Let me preface this post by saying that I'm not a bitting expert. I'm going to be able to show you some comparison photos and tell you in my own non-expert words how my horse went differently in each of these bits and that's it. I could be totally wrong in some of the stuff I'm about to say. But I have had a request for a comparison post, so let's do it!
Top: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Curved. Middle: Shires knockoff. Bottom: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Straight.
Shires Knockoff Leah let me borrow this bit while I waited (and waited, and waited) for my clinic bit to arrive. It has some similar features to the real thing, such as sweet iron, loose rings and a center port, but that's where the similarities end. The mouthpiece is the same round diameter from end to end without the subtle carve-outs the Bombers bits have.
Connor did like this bit well enough, definitely better than his old bit (Neue Schule French link Baucher), but he also got his tongue over it once. Additionally, given his low palate and thick tongue, I have to wonder if the non-flattened somewhat pointy port was poking him in the top of his mouth.
The Shires mouthpiece is slightly oxidized here, which all of these bits will do if they're sitting around and not in use. Bombers says to "lightly scour" the bit and rinse clean if that happens.
The port is almost as high as the Bomber bits, but because of the consistent round diameter of the Shire's, there's less room for his tongue under the port (as opposed to the Bombers, which you can see the top and sides of the port are flattened compared to the rest of the bit).
I have a feeling if you have a horse with a smaller tongue and higher palate, this bit would work just fine.
Happy Tongue Loose Ring Curved This is the "default" version of the Happy Tongue Loose Ring, and is the "less strong" version of the straight bit Connor preferred. It's curved forward, so that if you lay this bit on a table, most of the bit doesn't make contact with the table.
It's the one in the center
When we tried this bit at the clinic, Connor reacted to it almost the same as his NS Baucher. He wasn't quite as comfy and pliable as he was in the straight version, and the clinician saw it immediately. My barnmate let me borrow it; she'd ridden her Arabian gelding in it at a show once and he had a "meltdown" - not sure if it was the bit's fault or not, but I got the impression she thought it was and she wouldn't be trying it again.
The brochure describes this bit as being "softer on the bars" and "slow to exert tongue pressure" just like my straight bit. The difference is the curve, which put the front of the bit further down his tongue (toward the tip).
Top: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Standard (has forward curve). Bottom: Happy Tongue Loose Ring Straight (does not have forward curve)
This bit was an improvement over the Shires, which was an improvement over the Baucher. We had some great rides in it, but he also did get his tongue over once - and I wonder if it's because of his short mouth + the forward curve. More on that in the next section.
Happy Tongue Loose Ring Straight This is the first Bombers bit I rode in at the clinic and the one I ended up buying. He feels amazing in this bit, and hasn't even thought about getting his tongue over. Whether that's because he physically can't with this bit or because he doesn't feel motivated to, I'm not sure.
The best way I can describe riding Connor in this bit is the contact just feels "comfy". He does mouth this bit a lot, but not in a "tongue whipping out of his mouth" way like he does when he's uncomfortable. He also is more willing to elevate his front end in it, especially at the canter, although I can feel him trying to scheme ways to get around this charming and helpful aspect of this bit.
The brochure I posted yesterday describes the straight as being "slightly stronger" than the curved version and "suits a horse with a short mouth," which Connor definitely has. Which got me thinking...
Short mouth = the distance from the opening of his lips to the back of his lips
In the moment when he gets his tongue over the bit, it's absolutely because of my bad riding, but I wonder if the combination of the French links I've always ridden him in plus his short mouth made the evasion easy for him to start in the beginning, anatomically speaking.
Raising the bit a hole after he gets it over always puts an end to the problem for the day - what if that had everything to do with where the center of the bit sat in his mouth? And what if that's also why he gets his tongue over in the curved but not the straight version of this bit, because it sits further up the tongue?
If that's the case, French links may never be an appropriate choice for his mouth anatomy, which is mind blowing to someone who always considered the French link loose ring to be the gold standard. I'm not writing them off for him entirely, but it's giving me something to think about for sure.
After six weeks of waiting, my new bit finally arrived on Friday!
