Briefly Back to the Bit Again

As the start of each Winter season draws close, I try to check off a few things on my riding wish list before the wicked weather arrives. One of those items was riding Shiloh in a bit again. At, I wrote about the reason I started riding him in a bitless bridle in 2018. I actually hadn’t ridden him in a bit yet in 2020. I was curious to see if his reaction to it would be any better.

While I don’t currently compete in anything, I would welcome the option to do some local stuff at some point. I used to enjoy taking my horses to fun shows, local shows and trail competitions like the now defunct ACTHA rides. Many breed and competitive organizations require a bit even at the lowest levels.

Of all the bits that Shiloh seemed unhappy about, he seemed the least unhappy in a loose ring 5 1/4 inch French link snaffle. So that is the bit I chose for a ride last week.

Shiloh had some dental work done earlier this year at the vet clinic. We’ve also made good progress in him accepting the contact in the bitless bridle this year (he used to not tolerate any rein contact between his face and my hands- bit or no bit- any pick up on the reins would result in head tossing). Seemed like a good time to go briefly back to the bit.

I’ll squash the suspense and say right off the bat that Shiloh DID ride better in the bit this year than previously. I was pleased to see that he reached for and experimented with some contact. He didn’t head toss or quickly snatch at the reins. Still, he was constantly chewing the bit and moving his jaw around in an exaggerated manner. Most notable was how loud his breathing became when we moved from walk to gait work.

I brought out a couple of ground poles to traverse periodically throughout the ride. I also put out my biggest tarp in a “table runner” type configuration. Shiloh did a nice job clearing the ground poles repeatedly and ran the tarp gauntlet multiple times. I love playing around with obstacles just for fun, but I also find that it helps me in helping him to lift and lengthen his back as well as helping him to think about articulating those leg joints. If he is flat, pacing or stumbling at any point, I know I need to ride differently to help him out.

Shiloh negotiated everything in the bit no differently than he does in the bitless getup. He even posed for what would turn out to be an antler photo, although neither of us realized at the time how the photo would appear 🙂

As the ride went on, he seemed to be experimenting more with the placement of his head and neck in a way that he doesn’t do in his bitless bridle. After about 20 minutes total riding time, I figured I had my answer about whether or not I should try to ride him more in the bit. I chose to end the ride there. Can you see in the shadow below that Shiloh is moving his jaw around?

Whatever it is about Shiloh’s natural anatomy or his injury (being kicked in the face as a foal), he remains uncomfortable carrying a bit IMO. Perhaps a different rider could help him along with this, but in the real world, I am the rider that he’s got. Also, I have been really pleased at the overall progress we have been making this year while riding exclusively in the bitless bridle. It is back to bitless riding for Mr. Shiloh and me.

Meanwhile, my other horse, Bear continues to do what any retired horse (or any horse) likes to do best. Eat, of course! I took this photo last week. The grass is still plentiful so the grazing muzzle stays on when he spends time outside of his paddock. Bear, now twenty-five years old, has EMS and PPID along with arthritis. Trying to maintain his health is an ongoing dance as we look towards Winter.

4 thoughts on “Briefly Back to the Bit Again

  1. If bitless works for him and you are not going to competitions where a bit is required then stick with the bitless. The loose ring French-link snaffle is a mild bit so should not have caused him any discomfort. He is just happier without a bit!

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    1. Thanks, Anne. I thought it would be worth a try to test out the bit again, but there is no reason he has to wear one. He is definitely happier without the bit.

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  2. It’s so exciting to hear about the progress you’ve been making with Shiloh! In the couple of months I have been following along, I can appreciate the diligence & patience you put into riding him!

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    1. Thanks, Reese. Shiloh came to me with plenty of riding history, but after spending five years at pasture, I found him to be out of physical shape and out of mental practice. I liked his personality from the get-go (and still do) and figured he would be a nice companion for Bear (which he is) but I wasn’t really sure if we were going to click undersaddle. It is an interesting journey as we continue to try to figure each other out!


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