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Choosing Tack to Flat In

I have been working with an OTTB for a while and she is doing superb but I am having trouble choosing the right tack to flat in. My trainer is stumped because she is very strong but very sensitive. I jump her in a hackamore but my trainer would like me to flat her in a real bit. I don’t like doing everyday training anything other than a snaffle but she runs through my hands in just a regular cavesson noseband. I have tried a figure 8 and I had great stopping power but I couldn’t do anything productive as she was so busy flipping her head around. We put her in a running martingale and she started rearing because of the downwards pressure. We do lots of ground work on bit work, plus good lunging supervised by a trainer. Any ideas for something else we could try? She doesn’t have the greatest topline and even with my very experienced trainer will not accept contact? Is this just something I have to deal with a work through or am I doing something wrong? Thanks!

When were her teeth last done?

Have you had her checked for TMJ issues?

If those two check out, then try different bits. If you have a double jointed, try a single jointed. Try thinner. Try thicker. Try different metals. Try the different rubber/plastic/leather options. She may be one who prefers some sort of straight bar bit, no matter how much you want to use a snaffle.

In principle, every horse should go in a snaffle. In reality, I am a huge fan of using the bit that makes the horse happy.

I love an expression I heard from Greg Best: bit to the horse’s sensitivity level, not their strength level.

If the horse is not accepting contact, I would hazard a guess your horse is uncomfortable in the snaffle you’ve chosen, there are some building blocks missing, or the horse’s teeth need to be done (or any combination thereof). Assuming the teeth are fine, if you are using a “normal” single-jointed snaffle (without a curved mouthpiece like the JP Korsteel bits have), I would try either a Mullen mouth snaffle or a double-jointed snaffle and go back to the basics.

Yes she had her teeth done in March and I have tried double jointed, copper, copper alloy, and fixed snaffles. I will try the mullen mouth snaffle today as I think my trainer has one.

I agree with Halt Near X, but another option would be to use both a snaffle and a hackamore at the same time with two pairs of reins; use the hackamore as little as possible to back up the snaffle if she isn’t listening. I’d also try her in a waterford, she might like that better? A nathe bit might also work for her. Lastly, some horses don’t like the feeling of “moving” bits so something odd like a mullen mouth boucher which won’t move almost at all in her mouth might be more agreeable, although she might not like the (very minimal) leverage so be extremely caution with the rearing thing. I’m not a trainer, YMMV, just my thoughts for a horse like her. Good luck!

For some sensitive OTTBs, I like a little bit of leverage when they are in the how do I carry myself and actually do a 3 beat canter phase. Like a rubber pelham or a 2 ring happy mouth gag (with 2 reins). I would not necessarily use these every day either. Just a little tune up then try a regular snaffle with the same mouthpiece. Use a regular cavesson and a standing martingale if necessary. Finding the right thickness and texture of bit plus using a little bit of leverage helps with the ones that lean with mouth open without you having to use the figure 8 or a flash. I’ve found that more often than not OTTBs like a bit of a thicker bit like the rubber, happy mouth, (both either jointed or mullen) or a fat hollow mouth eggbutt. Be sure if you go with a rubber mouth that it’s got something metal to it…depending on how “busy” the horse is, you may chew through a couple bits at first.

My fussy mouthed TB mare goes well in the double-jointed Sprenger bits. She also doesn’t mind a Waterford. Like other posters have suggested, you’re just going to have to keep trying bits until you figure out something she likes. Also, switching to a Micklem bridle made a difference for my girl.

As far as the actual riding goes, I’ve found with OTTB’s you really need to exaggerate the reward. The second she lowers her head (even a fraction of an inch) or stops fussing/head flipping give her a big release. As soon as she throws her head up again, take back the contact and apply more leg. Repeat until she gets it. You’re basically working like a set of human side reins.

I currently have a very sensitive OTTB that has been in training since September. I originally started him in a three piece Sprenger snaffle, then we moved him to a single joint slow twist as he was strong jumping, but he would still fuss with his mouth and throw his head a bit. Within the last few weeks we moved him into a solid mouth with a bit of a port and he loves it! He also does better with a flash or figure 8, so I think we really just needed the least movement possible in his mouth.

I third the mullen mouth.

My now retired jumper went around courses in a hackamore combo. He flatted in a mullen mouth and figure 8. Those were his happy bits.

I really like a loosering Waterford for this type of horse. A pretty mild bit but doesn’t provide a surface that the horse can lean on.