Last week we adventured to Duluth for a bit-fitting clinic. I was on the fence about doing this…the weather wasn’t great for traveling, it required my husband taking the day off work to stay home with Pehr, and it was expensive.
But, I have been riding in the same bit since I started down the dressage path, and I’m pretty sure it’s not ideal for Clay (I bought it because it’s what everyone uses, not based off of any knowledge.) I know nothing about how to pick a bit or fit one correctly. It was info I really wanted to have in my arsenal.
So we made the 1.5 hr trek to the beautiful Spring Hill Farm to see what we could learn. I went with a tiny bit of intel under my belt already, having had the chance to try a couple different Neue Schule bits during my lessons recently.
I felt an incredible difference in Clay when I tried the Neue Schule Turtle Top bit. My half-halts felt super clear and therefore could be more subtle, and he wasn’t getting offended by them like he normally does (which he shows by stiffening his neck or coming above the bit for a second). His shoulders felt more lifted, and the bottom of his neck soft (two things we typically struggle with). So I knew I wanted to try that one at the clinic for sure.
When it was our turn, we warmed up in our old bit and then the clinician, Kim Gentry, asked me some questions about what we’re working on and what some of our struggles are. We then dove into trying different bits. The first couple we tried made Clay stiffen his neck and jaw, especially to the right. With one of them I had no right half-halt.
On to the next. The Turtle Top. Right away it was like butt-ah…Clay was so soft and accessible, and his canter had hop to it. He felt relaxed, steady and comfortable. We swapped it out for the Tactio version just to see how he liked that, and I felt like he was back to being offended by my half-halts with that one. We swapped it for a bit by a different brand that is similar to the regular Turtle Top but with a little more tongue pressure….NOPE. He doesn’t fancy tongue pressure.
The Turtle Top was the clear winner. Kim measured Clay…All this time, I thought he was a medium (5-5.5) but he is between a L and an XL (5 3/4)! Whaaaaat! Turns out his tongue is large and his mouth is fleshy, which is why he is likely happiest in a bit that gives lots of tongue room and doesn’t put pressure on his soft tissue. I bought the Turtle Top in XL, in the bradoon ring size so that I can use it with the double bridle when the time comes.
Kim also said his Cob sized bridle was too small for him and he needs something cut back more around the ears. I guess I have been stuffing him into too-small everything. Sheesh! I was planning on finding a used double bridle on eBay this winter but now it looks like I need to budget for a bigger snaffle bridle too…
Now it was time to find a curb bit that complimented the snaffle. Knowing he likes lots of tongue freedom, Kim nailed it on the second try this time, with a Bemelmans (it has a wiiiiide channel for the tongue).
It was Clay’s very first time in a double, so I didn’t ask for much right off the bat…we just walked and trotted around a bit with a slightly longer neck, so he could get used to all that metal in his mouth. He was super steady and relaxed, with a soft lower neck. I was thrilled!
After a few mins I started taking up the contact more and asking him to go forward into the bridle. He felt lovely and comfortable. I sat the trot, tried a little lateral work, a couple transitions from collected trot to medium and back, and cantered a little. Wow. It all felt amazing. Kim said it looked great, so we called it good at that.
Clay seemed really comfy in the bridle she let us try, but I can’t afford two bits AND a brand-new bridle right now, so I didn’t order the curb bit or the bridle yet. I’ll be making that purchase later this winter when we actually start doing double bridle work. Either way, it’s a relief to know which curb bit to get when the time comes, and also that it works well together with the Turtle Top.
Overall, this experience was an expensive one (a top-of-the-line bit, the fee for the clinic, and my own travel time/expenses definitely added up quick…), but the clinic saved me SO much time that would have been spent messing around with buying and returning random bits.
Anything that makes my horse more comfortable in his work and my aids more effective and quiet is a worthwhile investment.
Thanks to Spring Hill Farm for hosting, and to the wonderful Erin and Heather who spent lots of time organizing this opportunity!