Equipment to Enhance Adjustability - Expert advice on horse care and horse riding

Equipment to Enhance Adjustability

Grand prix jumper Kim Frey explains how she keeps her horses light and sensitive without resorting to severe bits
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?Mandy Lorraine

?Mandy Lorraine

How do I manage to fine-tune a bunch of big, strong horses without using severe bits? By constantly alternating the milder, softer bits that I (and they) prefer. Frequent changes keep a horse from getting "set" on any one particular bit--and keep me from starting to rely on the one advantage (leverage, poll pressure, whatever) that a particular bit gives me. At least once a month, for all my horses, I rotate my selection among these three options:

  • a gag bit with a smooth snaffle mouthpiece, which elevates and encourages flexion
  • a hollow, mullen-mouth "flute" bit (its one-piece mouth with holes tends to help a horse stay on the bit and straight)
  • a fat, soft snaffle bit with big rollers (it keeps a horse from bearing down).

And there's one other piece of equipment I recommend. As a long-time working student and later assistant trainer at Katie Monahan's Plain Bay Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, I became a firm, firm, firm, firm believer in the standing martingale. (Trot into Katie's ring without one, and the first thing she tells you is "Just trot right out and get one.") What makes a standing martingale so effective, especially on a young horse? Whether he's high-headed or a head-tosser, he disciplines himself without you having to do it.

To fit a standing martingale, have your horse stand relaxed with his head in a normal position. Using your hand or index finger, lift the martingale; you want it to run up the underside of his neck along his windpipe and just reach the throatlatch on his bridle. That's a good basic adjustment. If it goes higher, it's probably too loose. On the other hand, if your horse holds his head high or tosses it a lot, you can go two to five holes shorter without overdoing.

Excerpted from Kim Frey's Step-by-Step article "Adjustability" in the June 2001 Practical Horseman