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|Jonathan Field Horsemanship Bitting Program
When Jonathan Field first spoke with Dale Myler of Myler Bits, he immediately recognized the similarities in their philosophies about horses. "A bit does not train the horse," is the philosophy of Dale, Ron and Bob Myler. This is the defining principle that aligned Jonathan Field and the Mylers. This shared philosophy prompted a meeting between Jonathan and Dale at Jonathan's James Creek Ranch so that they could work together in selecting three Myler mouthpieces that fit the criteria within Jonathan's horsemanship program.
The Field Horsemanship Bitting Program advocates the use of a bit as a tool for achieving a greater, more refined communication; not one of force, fear or pain. The bit is a tool for refining the skills of both horse and rider.
Horses are extremely sensitive to touch; when a fly lands on their back, they'll shake their skin on that very spot. Taking into consideration this sensitivity, riders have a large responsibility on their hands. When you place a bit in a horse's mouth, you are applying pressure in up to 6 different areas of his body: The bar between the teeth, cheek and lip, tongue, palate, poll and chin. Therefore, a basic knowledge and understanding of bits is a must in order to maintain respect and care for your horse.
It cannot be emphasized enough that a bit does not train a horse. In fact, you can train a horse completely without ever using a bit. With a proper understanding of bits and the horse's anatomy, by using a bit many horses can have a more positive training experience because the communication will be clearer and more concise with the bit but only with the right knowledge and approach.
All bit designs have a different focus, but primarily they move towards one of two objectives: Disengage, bend and de-power a horse; or engage, straighten and power a horse.
The Field Horsemanship Program starts with a strong focus on control, disengagement and safety, established through ground skills with a rope halter and lead rope. The next step is when we mount onto the horse's back and use a Natural Rope Hackamore, which is a direct carryover of the skills learned on the ground with the halter. Many riders may never move into a bit; they progress comfortably in the Natural Rope Hackamore.
Here's an overview of the different bit pressures:
Tongue pressure: The tongue is a very sensitive part of a horse. If pressure is applied by the wrong bit or by a rider who has not earned the right to be in a horse's mouth, it can be extremely uncomfortable and, at the very least, difficult to swallow. Often, when a horse throws his head around and constantly works the bit, this is his way of fighting sustained tongue pressure. In this bitting program the goal is to have relief of the tongue throughout the entire process, without any periods of sustained tongue pressure. This goal is achievable in the Field Horsemanship Program which teaches techniques that don't require longer contact with the reins until the bit is giving maximum tongue relief.
Bar Pressure: The bar in your horse's mouth is located between the incisors and premolars. This area is simply skin-covered bone, and is very sensitive (much like our shin). The idea of bar pressure is to encourage your horse to flex at the poll in order to find relief, much like tongue pressure.
Palate Pressure: While all bits touch the roof of the horse's mouth while at rest, much as our tongue does when our mouth is closed, the bits in our selection are not 'active palate pressure' bits. In order for active palate pressure to be achieved, the port of the bit would need to be at least 2" high, and our bits go no higher than 3/4". Palate pressure is used only in very high levels of horsemanship. At this foundational level of the Field Horsemanship Program, the use of a palate pressure bit would serve only to confuse your horse and possibly cause him unnecessary pain and discomfort.
Chin Pressure: Chin pressure is applied when a curb strap is attached to the bit, and the reins are attached to the lower hooks or shank. This outside-of-the-mouth pressure can give relief to the inside of the mouth because it helps to disperse pressure over a greater surface area. A chin strap differs from a curb strap in that it sits in front of the reins and is used to prevent the bit from going through the horse's mouth. Jonathan Field Horsemanship introduces the use of a curb strap in the intermediate levels.
Poll Pressure: Poll pressure is very subtle in comparison with the others described above, and is only activated when the reins are attached to the curb hook or shanks, and often with the use of a curb strap.
Jonathan Field Myler Bit Selection
Here is a description of the three mouthpieces in the Jonathan Field Horsemanship Bitting Program. This is a progressive pathway, built on the solid communication you've already established through both Ground Skills and riding with a Rope Hackamore
Bit 1: This bit is designed to refine the skills and communication achieved in the hackamore, while remaining helpful in creating lateral bend and disengagement. This bit offers a great comfort to the horse at this stage of development, with a curved mouthpiece, lateral collapse and a 1/4" port for tongue relief.
Bit 2: This bit is the first step we take towards engagement and straightness. Here, the mouthpiece becomes stiffer laterally but maintains independent movement side-to-side. This bit features added comfort with a curved mouthpiece, minimal lateral collapse and a 3/4" port for a greater degree of tongue relief.
Bit 3: This bit offers the greatest comfort to the horse when in the higher levels of horsemanship. At this point, horse and rider are more advanced and are communicating primarily from the rider's body and the bit is used as a refining tool in the pursuit of collection and engagement. Bit 3 features a wider, 3/4" port that gently slopes up and over the tongue completely, a curved mouthpiece and minimal lateral collapse.
Cheekpieces: Available in both Eggbutt style with hidden slots and Western D-Ring with hooks. Bit 2 is also available with a 5" shank cheekpiece.
Bridle Hangers: These hangers allow the bridle to be fixed to the top of the cheekpieces, which helps your horse carry the bit easier as it keeps it in a comfortable position in his mouth.
Curb Hooks: The lower slots/rings in the cheekpieces allow the transition from a loose setting on the cheekpiece ring to a curb action bit.
Center Barrel: The small barrel in the center of the mouthpiece is one of the most important comfort factors for a horse's mouth. It is the one feature that Jonathan would choose if he had to pick just one. This barrel stops the complete collapse and pinching of the bars, lips and tongue (also known as the nutcracker effect).
Ported Tongue Relief: Due to the discomfort caused by tongue pressure, all three mouthpieces in our bitting program feature a degree of ported tongue relief for your horse. Many people see the port on a bit as palate pressure or force but remember, based on palate pressure action and a horse's anatomy, these ports are designed for comfort and tongue relief.
Materials: These bits feature three metals. The mouthpiece of the bit is made of sweet iron to make the bit taste better to the horse. The copper inlay encourages salivation. The cheekpieces are made of stainless steel to prevent rusting.
Reins: The 9' Loop Reins were designed to work in conjunction with this bitting program. These reins are made of the same rope as the lead and hackamore with brass clips for quick transition between the bit's cheekpiece ring and curb action. The rein has been spliced back 8" from the clip so the horse can feel the reins lifting and has the chance to respond before the bit is touched.
“I have been experimenting with Bit #1, the English version, and have been impressed with the very different ‘feel’ that it has created with my mare. She seems to ‘carry’ the bit and my connection through the reins is very different — we are talking to each other in a much better way. I am asking for less but getting more.”
— Lois Shaw, Nanaimo, BC
“It was my horse’s second ride in his new bit, the Myler #2. He is lighter and holding his longitudinal flexion for longer. He really seems to like the bit.”
— Lorie Clarke, North Saanich,