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Aloha
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with Dr. Deb, Ph.D. and Dave Elliott, Master Bitmaker
I purchased this set late last year.

Put the first disc in the other day and never made it back to the couch to sit down. I stood in the middle of my living room watching the TV, mesmerized. Absolutely fascinated. It wasn't that I didn't know what the two of them were talking about, but the conversation was just so interesting. And nothing I've ever really discussed in depth with another human being before. The collection of bits laying on the table and they'd pick one up and discuss it. The comments Dave would make from a bitmaker's perspective will have me looking at bits differently from here on out. The finer, less obvious, details.

Then Dr. Deb had a bunch of paper cutouts of different parts to a bit and they were putting them together in different configurations on a pin up board. "What would happen if we did this?" Very fun to watch.

I'm not quite finished watching disc 1 yet. Looking forward to the other 3. Use of a skull and who knows what other fun stuff is coming!

I do have a question. Which might get answered later in the program. The bit hobble. How LONG is the strap supposed to be? You (Dr. Deb) held up a bit that had a rawhide hobble and the strap was the same length as the bit cannons. So, the same "width" as the bit. I understand it's purpose is to prevent the bit from being pulled through the mouth. Hopefully that would only occur as a freak accident and not from a rider reefing on a rein. However, having observed both Buck Brannaman and Harry Whitney clinics, I have seen the "looseness" of the bit hobbles all over the board. (Same thing with flank cinches.) Is there a general "rule" of how long the bit hobble should be in relation to the horse's chin or the width of the bit, size of the bit rings, etc.?

WWDES? (What would Dave Elliott say?)

Thanks Dr. Deb! Even if it's to tell me to continue watching for the answer to my question!

Just wanted to put this out there for anyone interested in bits and how they work. So far this is one of the BEST "horse" videos I have seen hands down. Even if the other 3 discs are toast, the first one is priceless!

Happy riding!
Monica

DrDeb
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Actually, I don't think I remember commenting on the length of the bit hobble in the program.

So here's the answer: have it snug enough to function for its intended purpose without irritating the horse.

To function for its intended purpose -- and yes it is mostly contra somebody reefing on a rein, but you might need to reef on a rein if, say, the horse bolts off with you and you need both hands on one rein just to turn him to get him stopped -- it needs to be snug enough to barely clear the chin.

To not irritate the horse, it needs to not be too tight, i.e. under ordinary use of the rein, it should never get "stuck" or bound up in the chin hairs, it should not increase the pressure or force of the bit, or crush the tongue or twist the commissures of the lips downward or outward.

To not irritate the horse, it also needs to not be so loose that when the horse goes with a lower head, or bounces up and down with the trot, the strap does not swing forward and whap-whap-whap him under the chin.

Thank you very much for your rave review of the bitting DVD. And yes we did have a good deal of fun making that program. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

iwanttolearn
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Dr Hilary Clayton did an x-ray study on both cadavers and live animals. One of the interesting findings was that the single jointed snaffle, long believed to have a 'nutcracker' effect and to jab the palette of the mouth, in fact tends not to meet the palette due to the fact that compression of the tongue creates more "depth" in the mouth.

Which is why I am wary of studying the mechanisms of different bits when the model is only bone.

Cheers,

Anne-Marie

DrDeb
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Anne-Marie, you do not have enough experience, either as a rider or as a scientist, to properly interpret Clayton's work. All that shows up on X-Ray is not all there is, so your doubts and reluctances are not well founded. All that is published in the scientific literature is not all the truth there is. What we tell you on the 'anatomy of bitting' DVD is WHAT WE HAVE OBSERVED. What Clayton reports is WHAT SHE HAS OBSERVED. We are paying attention to what horses tell us, and what our feel tells us; she is paying attention to what her X-Ray machine shows. Which is more valid? Which is more useful?

Observation will also be the basis for our work together on getting you to figure out the answers to your questions about 'long and low.' And about anything whatsoever else. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

iwanttolearn
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If someone asked me which seems more credible: observing what a horse tells you vs. observing what an x-ray machine tells you... I'd say that x-ray machines are objectively more credible.

There are very few scientific studies done regarding the action of bits in a horses mouth with all the tissues and muscles intact. That's why I shared the study, because I thought it was relevant to the discussion. Not to snub you.

DrDeb
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Impossible to accomplish is snubbing, my dear. You as a student are not in any position to snub anybody.

