Starting a Horse in a Myler Bit
Fitting and Transitioning
The height of the purchase is different in every bit, so before you try a new bit on your horse, attach it to the bridle and hold it up to the side of his face, so you can estimate the correct adjustment of the cheek pieces as closely as possible.
The bit should fit snugly into the corners of the lips, normally making one wrinkle, but do check how it lies inside the horse's mouth. If you pull down lightly on the bit cheeks, there should not be a gap of more than 1/8" between the mouthpiece and the corners of the lips. If the cheek pieces bow out, this is also a sign that the bit is too low.
Ensure the bit is both level and central in the horse's mouth, there now should be between1/8and ¼" gap between the bit ring and the horse's lip on each side. (You may have to straighten the mouthpiece to assess this properly in a jointed bit by pulling the cheeks gently outwards).
If the bit is too wide, it will slide from side to side in the mouth and give uneven pressure when engaged by the rider. An over-wide jointed bit could hang too low in the mouth and interfere with the horse's incisors.
If the bit is too narrow, the cheeks will squash against the sides of the horse's face and lips, causing rubbing or pinching.
Flashes, Martingales, etc.
The entire point of The Myler System is to make the horse comfortable and relaxed in his bit, so there is no need for any gadgets designed purely to force the horse to endure an uncomfortable bit by strapping his mouth shut, holding his head down, etc. Such equipment also infringes the horse’s ability to communicate with you. Therefore, a plain loosely fitted cavesson noseband is normally the most that should be required besides the headstall and reins, especially as you should be in a controlled environment while you accustom your horse to the new bit.
Take care to ensure there is a good ¼" gap between the rings and the sides of the horse's face or the lips could be drawn into the ring hole in the mouthpiece and pinched.
Check that the upstand of the cheek doesn't rub against the side of the horse's face. Full cheeked snaffles should have a leather bit keeper attaching the top of the cheek to the cheekpiece. This holds the bit up in the horse's mouth to give a clear reward signal and is also critical for ISM.
Cheeks with Hooks (slots)
The top hook should always be used. This holds the bit up in the horse's mouth to give a clear reward signal and enables ISM.
In order to balance the bit correctly, the cheek pieces must be fastened around the outside branch of the upper hook, leaving the metal on the inside branch against the horse's face and giving the bit a "normal" appearance from the side.
To make the ISM as effective as possible, the reins should be attached to the bottom hook, again around the outer branch.
Pelhams and Kimblewicks
The curb chain should be fitted at 45oand should engage when the cheek has been rotated to about a 450angle, normally around 2 fingers width. If it is fitted too loosely the mouthpiece can roll too far down into the tongue before the curb activates too late and too hard, possibly upsetting your horse and not giving you the control you need. If it is fitted too tightly, the horse will never get relief from the pressure, he will have no comfort zone and will be unhappy and distracted.
TAKE YOUR TIME. Sometimes a horse will let you know that you have the right or wrong bit in as little as 20 minutes, but it often takes a few sessions in a new bit to know for sure. Plan up to 10 or 12 days before you can be certain that you have made the correct choice and make sure this is a quiet time for you and your horse, with no competitions or big outings.
GIVE YOUR HORSE TIME. Allow your horse to get used to the taste and the feel of the new bit, let him test this new equipment before you mount. Ensure the fitting is correct and then allow him to investigate the bit with his tongue. He may chew a bit more than normal while he gets used to the new feel. Ideally, allow him to stand bridled but loose in the stable, supervised but not held, with the reins tucked behind the stirrup leathers, for 10 or 15 minutes so he can settle down and relax.
The next step is to simulate the bit's action prior to mounting so the horse can anticipate how the bit will work. This exercise also allows you to anticipate his behaviour with the bit. In the stable, or enclosed school, stand by his left shoulder and place the reins over his neck as if you were going to mount. Hold both reins just in front of the withers to mimic where the reins would be when mounted. Next, steady the reins in one hand and gently apply rein pressure with the other, activating the bit and asking your horse to relax at the poll. When he gives to the pressure by "nodding" his head onto the vertical, release the pressure with your hand. He may take a few steps backwards or forwards until he gets used to the idea but you are aiming for him gently to lower his head onto the vertical, releasing his own pressure and learning where the "Comfort Zone" is. This is a great way to introduce new bits as well as to supple a horse prior to work every day. The Mylers highly recommend working with your horse on the ground as part of the transition to any new bit and as a daily suppling exercise.
Ensure your horse is in a safe environment before you mount and then walk away on a loose rein for a few minutes. Slowly, slowly take up a light contact and walk round the area quietly while you both become accustomed to the feel of the new bit. When you feel the horse is ready to come into the bridle, just close your fingers on the reins, ask the horse to move forward with your seat and leg and when he gives to you, coming into the bridle, release the rein pressure immediately by opening your fingers and maintain only a very light contact to ensure he recognises the reward. Any new equipment or training approach should be introduced in a safe environment like a school, until you are confident that both are ready to work outside.
