Bit concerns with Jumping?

Hi everyone.

A few weeks ago I began leasing a horse who is pretty much a retired showjumper. While no longer in the show ring, he is still a very athletic and extremely good sport horse for his old age. I’m not competing at the moment and I am currently on the quest to buy a horse in another year or so, so this is a perfect medium for me.

Anyway, one of the benefits with this lease is I am completely independent of the owner’s input. It’s practically a full lease without the hefty price tag. This has given me a great avenue for learning about horse ownership and basic training.

Part of my current fascination is with bits. I have just transitioned from an extremely high-end hunter/jumper show barn to a rather do-it-yourself ramshackle farm that lacks the glitz and glamor of my last stable. The nice thing about this is everyone is extremely relaxed and uses “humane” treatment in the sense that most horses on the property are not bitted up as severely as the show barn’s were.

This has led me to a quest to “de-bit” the horse i am riding, if you will. I’ve done extensive amounts of research, reading posts here and elsewhere, watching youtube videos and learning everything I can about bits so I can make my own educated decision.

When I began with him (i’m also taking lessons), he was categorized as “extremely strong” and was in a low-ported pelham with rein converters. Unfortunately, since his owner has another horse she is now using, his tack is very dirty and disgusting–and his bit has never been cleaned and had black gunk and whatnot on it. The people at the farm say he’s been in this bit nearly his whole life. The first time I rode him in it, it did not work as far as slowing him down from the jumps goes.

Because, apparently, he’s taken off with both other girls who lease him, our trainer suggested we take a step up from the pelham and use a dutch gag. Having done tremendous amounts of research on the dutch gag and deciding it was something I needed, I bought one and tried it out. Maybe i’m not using it correctly (i’m riding mostly on the snaffle rein with 2 reins), but the gag is not helping me stop. My stopping expectations are having the horse stop on the lightest amount of rein pressure possible, and even with the gag rein, i still have to pull pretty darn hard (and this is working on the flat).

So I did more research, and learned that the horse has probably been yanked around his whole life and is therefore “hard mouthed” because he’s running right through every bit we try. I also envy people who can jump their horses without issues with a simple loose-ring snaffle, and so my new goal for 2016 is to be able to do a course with him using a snaffle bit.

Here is where my story begins. The last time i downgraded a horse from a leverage pelham to a snaffle i was, in fact, thrown from the saddle (BUT it turned out there were problems with the fact that the horse needed hock injections AND had a sore back). Regardless, the horse bit the snaffle and bolted mindlessly, finally flinging me HARD off his back before galloping madly around the ring. And thus I learned why that horse needed a pelham.

Anyway, I tried out the loose ring sweet iron bit I had in my trunk on my lease horse two days ago, and he went around BRILLIANTLY. It wasn’t perfect, but it was so much easier to maneuver than using the 2-rein gag. Yesterday, I tried the bit again, testing my luck and did 2’6 vertical to a wall line. He jumped it well, but it felt odd because at the wall he really picked himself up and hunched over pretty bad, which felt like we were jumping 3’. I thought nothing of it really, but trying to line ourselves up for more jumps was very hard (he kept anticipating and trying to swerve to the jump expecting that’s what we were doing), and so I did a bit more flatwork.

I decided to, last minute, do a line which was a 2 stride to i think a 6 stride in reverse. I don’t know if that’s what caused the steeplechase gallop or if it was me accidentally poking him with my spurs, but they were only 2’3 and i thought i’d be ok. Well, after the first jump, the horse TOOK OFF at speeds i’d never seen and pretty much grew wings before leaping like a deer over this line. My helmet fell over my eyes and i felt myself starting to fall off, and so i aborted and hit the ground going, probably, at least 30 miles an hour.

What was more ironic is the entire time I was hacking I was talking to my friend, who was riding next to me, how the footing looked soft enough to fall on. xD Now, the horse may have understood English… makes me wonder.

