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Bit for a tricky mare

Hoping for some bit recommendations for my horse. It seems I might be looking for a unicorn bit… I need something to encourage softness but I still need control as our current issue at the canter is that she will grab the bit and build, and in certain bits she will ignore a half-halt and I can’t get her back easily. She tends to canter with her mouth wide open if I use too much hand (physical causes ruled out) and the more I pull the more unhappy her mouth gets. Leverage bits make her curl behind the bit but they have been the most useful in preventing the building canter. She’s a big mare so she gets strong and sometimes heavy. I’m just a young amateur so I’m working on being soft with my own hand and not pulling on her face but sometimes I feel like if I don’t pull she’ll build to the point of a freight train. I do take lessons, but I currently don’t have a professional doing training rides consistently to help me. It’s pretty cold up north and she doesn’t get consistent turnout so she’s also a little fresh.

What we have tried:
-2 ring copper lozenge- Great, pretty respectful and doesn’t take over in it but she curls behind the bit.
-Waterford D ring- Gets a little strong and hard to get back. Not always enough.
-Peter Pletcher magic bit- It was great in the warmer months but now I get less respect from my half-halts and she will take the bit and build at the canter.
-Hackamore- She tends to lean on my hand in it, but currently not a bridle I’m comfortable using in the cold winter weather.
-Leather covered cheek elevator- She was pretty soft and nice in this the first ride but our other rides she started to get too light and hollow, and then became very offended by half-halts.
-Full cheek copper slow twist Dr. Bristol- Terrible. She was so strong, heavy, and I was unable to stop cantering.
-French link Pelham- It’s like she turns into a hot jumper. She just gets behind the bit and runs away.
-Rubber gag- It makes her carry her head and trick me into thinking she’s light. She’s not strong in it but she’s just avoiding working.

I know a bit isn’t going to be the magic fix to our problems, but I need to find something else to put in her mouth so we can have consistent and respectful rides while I work on my skills.

Have you tried riding in double reins in the 2 ring? Then you can engage the leverage only when you need help.
Sometimes I ride my strong jumper in a Snaffle and a hackamore so I can engage the hackamore only when necessary.

She also may need more strength training so she doesn’t have to build and lean on you. Walk to canter departures can be helpful for that.


What’s the mare’s current work schedule, age, fitness, etc? Is she green?

When she builds, what else do you do besides pulling? Do you support her with more leg, circle her to break the tension and give her face a break?

How long can she go successfully before resorting to freight-train mode?

I’ve had luck with a Tom Thumb rubber pelham where I primarily use the snaffle rein and leave the curb loose until I absolutely need it, then go back to just the snaffle. Then I can go back to a normal snaffle.

Sounds like there’s more than bit fit going on here if some bits are successful but then wane in effectiveness.


Also, how is the mare on the lunge line? Does she present the same in the canter?

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I have not tried that yet, but I definitely can. Thank you! I’ve been considering getting a hackabit bridle to try!

She’s 11, works roughly 5-6 days a week- jumps maybe one of those days. Most rides are 45 minutes of flat work. She is pretty fit but much prefers to pretend she’s working hard but not using herself so her hind end isn’t the strongest.

She’s horrible on the lunge and just tears around, so I don’t lunge her often as it’s quite unproductive.

I have started working on transitions and circles and changing up what we are doing when she starts to get strong.

Freight-train mode is pretty inconsistent. Some days it’s right from the first step of canter, other days it’s once we have started jumping, in the bits that seem to be the most successful it’s typically our second direction canter.

Sounds like she is unbalanced and unfit and basically can’t maintain a proper canter on a circle. Try longeing transitions trot canter then walk canter. Try working with lateral aids to get her hind end working. Maybe hold off jumping for a while. You can’t hold a horse up in front with any bit if they are falling on the forehand for some combo of conformation fitness and training.


I would not use a hackabit unless it’s a last resort. That’s the sort of bit I’d use if I had a confirmed very strong horse, and even then it’s one of those bits I’d probably reserve for shows. The problem with them is you have one option; bit, poll, and nose engagement all at once. There’s no way to engage just the mouth or just the poll.

It’s not a bad bit, it’s just not something I would ever plan on riding in day to day. Every person I know who uses one warms up and schools at home in a different bridle and bit. They then have the grooms switch to the hackabit before they do their jump warmup and go in for the classes.

The hackamore and Snaffle combo is great because you can warm up your whole ride in the Snaffle and then engage the hackamore only when necessary.

I personally would be working on getting your horse fit to self carry. Lots of walk to canter transitions. Try backing up at the walk before asking for your canter, it can help them to rebalance back onto their hocks. Leg yields at the walk trot and canter are good too.

