Tucker and I are in need of a new bit for our flat work. We've been using the full cheek rotary bit for over a year (photo here) and it's now not producing the results I like. We started using it because each side moves independently (the whole bit twists back and forth, hence the "rotary" name), and we used to have major problems with him grabbing the left side of the bit. That problem seems to be gone now, and I think was fixed in large part due to good chiropractic work and a flash noseband, which keeps him from crossing his jaw.
The problems I'm having now with that bit are leading me to conclude that it's worn out its use, especially given that his flat work is great in either the hackamore or his jumping bit. In the rotary, he leans on it at times, especially when he gets tired and doesn't want to keep using his hind end. He also roots the reins out of my hands in it when he doesn't want to work, or sometimes on landing from the jumps (especially if he's anticipating a lead change). Lastly, especially when I'm asking him to accept the right rein (as opposed to the left), he doesn't accept the bit well. Instead of maintaining a steady contact with my hand, he flips his nose up and down a little (not violently or anything, but enough to disrupt whatever we're trying to do), or he'll try to come above my hand. In short, he used to like this bit, but he seems to have no respect for it anymore.
All these problems go away in the bit we use for jumping and shows, which is a full cheek copper Dr. Bristol with a slow twist. I know that Dr. Bristols can be harsh when in the wrong hands, because if you yank on the horse you'll dig the narrow side of the center plate into your horse's tongue, but I'm very gentle with my hands. According to Wikipedia, when used with a full cheek with keepers (as I do), the plate lies flat against the tongue because the bit's position in the mouth is kept stable. I'm not sure if that's accurate or not though, because I haven't read that elsewhere. What I do know is that for Tucker, it's the magic bit. He doesn't lean on it, he never roots the reins out of my hands, he responds immediately when I need him to collect down the lines without much pressure from me, and on the flat I can keep a soft following feel and it rests comfortably in his mouth. I love the copper mouth, which really seems to make him foam up and accept the bit nicely. But while I love this bit, I'd really like to use a milder bit to do my flat work, and save that one for jumping lessons and horse shows.
Last night I tried a dee ring copper roller that I have, and he was better -- no nose flipping, and he accepted both reins pretty consistently at the trot. Unfortunately, there was a lot of leaning. We did some work cantering over cavaletti and when I'd ask him to collect to add a stride, he leaned on my hand instead of compressing between my hand and leg. It was also really tough to keep him from bulging through his outside shoulder in this bit because my outside half-halts were mostly ignored, which made me have to use a little stronger half-halt than I normally like. So, that bit's not quite right.
I think the Dr. Bristol piece in our other bit is what keeps him from leaning or rooting, because if he leans, the plate in the center will increase tongue pressure. This has the added bonus of me not having to change anything in my hand to stop the leaning, so it's more of a self-correction, which I think makes him learn more quickly. So, on Friday for my lesson with Alicia, we're going to try a plain full cheek Dr. Bristol (no copper, no slow twist). I wish they made a copper mouth without the slow twist, but I can't find one.
If I'm not happy with the plain Dr. Bristol, I'm going to have to start trying other options. I know that he doesn't like loose rings, which makes me think he probably doesn't like all the movement a loose ring causes. I also know he hates the Waterford mouthpiece. He goes best in a full cheek with bit keepers, which is a very stable bit (not a lot of movement in the corners of his mouth). He also goes pretty well in dee ring bits, which are also fairly stable (more so than a loose ring or an egg butt). I definitely want something that either has two breaks in it, or is curved so that the center break doesn't cause pressure on the roof of his mouth.
Here are the ones I've been thinking of trying, though I'm not entirely sure that I want to spend the money on some of the more expensive ones without knowing they're going to work:
OV Curve Full Cheek
OV Curve Dr. Bristol Dee Ring
JP Slow Twist Full Cheek
Ovation Elite Full Cheek
Stubben EZ Control Full Cheek
Sprenger KK Ultra Full Cheek
Maybe if the plain Dr. Bristol works well, I can use that for a while until we've eliminated the leaning/rooting behavior (just like we eliminated the grabbing the left side/jaw crossing with the rotary and flash). At that point, once he's gotten stronger and he's staying balanced consistently, I can go to something that doesn't apply any tongue pressure, but is a comfortable, ergonomic design, like the last three above. I'd really like to get him to the point in his flat work where we can use a very simple, gentle bit that he's happy about. It's possible that we're not quite there yet in our flat work though. Everything's a work in progress....
Any suggestions or things I haven't thought of?