Anyway, like the last time this happened, my lease ran wildly around the ring while I am lying there in shock. Someone grabbed him for me and brought him back over–luckily nothing was broken but… i would have expected that from a higher jump line, NOT a tiny little cavaletti sized line! I can’t figure out what went wrong, and I am kind of guessing I pushed my luck with the simple snaffle…

I hate to blame bits but I’m not sure what else to do? I would have tried the line again if I was not in so much pain after falling. Is there a way to determine whether or not there is a good reason he’s been in more severe bits? Is there any schooling exercises I can do to help him re-adjust to wearing the plain snaffle? My main concern is safety–if it’s always going to be a countdown to whenever the horse can take off with my bit, I don’t want to do the “less is more.” I want the least amount of bit that will keep me from being run away with, since extreme speeds are my biggest fear. He’s 28. He’s still in perfect shape and part of me thinks there’s no reason to train him, since he’s only got 2 more years. And then another part of me sees this as a great learning prospect.

Any thoughts? His bit arsenal at the moment is:

Loose-ring sweet iron snaffle (goes beautifully on the flat–second jumping attempt went terrible, first attempt went great).

Slow-twist loose ring copper (bought this as a training bit to help him learn what breaks mean)

Dutch Gag double-joined snaffle (his new jumping bit–not working as well or as quickly as I had hoped as far as breaks go)

Ported mouth pelham (has curb action–not sure if this horse NEEDS curb action [trainer suggested he did after i complained about the gag but all my research points to the gag being MORE SEVERE than this pelham]).

Like i said, my main concern is breaks. I want to be able to STOP without a fuss. That is the one thing this horse does not do well. If it’s a matter of schooling and keeping his loose ring i would love to learn some exercises. he gets jumped regularly.

The problem is you jumped in the bit WAY too early. You don’t have a horse who has ‘taken off’ school in a loose ring snaffle on the flat one day and think he is ready for fences on the next.

A bit is only as harsh as the hands that use it. My friend who barrel races is a beautiful rider not one of those turn and burn types. She rides in some harsh looking bits but she literally just lifts her hands and the horse stops. She never pulls, yanks or grabs rein. In my opinion that is less harsh than someone yanking the hell out of their horse with a loose ring fat snaffle.

I’m also a proponent in human safety first. My dressage horse who has some serious issues currently goes in a running and a non-dressage legal bit as he is coming back into work. The reason I give people when they see it is “because my safety.”

I completely agree with you. Thanks for getting back to me so fast! This is my first time bit experimenting. I had no idea that not waiting was the issue, but how you described it makes a lot of sense. I definitely have to pull really hard with this snaffle to get him to stop from a trot.

Would you suggest downgrading to the snaffle slowly? I know it’s a jump from a pelham/gag to a snaffle, or should I work on simple schooling excercises? The only reason I really even jumped him and pushed my luck was to see whether or not the snaffle would work for breaks over fences, but I don’t think this last attempt was a good enough judge. Nevertheless, I’m not going to work fences with him until I can get him more solid on the flat.

I am a jumper and unfortunately we do work on normal-sized fences in the mid 2’s once a week with my trainer, so there is some slight pressure to find something that works relatively well. Both bits haven’t been used for a long while–and ironically enough, the girl i was riding with told me I need to test the bit out for a month before making a final decision. I suppose i should have listened to her better :frowning:

I’d put him back in the bit he came with, for now (and clean it, of course). You’re probably not going to be able to really “fix” this horse and have him jump on a loopy rein like a hunter, given his age and previous experience, but obviously you need to reach a compromise. So start by not giving him an opening to take off. Ditch the lines for now and keep everything super small. Do lots of transitions and changes in bend on the flat. Trot in, jump the fence, ask for a halt. Pat the horse. Only jump when he’s absolutely focused on you, not looking for the fence. If you come in and he’s strong, make a circle. He doesn’t get to make a decision about when you’re going to jump.

It’s hard to tell from your OP whether this horse was a reasonably high level jumper (in which case part of your problem might be that he thinks 2’3 is a speedbump) or if he was just a badly ridden/ trained one (in which case he was probably gunned around and run at fences and thinks that’s how it should be.) But either way it sounds like you might be better off jumping him only in lessons for a while and just working on flatwork/ ground poles when you ride by yourself.

