Just kidding, finding the right bit is more annoying than it is fun.
Here’s what we’re working with: I almost always ride Francis in a French link elevator with my reins on the second ring. He is very happy and soft in this bit, I can have gentle hands, he prefers the clarity of leverage over mouth pressure, overall it works really well for him. We like it and have no real need to switch it up.
Except, of course, that this bit is considered unconventional in the equitation and hunter rings. Which means that we HAVE to switch it up.
We’ve been using a plain pelham for the last year, a la this:
It’s been…fine. Frankie historically is not fussy about his bits and this is no exception. The only one he’s really shown a vague dislike for is a slow twist, so we keep the mouthpieces smooth now. I rode him in a plain full cheek snaffle like this one for the first 2 years I had him and it worked well enough.
So my hope was that the pelham would be similar to that, with a little bit of the leverage he seems to prefer. And again, it’s fine. No theatrics, nothing awful, just kinda dull and leaning. It’s a good thing those courses are less twisty turny than the jumper ring, because I feel like I have a much slower line of communication with this bit.
It’s not a big deal if I’m just popping in an equitation class now and then, but I do enjoy them and want to continue to give them a go with Francisco. So I decided that it’s time to find something better than “fine.” I want something actively good.
The first place I started was by testing the mouthpiece. I picked up a French link full cheek snaffle to see if this mouthpiece might fit more happily in his mouth, similar to his elevator.
I do like this bit a lot, especially on the flat. I don’t have the same brakes that I do in the elevator, but I have a surprising amount of adjustability and softness that I never had in a snaffle before. I think this is partially due to Frankie’s continuing education since we last tried the snaffle, but I also think that this mouthpiece is a little gentler and encourages some more softness for him. My only qualm is that I have to make any adjustments on course 4 strides out instead of 2 since it takes a bit longer to communicate – and let’s be honest, I’m not good enough to always know what I need to do a full 4 strides out. So a step in the right direction but not quite where I want it. (Side note – I’m having Frankie’s half-leaser use this bit with him. He’s easier to get to know in a snaffle and I always hesitate putting leverage in hands that I don’t know as well.)
The next one we decided to try was a shaped Mullen Happy Mouth pelham:
I know some horses love the single piece and some are not fans. So far Frankie seems to be a fan! He’s soft and forward into the bridle, and I have that little bit of leverage to help me communicate. He has such a dull mouth that it really doesn’t make much sense to use harsher mouthpieces, so backing that off to something softer for him makes sense to me. My trainer doesn’t absolutely love it, but this is what we’re tentatively using for now.
Of course, I then asked my trainer what she’s been using on him in her training rides, and she responded that she’s been using no noseband and this KK Ultra loose ring and he’s been very happy.
So I’m going to see if I can find this in a D to try out (loose ring is technically allowed I believe but is not The Look(TM) at the moment). Of course it’s a fancy expensive one, so I’m looking for a used one (please let me know if you have anything for me I will happily buy it off you!!). I keep my noseband pretty loose anyways, but hey maybe I’ll just take it off altogether for the jumper ring. Let his nose fly free in the breeze. I would really prefer to put him in a snaffle that he likes for the eq/derby rings – I think having a bit that looks stronger visually (like the pelham) sends a signal to the judge that he’s a stronger or heavier ride and that isn’t the case at all. So we’ll keep working on it to make sure he’s comfortable and can hear me.
Basically the verdict is that my horse likes a center piece to jangle, except when he likes a single piece. And he likes the clarity of a little leverage, except when he goes better in a snaffle.