Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Turnout Critique #15

This week's featured horse and rider are doing a lot right already. Our rider should find that a few minor changes to further refine their turnout will have a big impact on the overall picture.

I'm told that this horse usually goes in a front riser pad due to high withers, but he wears a half pad on top of a shaped pad for showing. While this is slightly more attractive than a foam riser pad, it still looks very bulky. Ideally the saddle fit would be such that extra padding wouldn't be necessary. Additional pads can actually make fit tighter, like wearing two pairs of socks, so taking the pressure off one area with extra padding can sometimes make the fit worse elsewhere. For showing, I would consider using the shaped pad with a small pommel pad just over the withers instead of a half pad; this arrangement is fairly common in the hunter ring and adds discrete padding without being bulky. They are available in various forms, from knitted/crochet to fleece to foam, and they can even be done in barn colours because the pommel pad is essentially invisible with the saddle over top. If the saddle fitter agrees with this set-up, losing the bulky half pad will go a long way towards enhancing their turnout. The shaped pad looks like it would probably suit the shape of the saddle nicely in this set-up with just an inch or two of pad showing evenly all the way around.

The bridle is quite thin for this large-boned horse, who could benefit from wider straps to give the illusion of a smaller head. The noseband is also adjusted a little bit low; bringing it up so that it rests an inch or two below the cheek bones would also make his head look more refined by shortening the distance between the browband and the noseband. In the same vein, this large-boned type of horse would benefit from a bit with bigger rings, such as a Hunter Dee bit, though obviously the horse's response to any type of bit is the most important factor. The bridle looks to be clean and in good repair.

The girth does not appear to be as clean as the rest of the tack. The outside of the girth receives dirt and sweat transferred from the rider's boots and the horse's elbow, so it's one piece of tack that really should be cleaned between classes if there is a break.

I am impressed by how white the leg markings are considering they do not appear to have been clipped. Brushing them and possibly applying baby powder or corn starch prior to entering the show ring would help to eliminate the slight brown tinge just above the hooves, and clipping the legs would make the whole process much easier. The white markings would be set off nicely by applying a fresh coat of hoof oil to the feet just before entering the show ring.

Frequent readers of the blog have probably noticed the presence of my pet peeve, the too-long excess stirrup leather. This should either be trimmed or tucked back under the saddle flap to keep it from swinging around and distracting both the judge and the horse. The stirrup irons are a classic style appropriate for both hunter and equitation classes.

This horse has been braided in the hunter style, but over the course of the show day several of the braids have been rubbed out of place. There are a few different ways to prevent this from happening. The first is to make sure that the mane is very clean prior to braiding; this will dissuade the horse from rubbing the braids out himself. Next, when pulling the braids up, make sure that you are inserting the pull-through perfectly parallel to the braid. Any tiny angle will encourage the braids to move out of place. Finally, the shorter the braids, the more sturdy they will be. Long braids leave a tail that can be easily moved around, whereas the bottom of short braids is very close to the knot, making them much more secure.

The tail appears to be flowing nicely as if it has been fully brushed out. For a thick tail like this, the easiest way to keep it from getting clumpy is to shampoo it frequently since dirty hairs tend to stick together, and then brush it out all the way from top to bottom before every class on a show day.

This horse's coat shines deeply, showing that he is well-cared-for. Based on this photo, it looks as though he could use a little bit more weight to cover his ribs better and suit his heavier build. I am also slightly concerned about his feet, which appear to be somewhat chipped. Jumping can be hard on feet and it's possible that this horse might feel more comfortable in shoes, though of course it's impossible to tell from a photo and he could be doing perfectly well barefoot.

Our rider is neatly dressed in suitable conservative attire for the hunter ring. The sleeves of the jacket are too short, but it is very difficult to find a jacket with extra-long sleeves for a long-armed rider off the rack without going custom. The jacket seems to be very clean and nicely fitted through the body, though the overall length might be just a tiny bit short (though in two-point position it is difficult to say for sure). For her next jacket, this rider might consider finding a brand that offers a tall option if her current jacket isn't a "tall" already.

Her breeches are an appropriate beige colour and are again very clean. While her field boots are beautifully fitted, they sport a layer of dust that should in future be wiped off at the in-gate.