[QUOTE=thecolorcoal;8540228]I completely agree with you. Thanks for getting back to me so fast! This is my first time bit experimenting. I had no idea that not waiting was the issue, but how you described it makes a lot of sense. I definitely have to pull really hard with this snaffle to get him to stop from a trot.

Would you suggest downgrading to the snaffle slowly? I know it’s a jump from a pelham/gag to a snaffle, or should I work on simple schooling excercises? The only reason I really even jumped him and pushed my luck was to see whether or not the snaffle would work for breaks over fences, but I don’t think this last attempt was a good enough judge. Nevertheless, I’m not going to work fences with him until I can get him more solid on the flat.

I am a jumper and unfortunately we do work on normal-sized fences in the mid 2’s once a week with my trainer, so there is some slight pressure to find something that works relatively well. Both bits haven’t been used for a long while–and ironically enough, the girl i was riding with told me I need to test the bit out for a month before making a final decision. I suppose i should have listened to her better :([/QUOTE]

I am not a trainer nor do I play one on TV you’re going to have to find someone else for better advice as far as that goes. I simply made observations and reached my conclusion by reading your post.

Another observation, you do realize that your lessons do not always have to be over fences right? Any ‘jumping’ trainer worth their salt should know how to teach your on the flat as well. Why not work on ground poles for a while until you feel like your confident in yourself and your horses ability to stop.

@highflyer: as far as i am aware (not sure how “true” this is), he did 4’ with his old owner when they lived in San Diego showing the A circuit. I was surprised that they suggested bitting him up instead of just working on slowing him down. I’m not sure whether it’s the horse or the riders that is causing this issue. It seems this group of people (like most of the hunter/jumper show trainers and owners i meet) prefer getting a stronger bit because there is a time crunch from one show to another. That’s how I have always been taught but now that it’s time for me to think for myself and do some research, I’m learning other ways.

Those are some great suggestions. I chose to jump him on my own because I am getting over some severe confidence issues and thought working out the jumps by myself would help, but since most of our focus with my riding is jumping and not flat, I think flatting by myself and maybe working on some dressage-y type stuff is what we need to focus on.

@justmyluck: I know… we only jump for maybe 15 minutes out of the 60 minute lesson, though! most of what we do is flat, but when we do jump i’m expected to be able to do the advanced stuff i’ve always been able to, even with my most recent detrimental falls and bad experiences. I think my trainer is trying to force me past my fears, which is why I even jumped him on my own in the first place.

OP, to be honest it sounds as if you are very sincere and motivated but in over your head where training and bitting are concerned. I agree with Justmyluck that the place to address your control issues is on the flat with a trainer who can help you “install” a reliable half halt in your and the horse’s repertoires.

I also wonder why you are riding with spurs when it seems you don’t have solid-enough leg position to avoid “accidentally poking him with my spurs.” I know it may seem at first glance to be a bummer BUT you have the opportunity here to learn much more about proper training and riding by NOT jumping this horse right now than by jumping him in any bit you choose.

I urge you to find a trainer with very strong flatwork skills and/or to talk to your current trainer about changing your short-term goals. All the top horsemen will tell you that good jumping comes from solid flatwork.

Good luck!

huntin’ pony: this is true. This is my very first experience with a more grass-roots attempt, as all my past riding experiences (at the last barn) have been on pushbutton ponies where the skills and expertise were handed to you on a silver platter. It was my first day riding with spurs on this horse, and I only did so because i saw (hahaha…) his other rider using them. I have a very tight lower leg on the flat but it tends to get floppy and i forget about it when I jump, which is why I never wear spurs when I am jumping… even though i did for that line (ONLY because it was so low and there was not an inch in my mind that even considered danger). The spurs help push him into the corners when my seat and normal leg strength don’t work. I’ll use a crop from now on since obviously these trial runs are not working haha!

