Trying Out a New Bit
In the last two weeks I’ve only ridden three times, instead of six times. Car repairs, seeing my grandson, jury duty for my husband, just one thing after another interfering with my riding, plus I have been working with a new bit. Of course the universe does not cooperate perfectly when I want to try out a new bit, this is normal for me, at least it happened once before.
Since the horses I ride had been “voting” for the Mullen mouth snaffle, and then “voting” for a thinner mouthed and curvier Mullen mouth snaffle I was looking for alternatives and ran into the Pee Wee bit (http://www.peeweebits.com), a new type of Mullen mouth snaffle. At first I did not like the way it looked at all, the mouthpiece looked too thin, the little bars extending down from the side of the mouthpiece look odd, and why in the world was there a strap underneath? I also was not sure how the horses would react to the loose ring feature. I waffled for several months but the horses kept telling me SOMETHING was missing and could I please keep looking for something ideal. So I finally broke down and got the two smaller sized bits around a month ago and tried them on Mia and Bobby, since this bit is not “legal” for dressage of hunter classes I do not want to try it on Mick.
Mia was first. The Pee Wee bit is sort of finicky, it is made to work in the horse’s mouth when there are NO WRINKLES in the horse’s lips. For my first ride I could not get the bit in exactly the right place. I settled on having it on a little too tight, and Mia WAS NOT PLEASED at all. She started flinging her head again and suddenly diving her head down when I tried to keep contact though she was reasonably pleased with the bit on a loose rein, especially when she figured out that SHE could decide where she wanted the bit to sit on her tongue. I was not completely disappointed in my first ride with this new bit, Mia had discovered that she could “mouth” and “champ” on the bit, moving the mouthpiece around in her mouth wherever she wanted it, a really big change from how an egg-butt Mullen mouth bit just stays dead in the mouth. Watching her mouth the bit when I was on the ground I realized that the funny “chin strap” does serve a purpose, it prevents the mouthpiece from getting to a place where the horse could put its tongue over the bit when the horse moves the bit with its tongue when riding with loose reins. When there is contact with the reins the loose rings at the side allow the mouthpiece to act vertically down on the tongue and bars. Since there is so much curve in the mouthpiece the tongue does not get squashed, which is good since the horse cannot move the mouthpiece as much when the reins are keeping contact.
The next ride was less frustrating. I had forgotten to punch new holes in my bridle so I had to have one bit strap a hole longer than the other one, which meant the bridle was a little askew. Mia did not like having her bridle not centered properly, but she liked that the bit was now in the right place. There was a lot less head flinging when I took contact and she started to accept the bit, allowing me to keep contact for a short while before she asked for (instead of demanded) more rein. I started to have minor problems with straightness but I figured it might be because the bridle was off center. I found that I needed to be MUCH MORE AWARE of my hands to keep the bit properly centered in her mouth so that the side bars did not touch her lower jaw, when I rode properly centered she did much better.
Then I got out my leather punch and punched more holes in the bit straps. When I tacked up for my next ride I spent a few minutes making sure that the bit was just touching the corner of her mouth and that the bridle was properly centered. This made Mia much happier, she is a super-finicky mare who wants everything to be just right. She started responding to the new bit better, I got some turns on the hindquarters, a turn on the forehand, and backed her up gently. But something still was not right and I still had some minor problems keeping her straight. Mia was sooooo patient with me, she would “tell” me that something was not quite right, I would try to fix how my hands were working, she would improve a little bit and then she would “tell” me again that something was not right. We went back and forth between contact and loose reins while I tried to get my hands right for this bit.
When I got home and thought about my ride I realized that my usual wide hands would not work on this bit. I also realized that when I tried to get my hands closer together my riding crop would run into my thigh and affect that hand. Since I do not want to be using my spurs all the time it really helps to carry a crop while riding Mia, even though I only hit my own leg with it. So I finally remembered seeing pictures of people riding with the crop held differently, holding the handle of the crop in their hand with the stick part angled up and across the front of their body instead of hanging down to the side. I realized that this means I can’t use my crop like I normally do, I have to take that hand off the rein and rotate the crop so the end points downward and then hit my leg with it. I visualized riding Mia with the crop in the new position in preparation for my next ride, since I had never ridden with a crop this way I wanted to prepare myself ahead of time.
