In our final installment of the Myler Bitting Series, the Toklat sales staff will share some personal stories of our experience with our horses and which bits we use and how Myler bits have helped us reach our goals in our respective disciplines.
Chelsey & Lexi
Our first rider trains and competes her personal horses in AQHA and ApHC rated shows in the Western All-Around classes as well as the occasional Hunter Under Saddle classes. All of her horses currently ride in Myler bits and she will share her journey with Myler bits and how they helped her current project horse.
Lexi – Big, Pretty, and Sensitive
My Myler journey originally started with my three year old Appendix Quarter horse mare when she was just being started under saddle. She is a big, beautiful mare with a ton of cadence and a super willing personality, but we had one major problem. She would not settle down when bridled. From the time you put her headstall on, to the time you took it off, she would fidget, chomp, stick her tongue over the bit, and fling her head. I spent months lunging and ground driving her trying to get her used to a snaffle with no avail. I started her in a single jointed snaffle (like many horse owners do) and she was very unhappy. We had her teeth checked and the chiropractor look at her and found nothing concerning.
I finally talked to a co-worker about my big beautiful mare that I could not for the life of me get to be happy in a bridle. She was very green with maybe 15-20 rides under saddle, but resistant and unhappy when you tried to make contact with her mouth. The first bit my co-worker suggested was a 04 Combination bit.
My initial thought was – “No way will this work, my mare is a mess with her face and not nearly far enough along for a ported bit!”
After a few more weeks of having unsuccessful rides in the single jointed snaffle, I had her fitted for the suggested bit and took her for a spin. The difference was immediately noticeable, even from the ground. Her eye was much softer and the chomping stopped. Under saddle was night and day. Instead of fighting to retain any sort of contact, she trotted around the arena in a collected frame, on the bridle with her mouth soft and quiet on a very light contact. The Combination bit asks primarily with the noseband pressure and only asks from the mouthpiece if they do not respond to the noseband. This means that they can respond as softly as they are willing to. She never engaged the mouthpiece the entire ride. I rode her for a couple more weeks and then she was turned out for the winter to grow (she was roughly 16.2 as a three year old!).
When she came back to the training barn in the spring, I started back with a 04 western dee ring. She went around as softly as she did prior and was happy to work – not once did she gape her mouth or get her tongue over the bit. My mare is currently five years old and even with consistent riding and training she has remained exceptionally willing and soft in the 04. Now that she has a start on lateral work, body collection, and leg placement – I believe she will be ready for a 36 (Level 2-3) in the next couple months. I still can’t believe the horse I would have deemed “hard mouthed” was in fact very sensitive and needed more tongue relief. Knowing that not all horses are created the same and some need more tongue relief from the start has definitely helped me recommend bits for other people. I feel like the 04 mouthpiece (Level 2) can be very appropriate to ride green or started horses in that are good minded and willing. Absolutely a tack room necessity!
Maggie & Melody
I grew up riding hunters – in my home town there were only hunter/jumpers and western riders and I was drawn to jumping – and still get a thrill flying over an obstacle even though I do not jump much anymore! I have had varied equestrian experiences as an adult including working as a groom to both hunter/jumper and dressage professionals, learning to play polo, going horse camping, and working on a sheep and cattle ranch. I enjoy working on the technical side of riding, but nothing can beat a good free gallop out in the fields!
A Bitting Journey with Melody the Morgan
My horse Melody is physically built very upright like many Morgan horses and tends to naturally move inverted. She often tries to do her best impression of a giraffe if startled or excited. This has made teaching collection and self-carriage a difficult task. Personality wise she is both highly opinionated and sensitive to discomfort, which makes it hard to figure out the cause of her resistance – is the saddle pinching somewhere? Is the curb strap too tight or too loose? Or is she just in a bad mood because the pony looked at her wrong during feeding time?
When I first got Melody I bought a pinchless single jointed snaffle based on my trainer’s suggestion; it being the “mildest bit”. After some time I realized she was obviously unhappy with the bit and I switched to a lozenge double jointed bit that a friend loaned me. Melody did not seem as resistant but was always very chompy; you could hear her across the arena like a person chewing gum with their mouth open. It was fairly embarrassing but I chalked it up to personality and tried to move on with training. However we kept getting stuck and not progressing.
When I got hired with Toklat I was introduced to the Myler approach and immediately wanted to experiment with different bits. I grabbed the first Level 2 bit I found – a 32 mullen eggbutt. The first time that I tried it on her, there was a shocking change. She held the bit still in her mouth and there was no chomping and fretting – the silence was deafening and she seemed relaxed. I got really excited and put her in a 36 (Level 2-3) with hooks to give her even more tongue relief.
At first Melody went really well, but after a few rides she would flip her head and act like something was pinching her. I checked the bit – nothing. I checked the curb strap and rode with it tighter, then looser, then not at all, but she kept flipping her head. She would also go behind the bit when I asked for collection and to work from behind. For the life of me I could not figure out why she did not like the bit. The 36 was supposed to make her happier! I brought up my issue to a coworker who had previously trained horses professionally, and she suggested that I try going back a step to a Level 2 bit, specifically the 04 without hooks, as she did not think Melody was ready for a Level 2-3 bit since she was not able to collect consistently.
