticed over the years that there is a wide variety of how people fit running martingales. I learned that a running fitted too tightly can exert a great deal of downward force leverage against the mouth bars of a horse and possibly cause issues related to that. When jumping, a horse must be able to use his head freely, and I learned as a guide that when fitting a running, the yoke must reach the horse’s chin while the horse is standing relaxed. Obviously every horse is different–this is just the way that works for Eli the best.

fitweightless You can see the fit in the above pictures–no broken line in the reins from bit to elbow caused by the running. (Just kind of a loopy rein, though, oops.)

As far as running martingales go, the Lund running martingale is a fantastic piece of tack, especially for the jumper ring, and comes in cob and full to fit a variety of horses. It retails for 135 CD or around $102 US. I can recommend it to anyone looking to show in the jumpers without reservations.

Lund Saddlery Snaffle Bridle and Laced Reins Review

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Not sure if y’all have noticed this or not, but Lund Saddlery strap goods have been reviewed almost exclusively by folks currently eventing … time for a hunter/jumper voice to be heard, perhaps?

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It’s not just for eventers. I have been testing and using the Lund Snaffle Bridle (~$143 USD) and Laced Reins (~$75 USD) for a few months now. 

I have been using it so much, in fact, that my other two bridles needed conditioning from sitting around doing nothing and getting a little bit dried out from the up & down weather. I have even been jumping Eli in the Lund Snaffle–that’s right, no flash, still tackling fences. Whether Eli is just at that point in his training of maximum comfort and confidence with the bit or that he specifically feels most comfortable in the Lund bridle, I can’t really tack that down. He’s a fussy weirdo, but does seem very comfortable in the Lund bridle. Features like an Italian leather padded monocrown, padded noseband, and reinforced reins might have something to do with that–I am positive the monocrown definitely does.

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By now we are all familiar with other features characteristic of Lund Saddlery: white stitching, raised, padded and fancy stitched browbands and nosebands, raised and fancy stitched reins, sewn-on rein stops (thankfully!) and stainless steel hardware. While I’ll most likely not set foot in the hunter ring, I think the finishing touches on the Lund Snaffle make it natural fit for hunters and equitation. And of course you can’t go in the hunter ring with the wrong reins, so Lund offers laced reins in different lengths to accommodate your horse’s size. Eli is a fairly typical off-track Thoroughbred conformationally, so of course I have the Cob-size Snaffle bridle and the O/S laced reins (ha). The bridle is also so well priced for the quality that I think it would make a great all-around bridle for many riders whether they compete or not.

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Both the bridle and reins are Sedgwick leather and will last a decade, perhaps more, but understandably breaking in can be a lengthy process for such durable leather. Especially with the laced reins, getting them soft, supple, yet still durable will take a little extra effort on your part. I want to share with you all the steps I took to break in the bridle and reins, and also darken the leather to the patina so prized in competition. To do this yourself, you’ll need Belvoir Leather Balsam and neatsfoot oil.

First, try on the bridle with the tags still on. If it doesn’t fit, DON’T oil it. Send it back and get a different size–I have more than once seen brand new bridles for sale secondhand because someone oiled before trying the bridle on their horse. Just thought I’d throw in this tip to save ya some grief.

Okay, now you know it fits–oil it before riding. No, definitely oil the bridle before you ride in it. You’ll run the risk of aging the leather well beyond its years otherwise.

Now that you’ve ridden in it and maybe even got it a bit sweaty, I am going to recommend something a little unorthodox. Don’t wipe it with glycerin soap. Oil it again with neatsfoot, and once the leather has absorbed the oil then condition it with the Belvoir. Do this every day you ride with the bridle for three weeks or so–longer if you only use it once or twice a week. The Sedgwick can take it. The Sedgwick WANTS it. The Belvoir conditioning will go a long way to darken the leather significantly. It darkened the Italian leather padding almost immediately. I have both early and current pictures of the bridle and reins in this post so you can see the difference.

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Truly, I hadn’t started wiping down the bridle with glycerin or any other kind of tack soap until I had had it for a while. I just oiled and conditioned it almost daily. I wanted to keep both the durability and the suppleness, and I achieved that. No, if you get your horse lathered, obviously you’d want to wipe that much sweat off. But otherwise, stick with the oil and conditioner to break in Sedgwick. (There are lots of ways to break in bridles–I just used this method because it’s my preference.)

I now have a hunter ring ready bridle. Please don’t tell Eli’s auntie/massage therapist that, because she’s trying to get me in the hunter ring.

Friday Fails *UPDATED*

Two things didn’t work out as expected at the show …

My PS of Sweden brow band kept sliding down on the left side, and something that looks like rust or other oxidation leached from the metal Ogilvy button insignia on the baby pad I bought specifically for shows. Thanks to orange-y staining, the pad is no longer in show condition. This has not happened to my other white baby pad with the metal insignia. I am tempted to spot clean it with diluted bleach, but I worry about damaging the material and bleach residue irritating Eli.

Minor malfunctions can be majorly aggravating!

Brow band issue:

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I think if I can get the brow band shoved up into place better, it won’t slip. The humidity wasn’t helping. My other PS of Sweden brow band doesn’t slip, though.

Ogilvy issue:

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The Ogilvy thing bothers me more than the brow band, primarily because I think the Ogilvy baby pads are the holy grail of baby pads. But if horse sweat causes a rust problem around the metal insignia? Ugh, come on, horses are going to sweat, that has to be a design consideration. I am going to try again, order a new show baby pad or maybe the profile pad instead, and hope the same thing doesn’t happen again. If it does, I will draw Ogilvy’s attention to the issue and go from there.

OGILVY UPDATE!!! (added at 10am Central DST 9/16/16)

I contacted Ogilvy this morning at the prompting of many people about the rust issue. I got an immediate response, explanation of a defect with the stud that has since been corrected, and assurance that my baby pad would be replaced. This, in my mind, is excellent customer service, and other companies could look to Ogilvy to know how to run a business the right way. Ogilvy already had my loyalty because of the quality and effectiveness of their products. After this experience, Ogilvy has cemented my devotion for life. Great company, great product, and great customer service!