A routine I use is this;

  • Get them walking nice and forward and using their back. Back sure their back is swinging and they are stepping under themselves.
  • Ask for a walk to canter departure. Make sure the departure is immediate; no trot steps.
  • Canter 6 strides.
  • Stop completely. Aim for as few trot steps in the stop as possible. A very strong and balanced horse should be able to have none.
  • walk your horse forward a few steps and then gently ask to have them back up a few steps.
  • walk forward until you get the nice swinging walk back.
  • leg yield left and right at the walk.
  • trot, leg yield left and right at the trot.
  • go back to the walk and get a good swinging walk again.
  • repeat the process.

This routine works their back and stifle/hock muscles.


Listen to your horse. It can’t say “I don’t know what to do!! I need to go as fast as possible to get over this! Help! Another corner and my legs can’t go that fast! Help! I’m loosing my balance! Sh!t you are yanking my mouth so I’m going to go faster and hope the bit goes away! OMG another jump! Oh, I’m uncomfortable but you just think I’m being difficult!”. OK, I can’t see you riding but that is the impression I have from your description.

I suggest you work on some basics. Lots and lots and lots of circles, different sizes, different directions, different gaits, to help both of you with balance and suppleness. Lots and lots in the cold weather. 45 minutes at a time. Look up some of the dressage exercises on line because they will help you.

Lots and lots of transitions, and I mean lots and lots, both between gaits (walk to trot, walk to canter, canter to walk etc) and within a gait (working, to collected to extended etc) to build up strength and, again, balance. You can not do too many transitions. Don’t just hang around the edge of the arena but use the centre, use the quarter markers, use the diagonals in all you transitions and circles.

Poles. Poles in lines to trot and to canter over. Poles in interesting patterns to allow both of you to play and use your brains. There are many helpful resources on line about pole work. It will help you horse to learn to carry itself, to work out where it’s feet are, to make it quicker with it’s feet, build muscles. It will help you with accuracy and with developing your eye. Oh, and another that is helpful with a rushing horse, two poles on the ground at about 6 canter strides. Ride over them until you are getting it right, then up the stride count to 7 or decrease it to 5 to build up the control and adjustability. If you get good at this, make it 8 or 4.

Half halt is not a yank on a rein. I find it one of the hardest things to teach because I have found it to be a rather personal thing, some things work for one rider but not another. However, the energy of the horse comes from their behind and we can either stop it with our body (e.g. seat, weight shift, breath) or we can try to finally stop that energy with a pull on their mouth. Sooner is best because the horse can then carry you and maintain their balance, particularly in front of a fence. I once asked how to stop a horse rushing and was told “Don’t let it happen” which, at the time, I felt was super unhelpful, but on thinking over the years, it is actually very good advice. If the horse is getting faster, stop, do something else, settle down and try again. If you know there is a corner where the horse spooks, prepare to ride a spook before that corner and stop it happening. If there is a jump where the horse always rushes, build up towards jumping it, prepare and set the horse up so it can manage that jump.

If you watch top event riders, they mainly control the speed of their horses not with a pull on the reins but with the position of their body: forward out of the saddle when bowling along then sitting up more as they approach the fence to slow and balance the horse before the jump. The half halt is body position and weight shift. Try playing around with how you can slow or stop your horse without pulling on the reins. It can take a bit of time as the horse is used to a pull to slow or stop but take the time: it can be very rewarding. Think slower and see how the horse responds. Take a deep breath in and release it gently and see how the horse responds. I personally find stopping a horse on a breath to be one of the magic moments in riding.


If she can’t canter softly and balanced on the lunge line or round pen, unfettered by any “equipment” of any sort (side reins, bitting rigs), it is unlikely that she can canter correctly while being ridden under saddle. I’d let her practice cantering without a rider first, find her own balance and carriage, and learn to control her own pace. When she can do that adequately without a rider, then I’d try riding again. If she can’t do this, get the vet and look for a physical issue. If you haven’t got a balanced and soft canter, how can she jump anything? It sounds like you have got ahead of yourself here.

When you tried the gag bit, did you have TWO reins on it? A gag rein AND a regular snaffle rein? Because that is how it works best. If you only had the one gag rein on it and no rein on the regular snaffle ring, every contact shifts the bit upwards onto the corners- and you don’t want that. You want that gag rein to ONLY come into play when she goes to “root” down and try to tow you, you don’t want it to come into play if she DOESNT go to tow. With the two reins, the gag bit acts like a “regular” snaffle, as long as she doesn’t try to tow. A gag used like this usually works pretty well with a horse who has learned to tow, and a rider who has learned to “pull” when the horse tows. You need to break the “vicious circle” of towing and pulling. With the gag with two reins, neither party pulls, everyone stays soft. If the horse goes to tow, the action of the bit automatically is shifted upwards as the bit turns in the horse’s mouth, applying pressure into the corners of the mouth rather than the bars, and raises the head. The rider does NOTHING different, just holds the reins as normal. The action of the bit as it shifts to contact the corners of the mouth rather than the bars, corrects the “towing” habit that the horse has acquired, without the rider actually being “involved” in doing anything. Then, everyone just stays soft with each other.