Now, further homework: please define 'objective'. Your struggles to do this will bring home to you what I meant in saying, 'you do not have the experience.' Cheers -- Dr. Deb

iwanttolearn
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See, if I use a dictionary definition of objective you will tell me that I am a "B" student. *eye roll* It is too bad that you do not understand what it means.

DrDeb
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Anne-Marie, you can have no idea whatsoever ahead of time WHAT I, as the teacher, may say to you. But you seem to be too chicken to risk any sort of failure. I've seen this before in children raised in the past three or four decades, and I think it's really awful that the grownups in your life, both public school teachers and your parents and elders, would screw you by raising you with the expectation that you will (or must) succeed all the time. Nobody succeeds at everything all the time, and the primary way to learn is by failing and learning from your failures.

Our great teacher, the tough old cowboy Ray Hunt, used to say "the man that never failed never got nothin' done anyway....so, smile and go at it." This, and no other, is the path to success Anne-Marie.

So quit your whining and sit down and have a think with yourself, and when you come back with your definition of 'objective' we will go from there. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

iwanttolearn
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OK Dr Deb, here goes.

I haven't seen your video on bits. I think Hilary Clayton did an interesting study. As far as I know, her images are the first to show the action of a bit in the living equine's mouth.

What do you think about her study? Not about me, not about what I think, but what do you think about her study? Do they contradict your observations? Do they compliment your observations?

DrDeb
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If you haven't seen "The Anatomy of Bitting," Anne-Marie, then I guess it isn't surprising that you're asking questions. The first thing a good scientist does is review all the available literature (in whatever form, video, photos, written publications). So, first lesson: this isn't going to be a he-said-she-said because it isn't that simple. Also, understand, the reason I'm taking a good bit of my time to reply to you is because you're not the only person reading here who might benefit from it.

As I mentioned before, you lack experience -- and now let me be more specific that I mean you lack experience in the area that is called "critical reading". This is a scientific term and does not mean "criticizing something after you read (or view) it." It is, rather, a skill gained usually as a result of having completed a master's degree in science. The Master's degree is primarily intended to teach the young graduate student how to make a broad review of literature, focusing on one particular rather narrow area, in quest of answering a specific question. Writing a Master's is an important exercise. The skill of critical reading gives the ability to weigh evidence and to compare the validity of different conclusions, drawn by different scientists performing different studies.

One of the major intellectual breakthroughs or areas of growth that happen as a result of being put through the Master's degree process is that the graduate student becomes much more able to put the results of any given study into context, that is to say, the context of life as a whole. In terms of horsemanship, this would relate to very practical matters including the selection of particular bit designs.

Hillary Clayton and I are the same age and we got started in the horse-research business essentially at the same time -- thirty years ago, both of us were running around the old American Royal arena in Kansas City during the used-to-be Insilco National Championships, where dressage competitors from all over the country were required to converge once per year because the national championships were not, at that time, determined on points but by actual head-to-head competition. We both realized, quite independently because I did not know her at the time, that this would be a great opportunity to see/study a lot of horses involved in a single type of riding.

Hillary went on to become a veterinarian, while I completed a Ph.D. in vertebrate paleontology, and our careers have taken divergent paths. I became a researcher and also a public educator; Hillary went into academia. Because I have not had to depend upon juried publication (i.e. "peer review and approval") for much of my career, I have had a much freer time of it than Hillary -- I have been much more at liberty to push whatever envelope, to create and propose new paradigms. Most academicians, by contrast, are stuck plodding along -- and although Hillary's papers are excellent and always among the first that I look for and read, she has had to toe the line and this has meant that much of her content is to prove the obvious.

And so it is with the X-ray bitting study. She did that a long time ago and has revised her results a couple of times since, in face of peer criticisms in terms of the design of the study, her initial failure to consider other reasons for the reactions of the horses, and the study's overall validity in context of real-world horsemanship. "The Anatomy of Bitting" video takes a completely different approach, one that comes from looking at the engineering design of the bit itself -- i.e., predictively, what effect a bit "ought" to have or is intended to have based on its design, but also looking empirically at what the actual experience of real horse owners using various types of bits has been. And also -- most importantly -- not to leave out the reactions of the horses themselves. As my friend and mentor Dr. Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM (a highly experienced rider, a practitioner of better than 50 years' experience, and a onetime member of the U.S. Olympic equestrian team) used to say -- the one and only valid source of information, the one source that the rider MUST pay attention to -- is what the horse is telling you.

