One of the things I worked on while Johnny was in downtime was finding a bit he would tolerate. Since I’ve owned him, I’ve run the gauntlet of every mild bit I could find. I typically ride my horses in some sort of double-jointed eggbutt or D ring, so the first thing I tried him in was a nice, double-jointed D with a lozenge in the middle. Similar to a french-link, but without the nutcracker effect. This was not suitable for him, but initially, I focused on other issues. We took care of his sharp-edged teeth, and visited chiropractors to adjust his out-of-whack back. We also treated suspected ulcers. All these things helped him tremendously, but he was still fussing with the bit. Over the years of owning him, I’ve learned the subtle differences between his pain, discomfort, anxiety, insolence, and laziness. The bit wasn’t causing him pain, but it was definitely an uncomfortable nuisance.
After trying every single bit in my collection (and then my barn manager’s collection), I ordered a Nathe bit. I was told many OTTBs prefer the soft, solid rubber mouthpiece. Well, he absolutely despised it. I put it in his mouth, and he immediately began trying to spit it out. All the same, I rode him in it for several days to see if his attitude changed any once he was in work. Not so much.
I started a forum on the Facebook group OTTB Connect to see if anyone else had run into similar problems and what they’d tried. Although I’d mentioned that his teeth, back, etc. did not appear to be the problem, when you post in a forum, you get the armchair veterinarians who instinctively know the answer, despite never having seen the horse. “He needs his teeth done, and oh by the way, schedule a chiropractor visit–that horse is in pain.” My favorite, though, was the suggestion to tie his mouth shut with a figure 8. Good one. At any rate, although I’m sure he experiences back discomfort at some point and may even chomp the inside of his cheek occasionally, I could clearly see the problem was not either of those issues. Johnny is a mouth-entertainer. When he’s bored, he flips his tongue out or finds the nearest plaything and begins going to town. A bit in his mouth is the perfect play-toy, but also a nuisance when he’s not wanting to play.
I finally broke down and ordered a Herm Sprenger Dynamic RS WH Ultra bit on trial. With such a fancy, long name, it had to be the answer to my prayers! The description specifically covered horses like mine who can’t figure out where their tongues should go.
I did note a major difference when I rode him in this bit. He still tried to spit it out, but I noticed he was more eager to reach for connection as opposed to instinctively rising above any feel of his mouth. However, there wasn’t a dramatic enough difference for me to shell out the full $175 purchase price. Luckily, a friend noticed my post in OTTB Connect and offered to send me a custom-made “Pacifier.” I was intrigued. She said she’d seen dramatic results with the low palate, sensitive-mouthed OTTBs, but if it didn’t work for us, I could simply ship it back. Plus, it was a heck of a lot cheaper than $175. I figured, why not?
The Pacifier is a rolled leather mouthpiece with no metal going into the mouth. The theory is, the wet leather molds to the specific shape of the horse’s mouth, and instead of being offended by it, they are soothed by it, similar to a pacifier for babies. The minute I put it into his mouth, Johnny closed his mouth quietly. That was it–no trying to spit it out, no gagging, no excessive drooling–he simply let it rest on his tongue and stood quietly. I nearly cried.
The test, though, was under saddle. Initially, I was a bit disappointed. When I asked for flexion, he simply ignored me. This was a bit he’d happily lean into connection with, but now we were struggling with a lack of sensitivity in his mouth. This super-soft bit didn’t offer any ‘bite,’ so it was harder for him to hear my aids. However, over the next few rides, as I realized I could now push him into a better connection with my legs, and as the bit broke in and molded to his mouth, we developed a better partnership. This bit has forced me to use my legs more to create the bend (as I should) instead of relying on flexion to create a false-bend. Because he accepts the bit and consequent connection, I can now half-halt and redirect his balance. I’m not saying it’s a cure-all for everything, but it has definitely changed Johnny’s opinion of dressage! The most interesting thing about this bit, though, has been watching it mold to Johnny’s mouth. Instead of a traditional bit shape you’d expect, it’s almost become an inverted shape–as if his palate is so low that it’s pushing the bit downwards. If this is the case, it certainly explains why traditional bits were so offensive to him. I’m posting two videos that show the dramatic difference in bitting. The first video is the HS; the second is the Pacifier. I’ve also posted a link here, in case you’d like to try the Pacifier on your horse. https://squareup.com/market/winterpast-farm/the-pacifier-d-ring-round