I’m a Little Uncomfortable, Again

I’m never afraid to incite a little “agree to disagree” in my barn. The topic of equipment choices (bits, curb straps, etc.) has come up and my old school, follow the rules mentality is kicking in. So I did some research to settle my ruffling feathers. Trends in the horse world are common.  Bit styles come and go.  The art of quality communication seems to be at the heart of a popular choice, but should we just grab the “everyone is using it” bit?  I spent my week teaching what I LOVE to teach, but I admit it’s the hardest concept to learn for new riders.  CONNECTING.  To me, my bit choice is about connecting with my horse.

Kathy Slack chooses a soft, loose ring snaffle for her horse Quinn

I choose to ride with a very simple, soft snaffle bit whenever I put a ride on a horse. I do recognize that this choice is not for everyone and every horse. But here’s why I ride with a soft snaffle;  I believe that if a horse can run through my hands, barge away from me, and refuse to submit with a snaffle, then I need to get inside of the horse’s head, not just it’s mouth. If any of these behaviors are happening then I’ll adjust my training exercises, not increase the bit severity.  But, that’s me.  My daughter, Kelly, just last week said, “Mom, you know you’re still the strongest rider in the barn.” when we were discussing this topic. I rode a lot of horses this week to help my students see what could be done with a simple snaffle. In my barn, the three-ring, elevator/gag bit has become a go-to for the rider who may not be strong enough for their jumper horses who have a forward, strong disposition.  Here is where I become uncomfortable.

This is a typical three ring elevator bit that has leverage action.

I don’t suggest we put kids on strong horses without the help of technology.  I do suggest we learn and understand all of the designed mechanisms that prompted the style of bit we are using.  I grew up following the strict rules of horse equipment that say any leverage bit must have a curb strap. Plain and simple. No ifs, ands, or buts. Without the curb strap, the feel to the horse inside of their mouth was imperfect. The roof of the horse’s mouth was considered the most important place to connect and feel the proper timing of the release of pressure. Without a curb strap, the leverage bit moves about inside of the horse’s mouth in an imprecise fashion. But who am I to be the expert? A lot of people are using this bit without the curb strap. So, I went to work to find out why.

Kathy Slack describes her dislike of the three ring bit without a curb strap

I started by going to the images of the Global Champion riders. I was sure I would find many riders using something like the three ring bit/gag bit to control their very forward, athletic horses. I wanted to examine whether they had curb straps or not. I was surprised, I didn’t find any images of that bit in the quick search that I made. Hmmm…..I’m sure I may have missed something? What I did find was many other kinds of bits and bitless bridles. And, much to my liking I saw many riders in simple snaffles like my choice.

Kathy Slack loves the Global Champion riders with simple snaffles.

Ok, nothing conclusive there. Next, I went to George Morris. It is a well-known fact that I love his expertise. What I found was, in GM style he asked a rider to leave a clinic who was using a three-ring bit with only one rein. He feels that this type of bit should be used with the experienced hand holding 2 reins to distribute the leverage action. With just one rein on this bit, a rider could make a very harsh mistake, and we all make mistakes. I couldn’t find any reference to the use of a curb strap in the quick search of George’s material. Today I’m going to follow up with that question to him in an e-mail. Stay tuned for Mr. Morris’ answer!

I then did interviews with the people in my circle that have exposure to the top riders in the jumper world. The answer to my curb strap question is still elusive. There is a lot of discussion related to how the very top ring, attached to the cheek piece, can create downward poll pressure when the leverage is instituted. I get that. That concept is similar to the keepers attached to my full cheek snaffle. One response was “We don’t use them very much, but that bit does work on some of my horses and sometimes we use a curb strap.” Hmmm…still not the precise answer I am looking for.  But what about what is happening inside of the horse’s mouth? I’m afraid I’ll have to spend a lot of time being a little uncomfortable before I am better,  as the research is still out on this one.  Another one of my favorite George Morris sayings.  In the meantime, I am going to stick to perfecting the feel of my connection to the horse with my simple snaffle. Quinn and I have a long way to go, but we have come so far.

Kathy Slack and her horse Quinn, experience a tough time on a jumper round in their first horse show.

I love the feel of the progress we’re making!  I guess you could say that I’m stubbornly committed to my old fashioned ways, knowing that being stubborn isn’t always right. But, it feels good right now.

One of Kathy Slack’s Favorite Jump Photos