So the bottom line is this: X-ray studies are fine as far as they go, but in and of themselves they do not and cannot tell you what sort of bit to select, or how better bits might be designed. When you pull back on a straight-cannon, single-joint snaffle bit, and the horse jibs and throws his head up and in other ways tells you that he's uncomfortable; and when you change that bit for a different design and he quits jibbing -- that is the ultimate authority which you MUST pay attention to.

I do believe you intend to "do right by" your colt, Anne-Marie, but you must not ever read the scientific literature, mine or Hillary's or anyone else's, without a proper grain of salt. And the only way to get that ability will be experience and time. The horse owner who has not ruined at least one horse has never lived, and you will be no different; so, as Ray said: smile and go at it. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

iwanttolearn
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Thank you for your answer. It clarifies a lot for me. It makes me understand your initial answer when I first brought up the study. I thought you were being defensive when you were in fact trying to communicate quite a lot in too few words. Which was confusing. Sorry that I took it out of context.

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Dr. Deb,

I have just watched this program in its entirety again in the hopes to find an answer to a question I have. Nothing was mentioned by you or Dave, and nothing came up when I searched your site here.

Do you have any knowledge about solid brass snaffle bits? Pros? Cons? I kept hoping you might have had one in the collection of bits you and Dave were looking at in your video.

I have been searching for a slightly wider bit for the horse I am currently riding and am finding it difficult. There is a used tack shop in my area that has a solid brass snaffle bit that might work. Both the cannons and the rings are brass. Googling tells me that brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.

What I am wondering is if there is any reason NOT to use a brass bit. It will be a heavier bit, given the rings are also brass and not stainless steel like many bits today. I don't expect this would be a problem. It won't be a shiny bit, but I don't care about that. I wouldn't be surprised if it is hanging on the rack because it has fallen out of fashion, so maybe I will have made a great find. I will of course look it over carefully for wear and tear.

As I was watching your set of DVDs again, I was thinking that it should be a requirement for every rider to watch before their hands ever touch a set of reins. It is very enjoyable to watch. I was absolutely fascinated when Dave explained the function of many bits that I would have considered contraptions in the past. He certainly is a master of his craft/art.

Thank you,
Monica

DrDeb
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Monica, I don't know of any reason why brass would not be an acceptable material. It is not toxic so far as I know.

However, brass may be more trouble in one way, and that is, all brass -- even if initially when you buy the piece it comes coated with some kind of lacquer or polyurethane film to protect it -- this coating, if present, will soon wear off. And then the brass is going to start oxidizing, which all brass does readily, and it will acquire a green patina. You  have seen polished brass on the Queen's coach or a decorative pot. If someone didn't polish it regularly, it would be green.

Now, patina on brass works the same way as rust on iron: you can polish it off, but in doing so, you are removing some of the material out of which the object is made. Which means that gradually, a bit will get thinner and thinner, and then a point will be reached somewhere that the bit is no longer safe to use. The most dangerous point will be the point that is thinnest to begin with, i.e. the knurl where the two canons of the snaffle mouthpiece are joined. We warn people on the "Anatomy of Bitting" video to watch out for this when the canons are joined by, for example, a brass or copper roller. The edges of those oxidize and weaken and then the bit comes apart in the horse's mouth when you're out riding, which can get you killed.

However, if you're vigilant about checking the bit every time you use it, and it looks well made to begin with, you should be OK for a long time. A lot of horses appreciate a bit that's a little heavy; we don't like hollow-mouth bits not only because they're usually too thick but also because they're too light in weight, thus not giving the horse enough of a "feel".

Please write back to say whether this did answer your query. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

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Thank you very much!

Yes, you definitely answered my question. I remember a bit you and Dave were looking at with the copper roller joining the two cannons. The bit was sent to him to have that very area replaced as the copper was wearing and the cannons in danger of pulling out.

Well I am planning on having a look at the brass bit. I expect it won't be much different than the one she's ridden in now. That one is German silver, so also fairly heavy. It does have a double joint with a bean and the brass one a single joint, which I am very curious to see how she would like it. Thank you for the reminder about the oxidization. Maybe I'll polish it up if I ride with Buck again.

Thanks again for your quick reply.

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Well, the brass bit was a bust. It was in good shape, but the cannons were too thick at the ends where the rings are. I may have to order something.

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Yes -- as you learned by watching the DVD set, big thick mouthpieces are NOT any softer than thinner (pinkie-diameter) ones, and are not more comfortable either for many horses.

You should have plenty bits to choose from when you order. Just be sure that the canons are of equal length (another point brought out in the DVD's). Cheers -- Dr. Deb




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