My hope is that you all will share your thoughts on a "situation" that I have with my Horse. "Braveheart" is an 11 year-old Belgian/Quarter Horse Gelding. He and I ride approximately 4-5 days a week in indoor and outdoor arenas. We school weekly over max 3" jumps. We trail ride approx. Once per week. We Fox Hunt (scent only!) from late August until early December. I have owned Braveheart (BH) for 1 year, so we are just entering our second year of Foxhunting.
In the arenas at the barn, I ride BH in a full cheek 1/2" smooth mouth snaffle. He goes very nice. He respects the bit. We do transitions, serpentines, leg yields, jumps etc with ease and very light hands. The challenge comes in the field. When we trail ride with a couple of friends from the barn, BH goes pretty well, but not as well as in the arenas. He occasionally gets noticeably agitated and a tad bit barn sour. I have worked with him (and knock wood) broke him of his barn sourness. For the past several trail rides, he has done very well. No silliness. Easy, light-handed transitions through the range of walk, trot canter. All of this in the mild snaffle described above.
And then there was yesterday..... Yesterday was the first Fox Hunt of the season for BH and me. I turned back after only 2 lines because I just had no brakes. He was determined to keep up with the horse in front of him. All of the things (i.e. Shifting weight, verbal que's etc) that work on trail rides and at the barn did not work at all. I refused to hang on his mouth and be one of those riders that rams into the back of other horses. I rode him later yesterday and this morning on the trail and he went like a little machine. Easy gates, easy transitions, great "whoa's" etc.
Plenty of folks in my Hunt, and even my trainer strongly recommends that I move to a more severe bit, such as a twisted-wire snaffle. Many say that they use "severe" bits only on days that they Hunt. The other 340 days are spent in a mild snaffle.
I have had horses for many years and fully understand that the rider is what makes a bit "severe". A "severe" bit in the hands of a seasoned rider can be an effective tool under the right circumstances. I believe (and my trainer tells me) that I have light hands.
Your thoughts and recommendations are greatly appreciated.
Jim B. From Chicagoland