Bit question

Taking my TB into the woods now every day (new barn, all-day turnout, NO INDOOR) I am learning more than I ever knew about trails and footing and outdoor tack. My goal is to keep him as fit as he has been (switched to new barn 3 months ago).

My question is a bit question: for our gallops, which both he and I enjoy tremendously, he has become hard to handle. He now anticipates them too much. He trots fine, but takes LEAPS into the canter out of sheer joy. I ride him in two bits: a rubber Mullen and a rubber double-broken snaffle. We need something stronger, but his mouth is sensitive. He has a tendency to throw his head up and grab the bit when he wants to go. I want to ride with little pressure on the reins but am forced to hold him back strongly.

Might just be the wonderful trails and fields we are on and nothing can be done since he simply adores to RUN. But I do hope there is a bit out there that can get his attention without making him cranky.

Ideas? Thanks!

I’d probably start with a running martingale first. If he prefers rubber bits maybe stick with that and try a short-shanked Pelham or 2 or 3 ring/continental/Dutch gag with two reins (start on the snaffle and middle ring if it’s a 3 ring). You could also try a Dr. Bristol or slow twist, and a Beval. It takes some experimenting-- it’s definitely an art and not a science. And also of course work on his manners and being responsive to your aids even when he’s excited.


Thanks so much! I appreciate all input and am up for experimenting, gently. This horse and I are well-matched; we’re both high-energy, and joyfully so. I will absolutely add a running martingale, yes, it’s overdue. And was thinking of trying a rubber pelham next. Never even thought of the other bits and am open to them. Hoping to keep up his energy and drive with just a touch more gentle stopping power to it, when he gets going.

I’ll echo Highflyer1’s suggestions. My horse sounds somewhat similar to yours - goes in a mild snaffle in the ring but I do bit up out on the trail (I’m familiar with those leaps lol). I played with most of those bits and ended up settling on a 2-ring and occasionally use a kimberwick, generally reserved for cold, blustery days! One additional thought: my trainer had me use a German Martingale on the trail for a few weeks when I first got him - I was resistant at first but it actually worked really well. It had no effect when my horse was behaving himself, but when he would throw his head up, grab the bit, and try to take off, I was able to bring him back.


Thanks!! Never used either the Kimberwicke nor the German Martingale, and will put them on the list. The German Martingale is like a miniature draw rein triangle that you control the extent of, without dealing with multiple reins? And when you say 2-ring you mean the 2-ring Dutch gag? And you use it with one rein?

Yes, the German Martingale comes with reins that have rings you can clip the ‘draw rein’ part onto. I liked it because I didn’t want to mess with two reins out on the trail, and you can set it to a consistent length. Just to clarify, in my mind it was a great short-term tool for us but not something I’d use regularly.

Yep, I have a 2-ring Dutch Gag (I think - they go by so many different names!) that I use with one rein. I ended up with the Verbindend Universal gag because I was using the Verbindend snaffle, but those were my splurge buys after I had experimented a lot - I first bought a cheap 3 ring Dutch gag to experiment with (using 2 reins) and decided I didn’t need the third ring. I did a lot of Facebook buying and selling as I was figuring out what worked for my guy!

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@Risuena so helpful, thanks! + goodnight

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My OTTB has also learned to suck the bit into his teeth and run. I also use a 2 ring gag/elevator with a double break and copper roller when doing cross country, trails and jumping in general. He LOVES his job.

Another suggestion is do you use a figure 8 or flash on your bridle? My guy likes to suck the bit into his teeth and show my he is a race horse. I don’t have his nose band overly tight (I can fit 2 fingers under the band at the bridge of his nose) but it does help reduce the number of times he has headed to the Derby since I made that change.


Just chiming in to say Lucinda Green almost always has clinic participants with strong horses add a running martingale to their tack. Having had an…”enthusiastic “ OTTB I can say it worked wonders without changing her KK bit.


Consider a noseband such as a kineton or Australian which puts pressure on the nose rather than mouth. Or more poll pressure such as with a hanging snaffle. And a running martingale.

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IMO, it doesn’t sound like a bit issue, it sounds like a training issue. I think you should work on bringing him up and then back down and then up again. I find it’s a super important skill to gallop, then relax, then gallop, then relax again.


That’s probably very true. Say more?

I agree on the training part, I used to condition my dressage horse and also a sales project by taking them out for gallops. It’s definitely possible to get them calm while taking them out for conditioning, both horses were really hot too. However the running martingale is always good to have just in case.