Shame it won't stay this color blue forever
It's still amazing, although the instant forehand elevation he gave me at the clinic isn't quite as dramatic right now. I have a feeling he's trying to figure out how to get around the new bit and me not letting him lean on me anymore now that my first instinct is to go to my core when he leans on me rather than my hands. Turns out carrying your own head is, well, hard:
I don't normally do this in a review post, but the bit came with a very descriptive guide on the tag, describing the action my bit takes on the mouth and also quite a bit about Bombers bits in general, so I'm going to share that here in pictures. Reminder that if you're reading this on RSS you may need to click through to my actual site for clear pictures.
My bit is the Happy Tongue Straight. We tried the curved at the clinic and it was clear he went better in the straight. I did end up borrowing the curved for three weeks from a barnmate though while waiting on my straight.
Coming soon - a comparison post between the Shires knockoff, the forward curved Happy Tongue Loose Ring and the straight Happy Tongue.
Since we moved into this barn, one of my only complaints has been the tack room. When this place was a Western Pleasure barn, as it was originally designed to be, it functioned well, but now that a bunch of eventers have moved in and everyone has two or more complete sets of tack, well...
This is actually from before my barn moved in. Picture a bridle explosion on the left and you have it, lol.
Western-style metal hooks were high quality but just not the right shape for English tack.
It's small, but that wasn't the problem: it's more that we aren't using the space efficiently. So my barnmate and I asked our trainer if she'd let us go nuts on the tack room, and she said yes. Barnmate is a Six Sigma ninja, and I thoroughly enjoy organization projects, so of course we've over thought this to death.
Still before everyone moved in
Her wish list:
Better strap goods organization
A place to store girths
A place to store helmets so that they can air dry rather than getting gross in our tack trunks (that's actually what started all of this)
My wish list:
Bridle racks wide enough to store everyone's anatomic crowned English bridles
A tack cleaning station
A saddle pad storage/drying solution
A bit storage solution
Better utilization of the space near the ceiling for long-term storage of things we don't use often
It's definitely a long term project, but yesterday we went to town on Phase 1. First we cleaned out the tall cabinet and moved it out in favor of a short cabinet that will become a tack cleaning station.
It was HOT in there!
We removed the existing strap goods racks and hung up 20 bridle racks to replace them.
We also put up helmet holders, so that our helmets can air dry in the open. (This is about as dust-free of a tack room as I've ever seen, so that's not an issue).
Some of the smallest things we did made a big difference, like gaining an extra 5" of wall space by moving the saddle racks closer to each other and the wall. They were originally placed for big Western saddles, but we don't need as much room to maneuver our saddles.
That was as far as we got on day 1! Next up is rehanging the old bridle holders as strap goods holders around the corner from where these pictures are taken (the tack room is L shaped), creating some bit storage, organizing bottles/medicine, hanging girths and finishing the tack cleaning station. Eventually we'll add those shelves by the ceiling too.
The only thing I don't know if we're going to be able to do is find a place to dry/store saddle pads, but I won't be too upset if we don't get that one done. Gotta compromise with these small spaces sometimes!
We're a month out from the clinic and parts of my clinic order have arrived. (She did say it would take that long, which is fine)
That's not quite accurate. The entire bridle has arrived, minus the reins, but the noseband arrived with a flash, so we're exchanging it for one without a flash, and rocking the western look in the meantime.
LOVE this crown design! It lays so nicely over the top of the head.
I had hoped to replace the throatlatch with a smaller one, because he's on the last hole on both sides. The throatlatch comes tagged and barcoded separately from the crown, albeit in the same bag, which made me think you could swap that part out, but sadly they don't sell them separately. The horse crown is definitely the right size, so we'll deal.
Look how much room the little guy has for his ears, I'm so happy.
I'm going to do a proper review of it once I have the whole bridle, but even with all the hassle, I'm so happy with it. Remember the whole reason I went down this bit/bridle fitting clinic path was because I knew the PS was too tight on his head, and then at the clinic I learned it was also resting on some sensitive nerves:
The properly fitted Schockemohle, compared to the PS, is practically loose over the top of his head.
I'm not throwing PS under the bus here, I'm just saying mine wasn't the right size for him, and I don't think there was anything I could've done differently to get it sized correctly. The straps are not sewn in the right place on the noseband for him on the cob, but the cob is already too big in diameter on the last hole, so the horse size wouldn't have worked either, even with a chin pad. Bridle fitting is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more complicated than I ever realized.
