Ah yes, the age old struggle of Henry and bitting. It’s been difficult from the very beginning, back in the days when he completely ducked behind all contact and I ended up taking the bit of the equation completely for 6 months. Since I added the bit back in, we’ve gone through several. Some were just because he’s matured and developed over the years, and his ability to handle and go into contact has improved. We’ve gone from a copper loose ring to a nathe to an eggbutt french link to a baucher to Myler to a happy mouth to a KK – different mouthpieces, different metals, different rings, and different thicknesses. Some he hated, some he liked well enough… I’ve never found one where I really loved how he felt in it. I really felt like that was the horse, though, not the bit.
The Neue Schule bits have been on the scene for a while now, and I’ve heard really good things about them. There’s no getting around it: they’re expensive. Especially for someone like me, who has a horse that is very high drama and dislikes most things. His history with bitting tells me that he either tolerates it, or he wants me to stick it where the sun don’t shine and take it with me to hell. That’s Henry. He was also going “fine enough” in his KK that he’s been wearing for a few years now. I mean, sure, sometimes he still liked to drop the contact and come behind the bit, or bounce up off it, but I had no problem accepting that those were symptoms of training issues or my own riding. He’s never been a big fan of real contact and connection, and dressage isn’t my strong suit.
And then I had a day where I really was feeling meh about how he was going in the KK, and started wondering if it might be time to move on again. Maybe a different metal, or a thinner KK? Back to the Nathe? I wasn’t sure. By sheer luck, I also noticed that Riding Warehouse had started carrying some of the Neue Schule bits. There are a lot of things I can resist, but an experiment with an item that I’ve heard so many good things about isn’t one of them.
The first question was: which one?
Neue Schule has so many options, the indecision was crippling. I posted in a dressage group asking for opinions, and eventually found my way to a rep. She helped me narrow it down to two, and then I completely opted out of making hard decisions and made my trainer pick. Yes I’m that kind of person.
We (she) settled on the Tranz Angled Lozenge Eggbutt, which was described by Neue Schule as “offers stability within the mouth, making it a good choice for horses with inconsistent contact, short, tense necked horses, and horses that need directional control.“. Inconsistent contact and tense necked horse… that definitely sounded familiar. Their website goes on to say “When a contact is taken, the Tranz Angled Lozenge rolls down onto the centre of the tongue, the ‘sweet spot’, enhancing feel and responsiveness thus a higher level of communication through the rein is achieved. The arms are slightly curved and of an oval profile. This oval design takes up less room between the tongue and upper palate, whilst offering a similar weight bearing surface from the pony’s perspective as thicker, circular mouthpieces.“. I know that Henry has a larger than average tongue and lower than average palate, so again… this sounded pretty spot on for him.
In all of my reading I found that Neue Schule really spent a long time researching and developing these bits. There is a lot of engineering here, and a lot of attention to minute detail, all the way from the exact shape of the bit, to the exact angle of the lozenge, to the exact makeup of the metal. Seeing all the science and engineering that went into them kind of made the price point make more sense. This isn’t your crappy run of the mill $25 loose ring. They spent a lot of time and money developing these.
Seriously, take a few minutes to look through all of the information on their website. It’s fun.
Admittedly though, at the end of the day all the science in the world can be as impressive as it wants, but what really matters is – what does the horse think?
I will start by saying that Henry hates change. He always has. Any new piece of equipment tends to get a reaction somewhere between angry and irritated. He is the Princess and the Pea to an extreme. Knowing this about him, I planned for the first ride in the Neue Schule to just be a walk hack, ponying Presto with us. No contact or anything, I just wanted him to carry the bit and get used to a new feel in his mouth. As expected, he chomped and chomped and chomped the entire time, trying to figure it out. Standard behavior for Henry on day 1 of a bit change.
The next day I put him back in it, and went out to do trot sets. On trot set days we work mostly in stretchy trot, just going forward and straight, adding in some hill repeats. I didn’t ask him to do anything but go forward and relax his topline, so he could work up into some contact but not really make it too “formal”.
The third day was when I knew I’d be able to tell whether or not it was going to work. By the third repetition he’s always over the fact that Something Changed, and we’ve either moved into acceptance or rejection. So for day 3 we went out and did a light dressage ride, and I suddenly had a horse that was quiet and much steadier in the contact. He didn’t chomp at all (chomping is his go-to maneuver and always has been, I don’t think we’ve ever gone a whole ride in any bit with no chomping), and he felt steadier in my hands than he ever has. The next day, same thing, but even better. The following day, same thing, but even better. I described it to Trainer the best way I could, saying that he felt more “mature” in the connection. Steadier, moving up TO the bit, and no chomping. I finally felt like I had something solid to ride him up to.
In truth, this bit fits the shape of his mouth so much better than the KK, and better than anything else I’ve used on him. It sits so nicely, not too thick, not too thin, and matches the contours of his mouth perfectly. I can see why he finds it so much more comfortable. I think I had fallen into the “bit fitting” trap of looking only at the size and thickness of the bit, rather than really examining the whole shape. Bits are kind of like saddles in that way – it has to fit the whole way across. Until I saw how well the Neue Schule sat in his mouth, I didn’t really realize how all of the others hadn’t.
The real test was our dressage lesson last weekend, where Trainer would be seeing him in the new bit for the first time. Even though he started out tight and tense in the environment, she immediately exclaimed that he looked so much steadier and happier in the contact than he had before. She kept saying that he really looked like a “proper horse”. I asked her afterward to write down her impressions so that I could include it here, and this is what she had to say:
The difference in his hind leg is unbelievable! The connection can finally come from back to front with a soft, elastic connection to the bit. Before, he would hit the bit and try to hide from it, and that tendency has totally disappeared. He finally trusts the contact, which results in a true connection, which results in a horse that can work properly forward from his hind end.
I am still kind of blown away by the difference. I was hoping he would like the bit, but I didn’t really expect to have any major changes. In my wildest dreams I was thinking maybe he’d be 20% steadier in the contact, but instead I’ve got a horse who is 100% happier than he was, and some issues that we’ve struggled with for years have been massively improved in a matter of weeks. Now I feel bad for taking so long to figure this out for him.
If you’ve been eyeing a Neue Schule, I really can’t say enough good things about my experience. Are they pricey? Yes. Would I have spent the money several times over to make my horse this much happier? Without a doubt. Bits are just as important as saddles, IMO, and you can’t deny all of the time and engineering that has gone into producing the Neue Schule line. You also can’t argue with Princess Henry.
I do always have Riding Warehouse coupons, so if you’re looking to save a few bucks on an order just drop me a line and I’ll send you one. I know every dollar counts! And in this case, those dollars are exceptionally well spent.