@scislandsprite and @equkelly: I agree that training responsiveness and plain obedience is crucial. So, specifically speaking, there are many wooded trails we go on that are perfect for walk and some trot. Then there are two big BIG open fields. When we get to them, he already knows that there is galloping in the very near future, even if I do 6m circles, full halts, and long-rein walks to „distract“ him. When I get to the cantering part, he reads my mind, skips over the trot I ask for and bounds forward. It wasn‘t like that three months ago but has gotten more vivacious as he feels more at home in the outdoors. What other exercises can I tie in to take his mind off the gallop and re-interest him in slower work? And to alternate between the two? He only gets hotter as he spends his energy.

But see I don’t agree that you need to work on obedience. If you go out and gallop, and then ask for a walk, I bet you’ll get a walk no problem. It might be an anxious and antsy walk, but you will get a walk so it’s not that your horse is being disobedient.

It sounds like your horse is just anxious because he’s anticipating that gallop. If it were me, and I went into a field and my horse was a fire breathing dragon at the walk, in anticipation of the gallop, I wouldn’t ask for a gallop. I might do a long trot, I might walk, I might even hop off and just hand graze the horse.

I would work on being able to go from a walk up to a trot and then back down to a relaxed walk on a loose rein. Then a walk up to a canter and down to a walk on a loose rein, THEN a walk up to a gallop then back down to a walk on a loose rein. Or even just down to a trot. The goal is you’re teaching the horse to relax on trail rides and not get anxious. I find that the easiest way to do that is to make trail rides relaxing and stress free for the horse too.


There is no outright disobedience in our routine. But the transitions in and out of the canter have gotten heated, and I have tried mixing things up to prevent anticipation. Rather than anxious I would describe him as confident and hugely enthusiastic. When I ask for transitions from long trot to canter and from canter back to trot and walk he gets strong on the bit to the point of my feeling I have to put a lot of pressure in the reins to bring him back, more than I like to. Which is where the bit question came in. Hand-grazing is a neat idea that I haven‘t tried, since he has a bit in his mouth, but I do dismount and handwalk him sometimes, just for fun. On the big fields is where the help is needed. When we do gallop I do allow him to go all out - not every day but every other day or so - and I think he just never ever had that in his life before.

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Right but that’s what I’m saying, getting excited/ heated/ anxious/ isn’t being disobedient. He’s not responding because he’s excited/ anxious/ heated NOT because he’s being disobedient.

This right here is what you need to work on then before there’s any galloping. If you can’t come down from a canter relaxed, you definitely won’t come down from a gallop relaxed either.

I see what you’re saying about the bit and obviously you need to be able to have breaks, but if you have relaxation you’ll get breaks. If you bit up, you’ll just have breaks but no relaxation. Does that make sense?


Oh thanks for responding so soon! I was still giving it another read and edit. Yes, I don‘t want to use stronger bits. This specific horse loves to gallop, is even discovering himself anew, and we always add long-rein interludes that are relaxing. It‘s just that schooling him ahead of the canter and gallop with minimal/light rein use has been more challenging. And once he canters he doubles in energy, which I like and encourage. I just need to be able to keep his attention a wee bit more. Martingale is next, and then… we‘ll go from there. Maybe: no gallops for a week or two just to rewire his brain a bit?


Have you thought of trying a double bridle?

The horses I ride are so much more responsive to the bridle when they have two bits in their mouths. I can keep my contact very light with the bradoon rein and I leave the curb rein slightly sagging. I have not had any problems with the desire to go forward, but I was not expecting any such problems since I only use the curb rein occasionally, just tweaking my little finger on a sagging rein, and the horse says OK. My curb bit is a Mullen Mouth, the proper width for their mouths, with the mouthpiece vertically just above the curb groove, and the horses I ride have not protested the double bridle at all.

My riding teachers say that they have not seen the horses go behind the vertical or act in any way like they minded having two bits in their mouths. Even though I have hand problems from my MS the horses went better in the double bridle than with the most gentle snaffle bit I could find.

The one horse that I expected to hate, hate, hate the double bridle did not mind it at all, he listened better to me, obeyed me better, and was more “cheerful” that usual when I used the double instead of just a snaffle. This horse had the thickest throatlatch I had ever seen on a 14 hand horse, he was built to resist all bits successfully, but when he tried to resist my rein aids with the snaffle rein I would gently tweak the sagging curb reins and he quit arguing with me.

I never got such good results with a Pelham.


I would say I think you just need to re-wire to be able to come down mentally. In the wild, they can go from being half asleep to a full out gallop if there’s a lion coming to eat them right? But once their adrenaline is going it’s way harder to relax again because from an evolutionary perspective, if theres a lion, they don’t want to relax and let their guard down again.

That’s why if it were me, I would shift away from looking for responsiveness and shift toward looking for relaxation. Warwick Schiller’s YouTube channel has a lot of stuff I really like about teaching a horse to relax.