And yes, I am consciously aware of my horse at all times. I don’t want to hurt him, and I don’t want him to be afraid. we are still learning about each other and it seems I came in with an expectation that could not be met, and I am actually happy about this! Because this means that i have some genuine things to work on and I am no longer riding a horse that will do everything for me.

You have two options. You can either put him back in the pelham or similar bit and continue on with life or you can spend the next 2 years trying to de-bit him.

I don’t think this is a realistic expectation for a hot show jumper who has been going this way for nearly 3 decades. Sure, ideally all horse would have perfect effortless breaks (and accelerator), but often times a strong horse requires a strong ride.

If you’re committed to this plain snaffle journey, you’ll need to give up any jumping for a while. First, only ride on the flat for a long time. Lots and lots and lots of transitions (between and within gaits). Once you have complete control, trot and canter a single pole forever until he canters it like a normal canter stride. Sometimes halt after, sometimes continue around the ring. Then baby crossrails/verticals: trot, jump, halt, repeat. For weeks/months. Add placing poles if necessary. Once he’s listening perfectly, you can alternate halts with continuing around the arena. Then canter, jump, halt. Once those halts are easy, continue around the ring. Then do patterns that just happen to have single jumps in them, focusing on transitions and circles and only approaching a single fence when he’s relaxed and responsive. Don’t even think about a line or combination.

If you really can’t stop this horse on the flat in your trainer’s recommended bits, and speeds are your biggest fear, you may just be over-horsed. I know that sucks to hear.

Finally, ask your trainer about a hackamore. They’re not for everyone, so I wouldn’t try it without trainer consent and supervision.

Flatwork, patience, discipline, appropriate instruction/supervision, be safe.

@Wonders-12: I like this plan. Anything to get me learning. I am in no rush to compete or prove my worth to anyone. I ride horses because I love them and it is fun for me, but having ridden at a high-pressure barn for years has definitely made me a little… gutsy in just throwing myself over obstacles because of trainer-pressure to perform (and guilt if i did it badly). This is how I’ve always been taught, and time to myself with a new horse who I am still learning about gives me a chance to explore and learn. I’m relying on his 28 years of experience to help me. Because i, apparently, don’t have the finesse for hunters, I’m being trained as a jumper now where “self care” isn’t as important and doing everything quick, quick, quick, is the standard (which is why there’s this rush to find a better, stronger bit). It’s taking me some time to adjust from a slow, ploddy cantering horse to a hot speed demon. But I HAVE to adjust, and this is what I realize. I’m 22 and so I’m still pretty moldable.

I’ve heard about the hackamore and i will ask, but the “bitlessness” is my biggest concern. If it’s use a hackamore/bitless bridle to help him sort of forget what a bit feels like and just use it when i am flatting, that might not be a bad idea. Like i said, I am in this to learn. This is a wonderful experience from me to see the difference between level 2 to level 5 is.

also, thanks for your help everyone! I haven’t been able to talk about this to anyone at the barn because they tend to get over-judgy really quickly and don’t want to have a serious, considerate discussion about my struggles.

This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. I would strongly suggest you move to a barn with competent trainers. Some of the things you’ve said have me really concerned for your safety (i.e. “I’m being trained as a jumper now where ‘self care’ isn’t as important and doing everything quick, quick, quick is the standard”).

I’d be consulting with the horse’s owner, not the trainer who apparently has never been able to figure out a way to ride this horse that doesn’t involve taking off. A strong horse doesn’t mean it’s been “yanked around” its entire life - hotter jumpers can get very strong. And some of them can never go in a really simple bit like a snaffle, and that’s OKAY. But if the owner competed this horse up to 1.20m without dying, s/he must have had some system figured out that worked for this horse.

But seriously, please work with more qualified help on this horse, I’m really concerned that you are going to get hurt. Sorry for being blunt.

Thats ok, thank you for your honesty! I thought everything I’ve experienced was the standard, but I really appreciate your concern. I suppose i’ve been riding at strange barns then, haha!

