Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Bit Doesn't Have An IQ: Van Hargis Clinic

I love that quote by Van Hargis. He said that often riders get frustrated and think their bit isn't working so they head out to their local feed shops and search through fifty different bits, ask for help from an associate (who doesn't know much and just recommends what the last guy said worked for him), and walk out with a "bigger" bit.

Then he asked us what we think is the proper tightness for a bit--one wrinkle, two? I think most people thought one wrinkle. He asked, Well, if it's already tight, where do they get their release? One lady raised her hand and said her horse always gets the bit under his tongue, so she was told to tighten it up. He answered that he would do the opposite, loosen it up.

His thinking is that the horse doesn't want the bit clanking around in its mouth, so it will pick it up and hold it, which is what he wants. And, if it's holding the bit, it can't get its tongue under it.

Also, only if the bit is somewhat loose can you give the horse its release.

His thinking about bits in general is that you don't need a bigger one if you follow the principles of "riding" your horse--actively moving in the saddle, and on the ground, always being in control of direction and momentum or lack thereof.

I wanted to ask him about bits and bitless--basically, if he thinks there is any need for a bit if you do the groundwork correctly and are riding your horse actively, but I got my hand up too late and it was over.


  1. I agree with that. When I first started riding Cody as a 3 year old when she got back from the trainer (30 days), I was using the full cheek snaffle and had it tightened up with a wrinkle or two (what English discipline says is correct and that was my last riding experience). On our first ride, Cody was jiggy and rushy and I finally thought to loosen her bridle and drop the bit in her mouth. It was amazing. The difference was immediate and she relaxed. I am much more cognizant of how a bit sits in their mouth now. I just don't want it to be loose enough that it clanks their incisors or canines, and not tight enough that it pulls at their lips or is too close to their molars. All horses have a different mouth shape, some have long lips, some short. But it's not too hard to get figure out how to get the bit to sit comfortably if you just look at their mouth as they are holding it. It takes a young horse some time to figure out that they need to hold the bit and that is the most comfortable way. In the meantime, they'll chew it, mouth it, and stick their tongue under it, but they will eventually sort it out if you give them a chance without interferring too much.

  2. Kara--I love your explanation of bit fitting.

  3. I had tried having the bit loose for my horse (another Cody) but he constantly played with it and clanked it against his teeth. My riding instructor at the time kept wanting me to tighten it (she being of the 2 wrinkles is right variety) but I wouldn't. Then I took a closer look (he just never stopped fussing with it) and realized that while I was trying to leave it 'loose' so he'd have to pick it up and carry it, as he was playing with it it was clanking on his canines :( So I moved it up a hole and while he still plays, he doesn't play to the degree he did before and it no longer clanks on his canines.

    So while loose can be nice, I do think it can be /too/ loose as well. (My horse's lower canines seem to be kinda high up so maybe most horses have more room than he does?)

  4. I have to agree- I think any wrinkles are too many. (On me too!) Kara explained it pretty well. As far as bitless goes, you might want to get in contact with Sydney, from the blog, Bitless Horse, Science Vs. Tradition

    She should be able to answer lots of your questions.

  5. The release is the key, without the release the horse can't learn.

    Too bad you couldn't ask him about bitless, I bet his answer would have been interesting.

  6. I've been enjoying all your posts lately. But I have to disagree with Van Hargis' opinion here, in terms of my Tonka anyway. Same experience froglander had with her Cody, who just happens to be from the same HMA. Tonka needs and wants the bit higher in his mouth. Canines get bumped if not, and even if I think it's high enough not to bump but somewhat loose for comfort, Tonka lets me know that's not where he likes it. But he prefers no bit at all and we have no trouble riding in a halter on the trail.

  7. Bits are not my area of expertise, so I'm just enjoying reading all your comments. It would be interesting to actually have Van Hargis respond to these concerns. I'd love to hear what he has to say, in more detail, about fitting bits.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.