Our temporary loaner bit
Finally, the bit hasn't arrived either, but a barnmate had almost the exact same Bombers bit lying around, just with a forward curve to it. We rode in that one at the clinic and it wasn't as dramatically life changing as the straight version, but it's still better than the baucher for him.
Our real bit
It's nice to know our improvements lately have NOT been due to my tack changes, BUT it's also nice to realize how much more comfortable he is in this new setup. There have been multiple times lately when I thought he got his tongue over the bit, to the point I actually stopped him to check, only to realize that the lightness and movement I felt in the reins was due to him softly mouthing the bit with a relaxed tongue. He hasn't even thought about getting it over in any ride with either of the Bombers bits, and that's a ringing endorsement from Connor.
It's happening. We have really turned a corner, and this stuff is sticking! I mean literally, for the first time ever, I can see a future in which this horse does Third. Like, we're not there yet, but the way I'm riding him now, it seems possible for the first time.
Connor: "Why is riding so much harder all of a sudden and also why is it this humid!"
I had my first lesson in a month last night and my trainer was just delighted, saying things like "This is what I always knew was in there!" and "You look so much more in sync with him" and "He looks like he's between your back and the reins more now" and "When you do it [leg yields in this case] right, it looks like you're dancing."
Dancing. Leg yields. Us! Who knew!
I was excited to work on leg yields last night, because 1. ours have always been passable-not-great and 2. they're just hard enough to challenge me without being so hard that they threaten my ability to focus on my position.
Rolling with half of my new Schockemohle, long story
At first she identified that he was going sideways too much and that the rhythm broke down when there weren't enough forward steps. She also identified that on the right rein LY'ing left he liked to swing his HQ to the outside, and in the opposite direction he tried to lead with his right (outside) shoulder in a big way.
On the right rein, she had me come around the corner thinking haunches in, and then contain him on the left until he had taken a few straight/HI steps before asking for the leg yield. She also had me think about letting the left shoulder lead a bit instead of the HQ, which led to beautifully flowing LY's (for us).
To the left, my right thigh being off the saddle (and me sitting off to the left) was the whole cause of him darting out the right shoulder so heavily. Just remembering to sit correctly and apply my right thigh made a huge difference here.
It was such a good ride. I joked that I'm going for the Mary Wanless Most Improved Award at the October clinic (that I officially signed up for last week). That's not a thing, but it should be!
I made it! As of yesterday I'm one month out from LASIK and have been cleared for all activities.
I'm at 20/20 combined, 20/10 left eye and 20/25 right eye. The right eye has slowly improved from 20/40 on the first day post surgery and should be just fine, but if it isn't, they'll decide at my 3 month checkup in August what to do.
I have minor halos around lights at night, and have driven both at night and in the rain with no issues. I haven't had any issues with dry eye even as I've backed way off (read: totally forgotten about) using the rewetting drops.
Eyes that can see!
In the end, LASIK didn't cramp my style too hard, partially because it's been a crazy month for work travel. These are the restrictions I stuck by:
No riding for one week
Wearing a Halo Sweatband for both riding and CrossFit (redirects sweat away from the eyes in addition to absorbing it. These things are actually awesome and I'm going to keep using them)
No going upside down in CrossFit (handstand pushups, pike drags) for four weeks
No swimming for four weeks
No rubbing my eyes for four weeks
No flipping my head upside down to style my hair in the shower for two weeks
No eye makeup for 10 days (hey, I almost made it two weeks)
Eye mask while sleeping for the first week
No sticking my head in the water while showering for three weeks
Wearing the larger of the two Halo Sweatbands I bought for a snatch complex at CrossFit. I also have a slimmer one designed for under helmets that I ride in.
If I had a young or high strung horse, I might have waited longer to ride. It's bad news to have eye trauma in the first 2-4 weeks after healing, so getting tossed could cause major complications. At two weeks, you're healed to the point that touching the eye lightly over the lid is okay, but trauma would still be a problem. At four weeks, you're good to go. So don't plan on backing any youngsters for a month after LASIK!
My only dicey horse situation came when I was filling Connor's haybag for the ride home from the bit fitting clinic a week after LASIK. I wasn't wearing sunglasses (dumb) and a gust of wind blew hay debris into my face and some got in my eyes when I still wasn't cleared to rub my eyes. I flushed them with a ton of eye drops and it was fine, but in retrospect that wasn't smart. If you're responsible for barn chores, I would recommend wearing the motorcycle goggles as long as you can. That concludes my LASIK adventures. I'm contact and glasses free!
