It was a dressage rider’s dream for Florence Wetzel when she imported her horse. Fourteen years old and ridden by a member of the French team, the gelding was a solid Grand Prix performer. When opportunity knocked, she answered and quickly purchased the horse. Florence laughs, “For the first two months, the only gait we had was passage. I clearly needed more knowledge!” So with the help of her trainer, she began acquiring the skills she would need to drive her equine Lamborghini.
Time to build a trophy case. Right? Not so fast. It seems that Florence’s mount had a severe problem known as “peacocking” in which he would lower his back, seemingly pushing it through the front of the chest, which in turn would give an odd appearance to the underside of his neck akin to that of a peacock. A problem solver by nature, Florence began searching for answers. Four custom saddles and numerous trainers later, the problem persisted. Florence continued her quest.
Via a chance comment, Florence learned about Neue Schule bits. She was told that the company actually had a specific bit that would address that problem! It seemed that the developers of these bits had taken their craft to the next level, employing everyone from veterinarians to cad designers to refine them. There was only one problem. At that time, this bit was not available for trial in the US. She had already thrown good money after bad in an attempt to solve her horse’s issue. If only she could find this Neue Schule bit to try.
Fate intervened. While Florence was at Home Depot, she spotted a woman sporting a Neue Schule Bits shirt and hat. Florence approached her. Turns out that lady was Mettte Larsen, President of Neue Schule USA and Canada, who gave her a number to call for help. And help they did. Florence changed her horse’s bit and her horse almost instantly relaxed and rounded. Problem solved.
Based on her experience, Florence was convinced that there must be many other horses who could benefit from a properly fitted bit, so she became a certified Neue Schule bit fitter! Certification does not come easily. It requires the completion of an intensive nine-week course that includes physics, math and engineering. Students are required to read patents as far back as the 1800’s, like the original application for the Dr. Bristol bit. This serves two purposes- to demonstrate the evolution of bits, and to provide a detailed explanation of precisely how they affect the horse.
Florence is quick to point out that bits have not changed much over hundreds of years. She states that a bit exhumed from a Viking burial ground showed the Vikings using a single-jointed loose ring snaffle with 70 mm rings. So isn’t it about time that modern technology is applied to bits? Florence is passionate about the topic.
A poor fitting bit creates a myriad of problems. Florence explains that a horse will do anything to be comfortable and not fall down. Basically, he just wants a pain free ride, and if his rider can’t give it to him, he devises a way to create it for himself. This includes stiffening, leaning, cocking his head, shortening his stride or developing an uneven one. She explains that due to the increase in the use of equine dentistry, bone spurs are being observed in mouths that are a direct result of an ill-fitting bit. Poorly fitting bits may also cause cavities by wearing away enamel.
The composition of a bit is also important. Unlike bits composed of recycled scrap metal, Neue Schule bits are composed of a proprietary blend of stainless steel, copper, chromium, and zinc for a product called Salox Gold. They have no nasty taste and do not react to the acidity of the horse’s saliva. They have high thermal conductivity (i.e. they warm up quickly and don’t have to be held under hot water in cold conditions prior to being put in the horse’s mouth), and they are soft enough to absorb concussive waves.
Additionally, a horse’s bit needs can change. For example, a horse may reach a training plateau where the rider begins to ask different questions. When physical requirements change, it’s possible the horse’s bitting needs may change.
Florence says she loves it when someone says, “My horse doesn’t like anything.” This is the most satisfying puzzle to solve. Says Florence, “Bring it on! That is a horse who is crying out.”
In addition to making private calls, Florence does bit fitting clinics for groups. Usually, a lecture is presented the day before the actual fitting, then work with one rider at a time ensues the following day for an hour or so as each rider and horse are analyzed to find the perfect bit for them. One or more bits can be rented before a final decision is made. Say good-bye to that box of random bits in your barn that
just never worked out!
Your good horse may have the potential to become a great horse with a simple change of bits. Contact Florence at: florence@ trymybits.com.
Photo caption: Florence Wetzel educates STRIDE members on proper bit fit.
By Dale Wade