Mia’s fourth ride with the Pee Wee bit was much, much better. I put my crop in its new position and got my hands up in the proper place, just above her withers some six inches apart. Mia started reaching down for the bit properly all on her own, experimenting with picking up and then releasing contact. After a few minutes of experimenting Mia decided that everything was fine and picked up good, steady contact on her own. Good contact, nice contact, not too strong, not laying on the bit (somewhat of a problem with the regular Mullen mouth), nice and responsive to my hand aids, and striding forth full of confidence. YES!!!!! Using little tiny squeezes of my fingers I was even able to get a good “conversation” going between my fingers and her tongue with her reaching for the bit every time I relaxed my fingers. Then I got brave and tried it at the trot and Mia inverted immediately, it was hot and my hands were not as good as they should be. However with around four little squeeze and releases with my fingers she put her head down and got good contact. Pouring sweat I decided that would be the best I could do that day so I ended the ride very, very, very pleased!
Bobby and I have been experimenting with this bit too, with Bobby, of course, being his usual pesky pony self. The first ride I had the same problems that I had with Mia, Bobby did not like the bit being a little too loose, he did not like it being a bit too tight, and he did not like the bridle being off center. When I got the extra holes punched in my bit straps I finally got the bit to sit in just the right place, barely touching the corners of his mouth. At first Bobby was really mouthy with the bit, he continually moved the mouthpiece with his tongue on loose reins occasionally grinding the bit between his teeth, but willingly taking up contact. While I rode with my crop in its old, usual place, angled across my thigh, his crookedness got worse, he had the same objections that Mia did to my hands with this bit. Today I rode with my crop in the new position and he went a little better, he was more willing to keep even contact for a few strides before he went into his usual pretzel (head towards Shannon trying to run my leg into the fence), but today I was able to straighten him out (some) by gently squeezing and releasing the loose inside rein, with a lot of outside leg, of course! I also found out that with my crop’s new position I could easily move it so it was to the side of his neck (not touching) and Bobby straightened out for a step or two. Yeah, I have a new totally non-abusive aid to keep him off the arena fence!
Then I got Bobby to stand still. He stood there fussing with the bit when I decided to see what he would do if I kept contact at the halt. I picked up contact, Bobby immediately stopped fussing with the bit, and he stood there peacefully and contentedly. No pawing, no grabbing at the reins to whirl inwards toward Shannon, just peacefully standing and moving the mouthpiece with his tongue just once or twice instead of constantly. I asked for the walk again and while he quickly got back into being a pretzel I had fewer problems getting him straight for a few steps (after making sure I was centered in the saddle and my hands were in the right place and even.) The rest of my ride was a repeat of our old problems but Bobby stopped trying to carry me off to Shannon after one determined “I’m going in and there is nothing you can do about it” episode which ended up with Bobby peacefully going where I wanted him to go. After that all the problems were minor. I am sure when I fix my problems everything will be better.
The Pee Wee bit needs a rider with an independent seat. Those downward pointing sidebars require the rider to keep the bit centered in the horse’s mouth while moving straight forward. I found myself using my legs and posture a lot more for guiding the horse. When the horses consented to keep contact they did not seem to mind the thinner mouthpiece at all, in fact Mia took stronger contact than she did with my Mullen mouth egg-butt snaffles. The horses seem to appreciate the extra room for their tongues, and they really, really, really like that they can somewhat control where the bit rests on their tongues.
I think that when I finally learn how to ride with this bit effectively I will be a lot better rider since I will have to correct several of my position/hand faults. I have just ordered the widest Pee Wee bit for this fall when I start riding Merlin again. I think he will like it better than his Dr. Bristol or JP single jointed full cheek snaffle, the gentlest bits I had been able to find that fit his 5 ¾ inch mouth. By then my hands and seat will be centered properly, and once I correct my problems maybe this bit can help me ride Merlin better.
Finally, a gentle and non-abusive bit that will force me to ride better. I’m happy.
Have a great ride!