I’m pretty sure that I have inadvertently offended a few people over the years, and I am pretty sure that there are a few people out there disappointed that I did not sell them a “magic bit” to fix all their problems. See, I am in this as my business, this is how I make a living and how I pay to keep my pony. But I feel very strongly that selling something to someone that they do not need, or will not help, is wrong. I would always rather they spend the $100 or $200 they were thinking of spending on that new “magic bit” on more training and education for themselves and their horse. In most cases, it will be a better investment in the long term.
So, how did I get onto this train of thought?
I recently traveled to the QLD Festival of dressage where I gave a presentation in the morning. I was asked to talk on the very broad topic of “bits and bitting”, and so put the session together largely focusing on the needs of dressage riders but also to give a broad, general understanding of some of the reasons behind why and how bits work the way they do. I also popped in a couple of teasers for what i have planned for my Equitana presentations this year (spoiler alert!!).
I was thinking about that presentation the other day, funnily enough in the shower. (don’t we all do our best thinking in the shower??) I found an error in my own presentation, and I mentally kicked myself for it.
What was the error? Well, one of my slides was titled “what does the bit do?” and then a list of 3 points detailing how it helps alter speed and direction, change the length of frame and outline, bend and flexion. Right?
Wrong! D’oh! The bit itself does not DO these things at all, we do as riders. The bit is simply a tool that we use to communicate our wishes to the horse.
It’s not the bit that makes the horse stop, it’s our weight and seat aids, with a little touch of holding with our hands. It’s not the bit that shortens the frame, it’s our weight and seat combined with our driving leg aids that sit him more up and underneath us. It’s not the bit that flexes the horse, it’s our weight and slightly taking rein aids. The actual bit itself doesn’t DO anything at all, we use it to ask the horse to do what we would like.
One of the reasons I started Bit Bank was because so many riders have a very limited interest and understanding in the mechanics of how the different bits work, their different benefits and advantages for the rider. Also, there is just simply such a large range of styles available now, it really is a full time job to stay on top of them all. What hobby rider (or even professional rider) has the time to research and study all that? So I’m lucky that I can offer advice and assistance in selecting a new bit to help solve a specific problem or assist with better communication.
What I am not here for, is to teach riders how to ride. Most simply and honestly, I am not in a position to teach anyone how to ride, and certainly not the majority of my clients who are far better riders than I will ever be. I am very open and honest about this. So I do find it puts me in a difficult situation when I have an inquiry from an inexperienced rider who is facing issues with their horse that have nothing to do with what bit is used, and everything to do with poor training of both horse and rider.
It’s hard in Australia, we are often so isolated from one another by vast expanses of distance, and finding coaches and trainers- quality, well educated, good teachers- can be a very hard thing to do. It’s the same with others in your support team- farriers, equine dentist, saddle fitter etc. I do sympathize with riders that contact me who are really in the middle of no where with very limited training opportunities available to them.
So when someone contacts me who has unreasonable expectations on a green or unfit horse, or they have inadvertently over-horsed their young daughter, (or themselves), or they have a rehabilitated rescue, and come asking for a bit that will “round him up”, “make him more collected”, “stop him sucking back” or “stop my OTTB pulling in the canter” I do find myself in a tricky position. Often, not always, these same people come across as very inexperienced and more often than not, they don’t have a regular instructor or coach to help them.
So, do I give them what they want– a bit that will DO what they are trying to achieve, or suggest what they really need– more training to really be able to get that result correctly? Do I let them continue to believe that a bit will DO the training for them, or do I mention the quote attributed to the Myler Brothers that “bits don’t train horses, people do.”?
In my social circles, I admit that I am not known for my tact and diplomacy, so this is something I REALLY struggle with in terms of customer service. If I have offended you, please know it was not intended that way (we are all learning more every day, especially me) and my advice always comes from the heart with you and your horse’s comfort and safety at front of mind. Don’t let other people convince you that you need another, more expensive bit when you know in your heart that you just need better training and more time to practice.
By the way, if you happen to find that “magic bit”, let me know where, will you? 🙂