Well she was right! I have been having fabulous rides with Melody in the 04, and she is more readily willing to lift her back and be in front of my leg. She still chomps when asked to do a particularly demanding task or something that she does not understand. But when she does “get it” she is soft and responsive. We still have a journey – I am a less than perfect rider after all – but this bit has given me such a valuable tool in training and communicating with her.
Judy & George
I purchased George when he was 6 months old from a friend who bred pinto Arabians because…spots! He was adorable. By his 4th birthday, I was ready to start his education. Still in graduate school, I decided to try starting him myself. Fortunately for both of us, he turned out to be brilliant and honest and very brave. Of course I started him in a snaffle, a dee I think, because my local tack store recommended it as “a mild bit.” I didn’t have a round pen, just a dirt road, where we did some lungeing and ground driving. I don’t even really remember the first time I hopped on him, but away we went! He did his first competitive trail ride that year and won. We did a little endurance, but I quickly developed a love of long distance trail riding—being out in the wilds for long hours at a time. George was an athletic machine–he could trot 10 mph all day long. In fact, he insisted on it. We climbed mountains, crashed through forests, fell off the occasional cliff.
Despite all the time I spent in the saddle with this amazing horse who would do anything I asked, I was obsessed with his bit. Something wasn’t right. He was obedient, he was steady, but he wasn’t relaxed and he wasn’t happy. Looking back, I can’t point to a specific behavior that made me think this, but there was something. This was back in the days before Google, Wikipedia and YouTube, so I watched tape after tape of my favorite clinicians and trainers, I talked to trainers, and I consulted with the staff at my local tack store. I tried a long list of bits: the original single jointed dee, a single-jointed Kimberwick, a single-jointed Pelham, a French link loose ring and finally a short shank with a single joint (aka a Tom Thumb). There was probably a full cheek and a couple other bits in there somewhere too. I ended up with a pile of bits and no satisfaction.
Toklat was just launching the Myler line around this time. I worked for a retailer and I was fortunate enough to go to a tradeshow where they had organized a clinic with Dale Myler for a large group of retailers. I went to the clinic, sat in the back, and watched Dale actually transform the horses that came into the clinic. More importantly, everything he said about how bits work and how horses work in bits made sense! It was just basic physics and anatomy—no gimmicks, no woo woo. Logical and straightforward. I went home and dragged out my bucket of bits, laid them out in the aisle of my barn. Eureka! I saw the problem immediately. Although the bits looked different to me, they felt identical to George—all the same single-jointed mouthpiece, just different cheekpieces. I also realized that the Kimberwick, Pelham had been the more successful not because of the mouthpiece but because they dispersed the tongue pressure over various pressure points, instead of concentrating all the pressure on the mouth—tongue, lips, bars.
I contacted Toklat and based on the info I gave them, they recommended the 43LP. George was 10 years old, a well-seasoned trail horse at this time. The 43LP offered ample tongue relief with just a little tongue pressure on the outside edges of the tongue and of course the independent side movement. Wow! What a difference it made the first time I used it. He seemed much more relaxed, more willing to give to the bit. We went down the trail for a couple of rides with this bit, but the feeling started to creep back that he wasn’t doing as well as that first ride. This time, though, I knew what I was looking for and easily recognized resistance. He would get a little heavy, a little busy in his mouth, go a little above the bit. Nothing dramatic, but it was there.
I decided to try the 33—it offers a lot more tongue relief than the 43LP. My logic: obviously if he’s resisting the 43LP, then he must need MORE tongue relief. Wrong! Let’s just say a very forward, athletic Arabian does not need a bit that offers that much freedom and leave it at that.
Back to the drawing board. He seemed increasingly uncomfortable in the 43LP, albeit much better than he had been in the single joint. I tried going back to the Tom Thumb just to see what would happen—he was having none of that! He wanted tongue relief, but something about the 43LP was still making him unhappy and the 33 definitely did not give me the communication that I needed. I went back to Toklat. They suggested the 41PB. It’s an unusual mouthpiece—it has a port roughly the same size as the 33, so tons of tongue relief. But the port is hinged and it collapses on the tongue when you engage both reins. It’s a “correctional,” a common term for a ported bit that collapses like a single joint.
Correctionals are typically used to correct a problem (hence the name), and that problem is usually not stopping. They offer a lot of tongue relief, but they can also apply a fair amount of tongue pressure as they are almost always on a shank bit. Because of this, correctionals are not intended to be used indefinitely—correct the problem, go back to a curb bit, and keep the correctional for the occasional tune up. The 41PB is a little different—it has a staggered port, where the top of the port is a little narrower than the middle and the base. When you engage the reins, the port very slowly rotates down on to the tongue, much more slowly than a standard correctional, because it has to travel farther. Ample tongue relief, very mild tongue pressure, but really refined communication—the perfect combination for George. I also believe he preferred the broken style of mouthpiece over a solid one because I had ridden him for most of his life in a broken mouthpiece. He had gotten used to the flex even though he couldn’t handle the tongue pressure. The 41PB fit the bill perfectly and it’s the one correctional that can be used indefinitely because of the degree of tongue relief and the very moderate tongue pressure.
George is 27 now, semi-retired for the last 2 years thanks to a squishy heart valve, but still has lots of go. He’s been in the 41PB for the last 13-14 years, in a cavalry shank (that we no longer offer, so don’t ask!), and goes down the trail quite happily in it. I have since trained three more horses using the Myler approach to bitting and have really enjoyed a developing a relationship with each horse that isn’t based on conflict.