Anticipate some resistance. If your horse has been resistant in his current bit, there is a strong likelihood he will be resistant in his new bit. Simply put - he is going to try what he knows and some evasions will have become learnt habit rather than direct reactions to his bit.
Chomping and chewing: This may take some patience on your part and some trust on your horse's part. Horses generally chomp and chew as a resistance to too much tongue pressure. With your new Myler Bit, he should not have as much tongue pressure as before, but it may take your horse some time to realise this. He will need to build trust that his new bit isn't going to restrict his tongue like his previous one did. So, give your horse time to learn to relax - this may take days. Be sure you are releasing the pressure when he is in the correct position. If you are constantly applying pressure on his mouth, he may not be able to relax.
Inverting: Inversion is fairly common. The main thing your horse is doing is controlling the application of the bit's action by staying up out of the "pressure zone". Your new bit should give the pressure you need to ask him to relax at the poll and come into his "comfort zone" where he will have the relief he's looking for. Many horses will try to invert with the new bit - you will need to ask the horse to go forward and apply consistent pressure until they relax at the poll. As soon as the horse relaxes at the poll, release the rein pressure. Always ask the horse to go forward. Some horses may resist by stopping, flipping their head, grabbing the bit, etc., but always ask him to go forward.
Leverage and curb pressure can be very helpful for horses that invert by clearly rolling the mouthpiece downwards and introducing new points of pressure, eg curb and poll, so use of the hooks is recommended to maximise this. The occasional use of a curb chain on a snaffle bit can also be useful. Be sure your curb strap or chain is adjusted properly with room for only two fingers. Too loose and the cheek rotates too far around before engaging the curb chain. The curb chain activates too late and too hard, possibly upsetting your horse and not giving you the control you are looking for. Too tight and the horse is not rewarded with a comfort zone and is uncomfortable and distracted. When adjusted correctly, the curb chain engages when the cheek has been rotated approximately 45o, adding more downward pressure to the mouthpiece, and offering more control and encouragement for the horse to relax at the poll and stay balanced.
Because an inverted horse is not used to working while relaxed at the poll, he will tire quickly and easily. Keep sessions short and always finish on a good note where the horse releases himself.
Horse Behind the Bit: Horses typically hide behind the bit because mouthpiece pressure is too strong or applied to too wide an area. Your new Myler Bit should offer less pressure, but the horse will need transition time to learn to trust this. Give him time and make sure you release properly when he is relaxed at the poll. If you do not release, he will not experience the "comfort zone" while relaxed at the poll and will continue to curl up behind the bit.
Not Stopping, or Pulling: Horses that don't stop well or that pull are resisting by putting their own pressure into the bit to control it. Your new Myler Bit should give you the pressure you need for control and correction whilst also providing the relief and "comfort zone" to keep your horse happy and help him learn. Introduce your horse to the new bit slowly so that he can learn to trust having a "comfort zone." Use pressure as necessary for control, but be sure to reward your horse by releasing rein pressure when he stops as asked. Your horse should get lighter and less resistant with time, but he may have a lot of 'baggage' to get rid of, so don't be in any kind of a hurry if you want to do this well.
Dropping a Shoulder: Horses generally drop a shoulder for two main reasons: laziness or anxiety. Horses usually take the easy route and will cheat you on a corner by leaning in - it's less work than staying straight! At other times, they know their job so well that they try to be better at it than you want, – for instance when a jumper runs through a turn towards his next jump. He is too anxious and starts to lean on the inside shoulder too much and risks loosing his balance, the turn and valuable time. Your new Myler Bit should help you send a signal to keep his shoulder up - Independent Side Movement is perfect for this.
When using Independent Side Movement, you will isolate one side of the bit, lift subtly with that side and not affect the other. It works best supported by an inside leg aid for turns, bending and balancing.
Myler Bits with Independent Side Movement are simpler and clearer in their signalling than traditional bits, so you should find your horse responds well to this new, unambiguous communication.
As a rider, you may find Independent Side Movement requires some adjustment in your riding technique. You may find you can be much more subtle in your actions as you ask your horse to bend or lift up his shoulder. The need to reward your horse by releasing the pressure the instant he has done as he has been asked cannot be over-emphasised.
To get the best out of your Myler Bit (and your horse):
- Take it slowly and quietly.
- Listen to your horse, he is trying to tell you what he needs in order to do what you want.
- No bit makes up for bad riding or impatience and a bit cannot train your horse. That's your job, - just make sure you have the best equipment and knowledge to communicate with him effectively.
- Have fun, or there's no point!
- Understand what the bit, - and your hands on the ends of the reins, - are doing in your horse's mouth. - Think about what is going on with that tongue:
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