Eventer Caroline Powell, ambassador for Bombers Bits, shares her tips on preparing for next year, and Kirstie Johnston shares her advice on using the winter to explore bitting options.
Caroline Powell says, “With the eventing season finished, now is the time to hone your skills and start preparing for the season ahead. My horses have all had a short break and been allowed to let themselves down mentally and physically. When I pick them up, I start with plenty of hacking, then we aim for indoor shows, cross-country schooling and dressage lessons. My training programmes are tailored to each horse individually, as a lot depends on their temperament, age and where they’re at in their career.
“The winter let-down period tends to pass quite quickly, and I know it won’t be long before my horses are back out at local events. The young horses will be aimed at BE100 and Novice, while the more established horses will be in Intermediate and above classes.”
Common schooling issues over winter
You may choose to give your horse a complete rest over winter, or simply reduce his workload. A break will help him to recuperate from the competitive season, but also to rest his mind, and enjoy time in the field.
“We usually see a loss in a horse’s flexibility, suppleness and strength over winter, as well as training regression, which can be reflected in the horse’s obedience, and more spirited behaviour. Additionally, if the stresses of travel and competition are reduced, there’s less chance of digestive disturbances and gastric ulcers over winter, providing adequate turn-out is given.
Some of the issues facing us in terms of our schooling during the winter training period
less physical flexibility, meaning turns to and from fences are likely to be affected
a lack of strength and suppleness – this can be overcome with regular slow hacking, utilising hills and schooling. It can also affect accuracy and technique when jumping, or working in a correct outline
the mental break can mean more spirited behaviour, spooks and exuberant canters
Assessing your bit
According to Kirstie Johnston of retailer Forelock & Load, using the winter to reflect about any problems you’ve had while schooling or competing is a great use of your time.
“Think about any changes to your horse’s management, schooling or bitting. The main reason for choosing now is there’s less pressure, as you’re not out competing and trying to fit in trialling a bit around a busy schedule.
“We can offer customers a comprehensive bitting service and hire, to make sure your horse is as comfortable and happy as possible.
“Once your horse is happy in the right mouthpiece on the flat, look at changing the bit ring when you start to do more jumping. The horse remains comfortable in the same mouthpiece he’s happy in, while the change of bit ring will give you a bit more leverage, or help with steering. I’m a huge fan of Bombers Bits, and what’s so refreshing is the hard work they’re putting in with the FEI, British Dressage (BD) and British Eventing (BE) to get these bits competition-legal.
“Bombers’ philosophy is pressure equals resistance – we want to remove the pressure, so there isn’t any resistance. The changes we’ve seen with a lot of our customers’ horses has been immense. Bomber Nel, the mastermind behind Bombers Bits, has spent years looking at horses, their skull and mouth conformation. This in turn has given him a phenomenal understanding of bitting and the horse’s needs. All Bombers Bits are handmade in their factory in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, which give them a huge advantage over the many other loriners that we see.
“In the shop, we’ve also noticed changes in equine conformation. Warmbloods have more Thoroughbred blood in them and, as a result, they’re finer and have a lighter head. These tall 17hh horses can often have a 125mm bit in their mouth, which would’ve been very uncommon ten or fifteen years ago.
“When we look at it from the horse’s perspective, if he dislikes tongue pressure and benefits from a bit that’s raised off his tongue, allowing plenty of room, we should harness it, and work with him. Over the last eighteen months, Bombers have made some huge developments, and we’ve seen tremendous results with the bits featuring a swivel mouthpiece. The swivel mouthpiece relieves tongue pressure, and your horse is able to place the mouthpiece where he feels it’s most comfortable.”
Which bit for cross country training and arena eventing
“A popular jumping bit is the Bombers 2.5 Ring Ported Barrel.The 2.5 ring allows for a bit of extra leverage, which can be further increased by tightening the back strap. It’ll also put pressure on the sides of the face to help assist with steering. The Ported Barrel mouth piece is a triple-jointed bit, which does allow lateral movement and room for the tongue.
“Another good bit to try is the Bombers DC Morgan Swivel. It removes pressure from your horse’s tongue. Due to the swivel of the mouthpiece your horse can place it where it’s most comfortable in his mouth. This bit comes in a variety of mouthpieces including sweet iron, titanium and Bomber Blue. Plus, a dressage-legal version without the rein loop is available, called the DC Dressage Swivel
“It’s important to remember that correct schooling is first and foremost, and time needs to be spent training through the winter months. We strongly recommend seeking professional help if you’re experiencing any difficulties, before changing your horse’s bit.”
Whatever your plans, enjoy your winter riding – now is the time to try something new.