The helmet is again a good conservative choice, though at least one big cluster of hair has escaped containment to detract from the overall neatness. It is nice, however, to see a chin strap that appears to be properly fitted instead of hanging too low to be of any use. The rider's black leather or leather-like gloves are also a very appropriate choice for hunter or equitation classes.

It appears that the nostrils and mouth have been wiped off prior to the horse entering the ring, which is very good. It's at this point that the rider's boots should also be included in the towelling.

A few of my suggestions in this critique have involved what to look for when replacing certain pieces of tack or attire in the future. None of these purchases need to be made immediately; they are simply recommendations for what would complement this particular horse or rider that much better when those items do need to be replaced. The remaining suggestions really are very minor changes that will make this pair look that much more professional.

Thank you very much to this week's featured rider for sending this photo in for a critique! Riders interested in being featured in future turnout critiques can e-mail their photos to

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bitting Arrangements

Bitting can be complicated, especially when certain bits are made without an obvious orientation or with more rings than there are reins. This aim of this post is to make the process of setting up a new bit easier. These are amongst the more popular bits, and most other styles will follow a similar pattern. Whenever you try a new bit, I strongly recommend that you adjust and use it under the guidance of an experienced horse person.

Dashed lines on the bit diagrams indicate where two sets of reins or a single rein with converters (aka roundings) could be used.


The baucher is a snaffle that differs from others in that it has two rings: one for the cheekpiece and one for the reins. This causes it to hang differently in the mouth in a way that some horses prefer, but it also makes it prone to being hung upside down.

There are no options here; the cheekpiece always attaches to the small ring while the reins attach to the ring that contains the mouthpiece.

Elevator/Three-Ring/Four-Ring/Continental Gag/Pessoa Gag

This bit has many names to go along with the many ways in which it can be used!

The cheekpiece always attaches to the small ring at the top, but everything aside from that is an option. Many will ride with a single set of reins on one of the lower rings, which makes it exclusively a leverage bit. Set up in this way, the horse has no relief from the leverage unless contact is dropped entirely. To remedy this, a snaffle rein can be added to the big ring, using either converters or two sets of reins. The lower the ring for the curb rein, the more leverage there will be.

Gag Bit/Running Gag

This bit incorporates both a bit and special cheekpieces which allow the bit to be lifted up in the mouth. The bridle's original cheekpieces must be removed to make room for the gag cheekpieces.

There are two options for using this bit. Many riders will just use the gag attachment with a single set of reins. The severity can be lessened by using, in addition to the gag rein, a snaffle rein attached to the big ring, which keeps the bit from being lifted every time contact is taken. I do not recommend using the snaffle rein without a gag rein attached; this gives the bit the opportunity to bounce freely up along the cheekpieces with every stride, which can be both irritating and confusing to the horse.


The pelham is a popular choice for hunters or equitation horses that require more bit than a snaffle.

There are very few options when using a pelham. The cheekpiece will always attach to the top ring, and the curb chain will also attach to the hook there (sometimes the chain is run through the snaffle ring on its way to the hook to stabilize or shorten it). The pelham should be used with either two sets of reins or with rein converters/roundings. In the jumper ring, pelhams are occasionally seen with just a curb rein but this is very severe and should only be used in rare occasions by very talented riders. The reins or converters will always attach to the big ring and to the lower ring. For hunter and equitation classes, check your local rules to find out whether converters are permitted for your jump height and age group.

The tiny ring is for a lip strap, which is the most correct way to use a pelham despite not being very commonly used in the North American hunter/jumper scene. The lip strap is a thin rolled piece of leather that runs through the centre link of the curb chain to keep it flat and still, and it also keeps the bit shanks away from the horse's mouth where they could be grabbed.

Uxeter Kimberwick/Kimberwicke/Kimblewick

The Uxeter or slotted kimberwick is a bit sometimes seen on strong ponies (the pelham is a more appropriate bit in most other cases because the action is more refined).

The cheekpiece will always attach to the small ring at the top, and there is a hole below that ring for the curb chain hook. There are two options for the reins; the upper slot will hold the rein in a position opposite the mouthpiece that will act more similarly to a snaffle, while the lower slot holds the reins in a position to provide stronger curb action. The short length doesn't allow the curb action to ever be truly strong, but this bit isn't generally favoured because there is no relief from that small amount of leverage given that only one set of reins is ever used.