August 6, 2014

Why Fix What Isn't Broken?

Because I am me and that is what I do.

Admittedly, Gem is doing awesome. She goes down the trail about 85-90% of the time on a loose rein and when I do need her to walk or halt she mostly responds to my voice command or just needs a slight pressure on the rein. Her spooks are annoying, but as long as I am prepared for the nice lateral reinvention of herself or the random slamming on the brakes I am fine. She isn't a bolty type of horse (well except for the time we ran across the speed boat at Clemson and she took off at a gallop down the trail and into the woods). She is more of a stop and spin type of gal. Most of my current trail issues center around her being behind my leg, lazy and sluggish when she isn't in the mood for a conditioning ride.

Would I put a newbie on her? No way. The poor person would get eaten alive on her. But after nearly 5 years together, I know her pretty darn well and she understands me.

In fact, she has been doing so well, I almost got her a hackamore to get rid of the bit altogether. I'm glad I didn't because I would have not survived Biltmore. Or if I did, I wouldn't have enjoyed it. This ride fell into that other 10-15% of the time. As did my first ride at the new barn.

The first 5 miles and then the last 5 miles were bad. She was willing and forward, yes. Listening, no? I spent those 10 total miles (more so the first 5 than the last) pulling on her mouth hard enough that my shoulders hurt and my soul was dying inside for her. But if I let up even a small amount, she would take advantage and speed up. I felt so bad for yanking on her and keeping such a tight rein because I know she hates the pressure in her mouth, but she just wasn't ready for me to give an inch.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about it and found this:

A Kimberwicke bit.

For the record, I am not a fan of being harsh in the slightest, I hate training gimmicks/aids and believe that training is the best foundation for everything. But I also believe in having the right tools for the job.

For those non horsey people reading or those unfamiliar with the Kimberwicke bit I can try to explain it. The mouthpiece can be of almost any style, this one just happens to be the closest to the current one I use. The two main differences are the rein location and the chain. From my tiny understanding if  you place the reins in the upper slot the bit acts pretty much like her current one with just some extra oomph from the chain. The tighter you attach the chain, the more harsh it becomes. The bottom rein slot adds leverage to the bit increasing the pressure you place on the reins and applying more in the mouth. Or something like that.

This bit, like any, can be harsh or mild depending on the user. The information I have read about it states that those who use it should have steady, calm and quiet hands which I am proud to say I do have. I do not rely on the bit for balance at all. See above regarding riding on a loose rein with minimal pressure.

What I am thinking of doing is using it at the start of a ride when she is all up in arms about being left out of the front running. I would use the top rein slot to begin with and place the chain loose enough that it would only come in contact when I pull harder on the reins. Like an emergency brake. Once we get into the vet area I could switch back to her normal, more mild,  bit since she should hopefully be calmed back down and sensible again.

Do I want to hurt her or use a harsh bit? Absolutely not. But I think that having a bit in her that would allow me to use light pressure for the most part with an e-brake when needed is a heck of a lot better than using a "mild" bit and cranking on her until my shoulder dislocates.

Plus it is only in the $30-40 range, so worth a shot. I'm thinking down the line to our first 50 and just don't want to hurt her early on when I could make life simpler with using a different bit.

I'm in no hurry to order it, so I am letting the idea roll around in my head a bit. I would like to get one (if I am going to) at least a month out to give it a good try before ride day. Which means I need to order it by the end of the month.


  1. When a bit has leverage, it means it distributes pressure to the horse's poll as well as the horse's mouth. Here's a great explanation: I use a kimberwick with my mare for the same reason you've stated you'd want it for Gem. Lily actually loves her kimberwick far more than she ever seemed to like snaffles. I think she just doesn't like the direct mouth pressure provided by snaffles. We ride on a loose rein or with very light pressure regardless of bit.

    Love your blog by the way. :)

    1. Saiph - thanks! The concept of leverage for some reason always seems to conjure up a lever and pulley system in my mind. Welcome to the blog too!!!

  2. FWIW I've tried several kimberwicks on Farley so minimize any time she would spend "rooting" downward on the bit at the beginning of a ride, especially when moving at speed downhill. Not that I couldn't do what needed to be done in my snaffle, however I noticed that any increased effort showed up as muscle fatigue near the end of a 100 and I couldn't ride as well, so the kimberwick became a tool to be able to accomplish the same thing with much less muscle and core work on my part.

    What I found was that any mouth piece that collapses renders the curb chain completely useless. When the curb chain is properly adjusted at rest, any pressure on the bit backwards will make the chain looser, and it either doesn't ever engage - which means the bit just twists in the mouth upwards without the chain ever stopping it. A chain tight enough to engage was a chain too tight for my comfort when cruising around on a loose rein.

    Farley is picky about her mouth pieces, so a straight/solid bar wouldn't work for us. What I ended up getting was a Myler Kimberwick which has a 3 piece mouth with some give - but "locks" like a striaght bar at a certain point, letting the chain engage.

    These bits are pricey, but I managed to find one used. I bought 2 or 3 cheaper kimberwicks prior ot it and neither of them did the trick and seemed to annoy Farley.

    Farley rarely pulls on me in the beginning of a ride any more, but I consider the bit an important bit in my "tool box" and wouldn't hesitate to put it on a horse I thought might help us have a more pleasant, less stressful ride that allowed me to ride better.

    1. Thanks Mel for the input. She really is a good mare these days, but the start of a ride can be tricky still. Around here controlled starts seem to be the norm, so waiting until everyone else is out of camp to start isn't much of an option and she really thinks its a good idea to run with the front runners. I don't agree with her. I will look into the Myler Kimberwicke before I buy one. She doesn't mind her full cheek snaffle at all, but now that I picture what you are saying about he chain not ever engaging it makes me wonder. I appreciate any and all input. I've been riding for 30 years now, but never had any official training so all these things are still new to me.