Good luck!


You very specifically say her hind end is not the strongest then ask about a bit to force her to balance on her back end as she tires. Right?

Your answer is there and not in any bit. Shes trying to tell you she does not know how to do it, physically can’t do it due to conformation issues or it hurts to do it. Or all of the above. Listen to her.

Couple of other thoughts, where are your hands when she lays on the forehand? Do you let her pull your hands down and braced against her on her neck? Be sure you lift hands to lift the forehand and don’t respond to her pull by pulling back- and that is very easy to do in a forward seat saddle without realizing it. Are you using full seat? Or is she pulling you down into the well?

Also found that rotating bits keeps them more focused and less prone to evasion. Often used a gag snaffle, some type of elevator mixed with several types of snaffles when schooling. Showed in a Mik Mar Comfort Snaffle (unjointed low port dee ring). Kept horse listening instead of trying to evade. Plus I actually enjoy flatwork, weird but very helpful.

What does she do when you jump her? Does she like the long spot better then getting tight? Does she sometimes swap leads a few strides out? These would be consistent with not coming from behind- its kind of a Dressage term but accurately describes what your mare is not doing.

Know you said no vetwork is called for but can we ask what her last hock x rays looked like and what her joint maintenance program is??? Do you have her foaling date on papers or passport if not she could be older then 11. Shes at an age when mileage starts to catch up with joint function. Maybe thats what she’s trying to tell you as well.


Thank you all for your help! I don’t always have somebody thoroughly explaining things to me and I definitely needed to hear that she’s not understanding/capable of what I’m asking. She is capable of having a nice working canter with a professional, but I can only get somebody on her once a month or so. I’m just not that strong or a good enough rider to communicate what I want. Hence why her hind end isn’t very strong. I’m just an amateur trying to learn how to get a horse to use themselves, but we are making progress. She had hocks injected at the beginning of the year, all other flexions were great. We are working on both of our strengths but I appreciate your tips and exercises! We did some of them today in the two ring with two reins and had a lovely ride!


If you ever ride in a pelham, try the Berris pelham and if you need more control, switch the curb rein to the top for a few minutes til she settles - works great IMO


I just googled this but out of curiosity. What’s up with the black cording on the sides?

If you are struggling with getting her to have a nice balanced canter, then I would focus on doing lots of trot to canter transitions, with your focus on the quality of the transition so that you get a good balanced canter to start. Hold that canter for a a couple of strides but the key is to transition back down with a quality downward transition before she begins to fall on the forehand, creating the leaning/pulling. Over time, you can add in more strides of canter as she gets stronger.

The key here is patience and repitition.


By it’s intention - You hook the reins to the cording.

In actuality it takes a bit that’s designed for two reins and allows it to be ridden with one. My opinion: I hate it. If you can’t ride with two reins, don’t use a bit designed for it. Using the rein converters dumbs the bit down, and never allows you to reward the horse with a snaffle ride when the situation allows. You’re always somewhere between a curb and a snaffle ride.

You can buy just the converters: https://stubbennorthamerica.com/product/bit-converter/

@Atlas_Shrugged I’m having a hard time understanding what you mean by “switch the curb rein to the top for a few minutes”. With the permanently attached converter, this bit is clearly designed to be ridden with it. There will be one rein, not two. Can you explain?

ETA: Why am I seeing so many photos of this bit without a curb strap/chain, and without chain hooks? Do people ride in leverage bits without a curb strap? I even strap a gag if I’m forced to ride in one - I don’t want the bit to be able to move that far “up and back” into the mouth…

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This does not appear to be designed to take a curb chain, look how long the shank is from mouthpiece to cheekpiece, chain would be way above where it would do any good leverage wise, almost right at the bottom of the horse’s cheek bone. Have to be really long to get from side to other side and around mostly bone.

This looks like a form of full cheek gag snaffle designed to add poll and corner of mouth pressure with a shank and rings for upper and lower reins to adjust the degree of that pressure, don’t understand why the converter here though. Either you want to control degree of pressure or not, converter takes that away soooo….whats the point of the design?

A Pelham is a shanked, broken or unbroken mouth curb bit with curb chain or strap under chin and two reins, one for leverage action curb, the top for milder, more directional action. Converter here negates the riders choice. If you only want one rein, buy a bit designed for one rein.

Disclaimer…some horses may like this bit, you never know. But I don’t get it with the converter and one rein.

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A correctly adjusted chain wouldn’t be near the cheekbone here. Regardless, I strongly dislike this bit, with the clear intention of the converter (you can’t even take it off without cutting the rope).

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@PennyPony425 I’ll ask just because I don’t see asked or answered above - when was the last time the dentist came out to look at her teeth?

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@findeight @endlessclimb Ok, I was wondering because I had never seen a paracord rein converter, especially sold with the bit. I’m not a fan of converters on a pelham because it cancels out the purpose of the bit. It’s not more bit for more bit’s sake.

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