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Bits And A Horse’s Development

Bits and Their Importance in the Development of a Young Horse

Submitted by member: Dale

I am riding a 4-year-old warm blood work horse cross. The previous trainer used a 3 part snaffle, short gag bit. The owner asked me to get on the horse to evaluate her. When I got on her, she knew nothing about going round and is pulling herself along on her front end. I found her very down hill. This mare is very responsive to your leg. I found her to have no rhythm and was unable to pull her to gather to travel in a straight line. She did seem to understand the gag bit, and I need to say I prefer a snaffle whenever possible. So after riding her, I changed the gag out to a hollow mouth snaffle, pretty thick. In my opinion, the horse rode completely different, had a light foam on her lips and a lot of issues seemed to disappear. She appeared to be easier to control and was much easier to track a straight line; the falling to the right and left was less prevalent. The horse doesn’t seem to know much about the bridle and will not release her jaw at this point. I am being told by the previous trainer the I am wrong and he sent me an article from titled Shut your mouth! How bit thickness impacts performance. It says on a young horse a hollow mouth is the wrong choice. I am looking for additional information

Answer by Natasha

If I understand correctly, it sounds like when you changed the bit from a gag to a thick snaffle that the young horse responded well and began to be more willing to accept your aids and carry herself.

In my opinion, the point should be that every horse is different, and what a textbook says about a bit fit may not apply in every circumstance. I believe more weight should be placed on the horse’s behavior and reaction to a bridle/bit than what an article or text says to do.

My reaction is to think that the previous rider was using the gag to achieve a roundness in the young horse’s neck and frame without first addressing the horse’s natural ability to carry itself, go straight, and have a foundational understanding of balance, rhythm, and connection. So, in that sense, the gag was artificially creating a frame yet the young horse was missing foundational elements in self-carriage and connection. Putting a thick snaffle on the horse may have given it a willingness to go to true connection, therefore allowing the horse to start to use herself and come from behind up to your hand, to connection and stability in tempo. I believe that teaching the young horse self-carriage, balance, rhythm, connection and throughness should come before the desire to put the horse’s neck in an artificial round shape. The shape of the neck is a result of these foundational elements.

Strong bits can certainly disguise the lack of such elements, but I believe that your decision to put a thick snaffle in the young horse provided it with the comfort to accept your hand and the bit. The acceptance of such is key in the training and development of a young horse. So, I believe that you made a wise decision in order to evaluate the young horse and where she is at in her understanding of fundamental concepts.

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Natasha Traurig Ferrara

Raised in the barn, Natasha Traurig Ferrara developed her riding career under the tutelage of her parents, Christine and Bernie Traurig, establishing an esteemed foundation in horsemanship at a very young age. At the age of 18, Natasha claimed her “professional” status and continued her education and career under the direction of prominent riders like Mandy Porter, Simon Nizri, and Michelle Parker, and running the sales and development of horses for Neil Jones Equestrian. She now operates Traurig Tradition Inc., specializing in the development and training of young horses to Grand Prix Show Jumpers, and is based in Parker, Colorado.

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