My lessons with my regular trainer have been fairly sporadic lately. Mainly this is my fault, it seems like even when I'm only traveling one day a week, it's always on Tuesdays.
But when we do get to lesson, she's been making it count. Case in point: at my last lesson three weeks ago, she helped me finally crack the half halt code. And a whole bunch of things started to make sense.
I can't remember exactly what she said, it was weeks ago at this point, but I remember what she did. Connor hadn't been going particularly well for me that night, so she got on. Pretty quickly, he started looking tons better. It was clear he wasn't having a bad day, that I was just riding poorly.
First, she said something to the effect of "He's not just going to come on your aids, you have to make it happen". It's not that I think that way, but I do ride that way, like he has to feel a certain way before I'll ask him for anything, when in reality I should be asking him for things in order to make him feel that way.
All this media is from the night she taught me this, so before I put any of it into practice. And with the old bit.
Then she seriously broke down a half halt farther than anyone has with me before - visually, verbally, physically, slowly. She showed me how with a moment of resistance in her core and arms, and a simultaneous slight movement in her pelvis (she called it forward, I called it backward, but we both meant the same thing!) his balance shifted and he came onto her aids. It was SUCH an effective teaching moment.
The final piece fell into place when I got back on after watching that. She asked me to move with him more, and to let the motion of his head pass all the way through to my shoulder blades.
I won't say I totally got it in that moment, but in the rides after that, as I worked on it, a whole bunch of things from the last six months started to make sense. Megan telling me to use my lats more. Mary telling me why I won't stop pulling until I learn to bear down and use my core. A Chronicle of the Horse post about the differences between the mechanics of Western collection and Dressage collection. Nancy telling me I need to let him pull on himself instead of me pulling on him.
After my Megan and Kate lessons last winter I was riding in a slick jacket so I could hear it when my arms stopped moving, because I knew that meant I was pulling. I didn't really understand WHY I was doing that though, besides pulling = bad. But now I get it.
There's a good tension that is necessary for collection. Without it, the energy just splats out the front end and does nothing useful.
There's also bad tension - pulling. But I think subconsciously, I could not separate pulling and good tension, because good tension requires core engagement in order to happen, which I did not understand before riding with Mary Wanless, and it requires my whole arm get involved in the following motion from his mouth to my shoulder blades, which I did not understand, fully, until this lesson. If my whole arm isn't involved, if the energy stops at my elbow, I am pulling, 100% of the time - which is why the slick jacket thing was an effective cue.
Oh also, this isn't my saddle, and it's like 1.5" too big for me, can you tell? Haha
I can feel it. When I'm doing it right, it's like I make a wall that I can gently push him into from behind. Instead of going splat, he goes up.
And he can feel it. You should see the way he reacts to me having good tension in the canter for the first time ever! When I started riding like that, he kept stopping in the canter, like "Wha...what...why? Why would you do that? Why would you ride like that? This is hard!" And guys, this is NOT a horse that stops in the canter, ever! He's just so used to leaning on me and rolling around on his forehand like a bowling ball, it was a serious paradigm shift for him when my body position wasn't allowing him to do his favorite things anymore.
The proof that something is changing? We're starting to get canter-walk transitions!
That part of the calf was too big on me, but not noticeably so, so I continued to wear them like that for a couple of seasons.
Like at the KPG clinic in 2018. PC: Leah
At LRKY this year, I brought them with me knowing LM would have a booth there, hoping they'd be willing to work on them even though I bought them secondhand. (What can I say, I have PTSD from trying to work with the County rep on a secondhand saddle, ugh, what a waste of time that was.)
They ended up being so good to work with! A nice gentleman had me try them on over my jeans, and then measured me as if I was getting new boots (knowing those measurements are on file is...tempting). I filled out a form, paid $90, left my boots with him and promptly tried to forget about them.
Six weeks later, a shipment was released from customs to me, and I got my boots back! Moment of truth:
They. Are. PERFECT! They seriously fit like custom boots.
A real quick "hey baby will you take a photo for my blog before I go to the barn and get them dirty?"