I’m putting him back in the pelham today. My hips luckily are feeling better, despite still ouchy.

Are there trainers at your current barn?

This really just doesn’t sound like a situation that you have the tools to handle, and if your trainer(?) is telling you that jumpers are just about going fast, then trainer doesn’t have the tools either.

Again, highly recommend that you contact the horse’s owner and discuss what they did with this horse.

OHP I LIED. owner just told me the horse was in the DUTCH GAG most of his life. I think he went to a pelham when he retired from showing. Don’t know if this makes a difference.

The trainer I use does come down to my current barn. As far as I am aware she also showed jumpers when she was younger. She’s the mother of one of the top trainers at my old barn. She also trains the owner and the two girls who lease the horse besides me. I moved to this barn with her from my old barn.

I will definitely talk to the owner. I see her around very often. I’d be curious to know how she rode him in his youth (she’s had him since he was a foal).

Another thing to consider is that if you’re used to slow, plodding horses, you might be finding the correct canter for this horse to feel too fast when it isn’t. If you panic and pull and the horse feels that you aren’t giving him enough impulsion to get to the jumps (though at 2’ he should be able to walk over, he might still be in the habit of approaching jumps with a certain minimum impulsion), he might feel that he needs to compensate for your over-slowing aids by taking over and going even faster.

As others have said, for your own safety you need to focus on your flatwork for now and save the jumping for lessons with a good coach.

I’m seeing multiple issues here. First off, Pelhams and gags are hardly severe bits. They are pretty standard and a lot of horses go well in them. You are also trying to fix an older horse with tons of mileage, with what sounds like limited experience (and guidance, except for perhaps a few goody goody feel goods who think anything other than a loose ring is cruel).

Secondly, it sounds like you are riding an experienced, bold horse used to big courses, and want him to be a quiet little 2’6" packer AND have him go in a snaffle. A lot of horses, particularly bold jumper types used to big courses and galloping on, just don’t settle into that roll, which is why you may be finding him hard to rate (a lot of these types need a sizeable fence to help back them off and rate them).

You’ve gotten some good advice. I would go back to a Pelham or a gag, do lots of flatwork with LOTS of transitions (between gaits and within them), and seek out good help to learn how to ride him best. Gymnastics are your friend. Do lots of them and stay away from lots of singles and simple lines. And, honestly, I would forget about the snaffle, except for maybe flatwork. If he’s been happy and successful all his life in a Pelham or gag or whatever it was, why change it now.

Some upper level jumpers go in a snaffle. we have one. The rest go in gags or pelhams or whatever is deemed necessary. By professional experienced show jumpers. A snaffle on a seasoned jumper is a rarity and rarely a reflection of the rider or poor training. that said, you need a competent trainer to teach you to ride this horse, from the sounds of it you are not training or retraining. Speak extensively with the owner and determine whether finding a qualified trainer or returning the horse are the better option.

Last year we had another grand prix rider, a younger girl, riding my rider’s top horse while he was out of the country. She only rode three times. Because she wasn’t being asked to train the horse, who was winning grand prixs. In a snaffle. She viewed her difficulty on the horse as a training issue, but what it really was was a failed learning opportunity for her.

[QUOTE=thecolorcoal;8540228]
I am a jumper and unfortunately we do work on normal-sized fences in the mid 2’s once a week with my trainer, so there is some slight pressure to find something that works relatively well. Both bits haven’t been used for a long while–and ironically enough, the girl i was riding with told me I need to test the bit out for a month before making a final decision. I suppose i should have listened to her better :([/QUOTE]

Why pressure? Experiment on the flat and continue using the other bridle for jumping.

I would start by putting two reins on the pelham. Then you can use the snaffle rein as your primary rein and have the curb for backup. Ride with two reins on the flat for many days so you become comfortable handling two sets of reins before trying to jump.

Learn to time your half halts in the canter - half halting when his shoulders come up will help to balance and contain his stride. I can give you detailed how to instructions for this if you want them. This will eventually help you halt him as well.