LM also gave them a beautiful polish while they had them. I had sent them off looking dull, so to get them back looking like this was a thrill.
I didn't know or care how old they were when I bought them, but the LM guy reacted with surprise when he looked at the serial number and saw that they are from 2007! Looking pretty good for 12 year old boots.
Through a little bit of luck and a little bit of working with a company that takes care of its products for life, I now have a pretty much custom pair of LMs for $225. Hopefully someday in the future I can patronize LM by buying an actual pair of custom boots from them, but until then, these seem like they're going to keep kicking for a while!
On Sunday I came out to ride Connor knowing he'd be a bit of a pistol after being inside for a couple of days due to the rain. Fortunately, being a pistol for him is still very manageable. That's part of the reason I own him!
He had a lot of energy, and kept trying to spook at this white stray cat that was hanging out in the grass outside the indoor. We'd go past the open door and he'd throw his head up, skitter sideways and prick his ears straight forward in a "using this as an excuse to be crazy" sort of way, not a "I'm actually afraid" kind of way.
THAT earned him a wet saddle pad, and we ended up having a fantastic ride. Tons of transitions, lots of canter, and one VERY solid C-W tx. I'm currently working him in a knockoff version of the Bombers bit that Leah is graciously letting me borrow, and it's a definite improvement over the old Neue Schule.
Showing his preference for my trainer's riding and French leather in a demo ride on the CWD Dressage saddle
A couple of position things I'm working on:
- My trainer gave me a very effective first toolkit lesson in which she demonstrated and then walked me through, body part by body part, how to put him together. One of the things we identified is that I am still giving through my shoulders and letting him pull me. If I thought about the energy of the mouth "moving" at the walk going all the way through to my shoulder blades, I got way better connection.
- I'm starting to recognize that part of the reason he drifts to the right all the time is that my right thigh is never inwardly rotated and on the saddle. This is way more obvious in the jump saddle than in my old Dressage saddle. When I get my thigh on him and have good connection, I get good bend.
In particular, that C-W tx happened when I set him up for the W-C tx by putting my right thigh on him, getting the left hind underneath him and almost thinking counterbend before setting off into the transition, and then thinking about doing the same in the downward. More to explore there in the future I think.
I want to document my saddle buying experience thoroughly, because there is literally nothing out there on buying a CWD Dressage saddle. Hopefully you guys find these posts interesting, but these are as much for posterity and future Google Searchers than anything else!
I've been doing a lot of Q&A in my own head, trying to keep myself honest and pragmatic about the whole thing. It still feels weird to me that I'm considering doing this. Here's a look inside my head right now:
Q: Why are you so hung up on CWD? A: Many reasons. My jump saddle fits so perfectly people exclaim when they see it on his back. He's always gone so freely and so well in that saddle. I've tried something like 12 other Dressage saddles from 8 other brands and the tree shape (back to front) was fundamentally wrong for him in all of them except Adam Ellis and CWD, and that's not something you can fix.
Q: Are you working with a rep? A: That's another big reason I'm going CWD: we have a local CWD rep (which is a MIRACLE if you know this part of the country), and I am serious about wanting to use a local resource this time. And most importantly, my best friend Mary is a former ace CWD fitter who knows these saddles inside and out, got quite good at fitting Dressage saddles in particular while she was there, and has a great eye.
Q: Why not try to find something used? A: Used CWD Dressage saddles are a tiny, tiny market. CWD just doesn't advertise its Dressage saddles the way it does jump, which is honestly a shame. From there, the flat seated model is a tiny percentage of that small market (maybe one SE24 for every 10 SE08's I see, and yes, I've searched the European sites too), and the "built for a child sized adult and a wide pony SE24" market just straight up does not exist. I could search for a used saddle for years and come up empty.
Q: Why the flat seated model? A: I've come to realize I like having space in the saddle and because the flat seated model is built on the same tree as my jump saddle, which fits my pelvis like no other. When I sat in both models at Kentucky, the SE24 felt like coming home and the SE08 did not.
Q: Why now? A: He's old enough that his back has stopped changing but also young enough that he's (hopefully) years away from retirement. Also, I've ridden in enough saddles this point I've developed actual preferences, so I'm able to clearly express likes/dislikes/wants/needs to the rep. I couldn't have done that a couple of years ago.