Prair has had quite the adventure with bits. We have tried LOTS of bits, and rather than just discuss what we're currently going in, I think this is a good opportunity to review what we've used in the past, what prompted a change and how we got to where we are.
When I first bought Prairie, she was going in a Mullen Mouth Eggbutt Snaffle. Cheap, steady and easy.
Prair worked well in this bit and when she lacked any sort of responsibility for her own body she pushed right up to that bit, hit it, and would back off. It worked well to keep 800lbs of mare out of your hands. Since she stayed at the barn I bought her from for about 3 months, she just stayed in this bit... I certainly didn't know the mare well enough to evaluate the choice, let alone theorize about possible changes.
Of course, I have never been blessed with the cheap option staying the best option, and it didn't take long for my Trainer at the time to suggest something new/better. Keeping the steady cheeks, we moved to a D ring, although a KK Sprenger Dynamic D.. so it was decidedly not cheap.
We stayed in this bit for a long time. Prair didn't object to it, and it was legal for Dressage which is what we thought we'd be doing. I struggled with her bolting through my hand (though I'm not sure barbed wire would have stopped that) and lulling me into holding her up. I think it was comfy for her, but I don't think it did either of us any favors in terms of training.
Our next stop was using my trusty old KK loose ring which has been in the mouth of every horse I've ever owned.
Prair seemed to like it for flatting and was always engaging with it, but we didn't necessarily steer so well and it was really difficult to get the mare off her inside shoulder/corner of her mouth, even though she never really "locked" onto it.
When we started jumping we quickly played around with a twisted D to add some much needed stopping power. I'm not actually convinced that this bit helped much, but we used it consistently at shows and about half the time at home.
The pony club kid in me cringed every time I used this bit, even though I know it wasn't that harsh. I think the most reactive thing about it for Prairie was the single joint... Prair seems to really not like single jointed bits, which I'm guessing is part of her mouth conformation.
The first time we lessoned with N, she suggested trying a pelham, albeit a soft one, so we procured a happy mouth, mullen pelham which we started schooling in about 2-3x per week. The baby amount of leverage really helped improve our canter work (and jumping) and I didn't feel like I was shredding my horse's face, which is always a nice feeling. Slowly the pelham replaced the twisted D over fences and at shows.
The only thing I didn't love was when I took the pelham off for dressage shows, the mare figured it out QUICKLY and immediately laid herself into my hand.... that was not so ideal, but the muscle building and work we got done with it was great.
When the Mare mysteriously calmed down last fall and evicted her gerbils, I switched back to the KK D and relished the fact that I could ride my horse in a snaffle with no serious changes in behavior or way of going. That felt like a success and indicator that our bits were good tools but not crutches - also something I'm a bit paranoid of...
Once we switched barns N felt like Prair was not in love with the KK D, and suggested we go back to a KK lose ring, so we switched back to that for a while. After a couple weeks N wanted to play with increased leverage so we put in a double jointed 3 ring elevator and rode with two reins to maximize the snaffle action when we could. The mouthpiece was very similar to her KK, but the multitude of rings gave of lots of leverage options. We rode with a snaffle rein on the big ring and a "curb" rein on the bottom ring.
This got a bit more loft in our canter work and really helped our focus on getting Prair to balance back and use her haunch instead of dragging herself around on her front end... The biggest difference was in her jumping style - and for the first time we really saw Prair use her back and not just her neck over fences.
Not being something we can show in... we went back to a pelham for most of Thermal - though this time it was a shorter shanked, single jointed rubber one. Prair handled it well and I appreciated the brakes. This came out of N's bit box, and the only change from the one pictured is that Prair goes better with a foamy curb chain cushion which she appreciates. She tends to get a tad anxious with a bare chain.
There was one week of showing with the KK D, which again - made me feel awesome, but since we've been home we've stuck with the single jointed pelham for most rides at home and the show back in April.
Then when N really started schooling Prair on galloping up and coming back (correctly, that is) she felt like even the pelham wasn't quite enough leverage, so we tried a Myler Combo bit.
This isn't exactly the set up Prair has, but it's close. It's a comfort snaffle mouthpiece, a two ring cheekpiece and a noseband/curb strap that is connected to the leverage of the bit. Basically if Prair stays soft, it rides like a normal Myler snaffle, but if she inverts and pops above the bit, the noseband tightens and she basically bonks against it. When it's on it looks something like this:
Not as scary looking when actually being used...
Prair works like a goddess in this bit. Soft, foamy, lofty, balanced... I've only see her really hit the leverage twice and holy moly, she self corrected QUICKLY. I like that the mouthpiece isn't extreme and I like that the horse can easily avoid the leverage (Sometimes I feel like leverage bits are still acting on the horse even on a loose rein... this one seems to sit very neutrally when not engaged).
Since the mare is clever and notices (quickly) when you swap bits, we opted to show her last week in a pelham (again) but this time one with the same Myler mouthpiece so it felt the same as her combo bit.
I think as long as we are schooling in the Combo, we'll be showing in the Myler Comfort Pelham to minimize change for shows. The mouthpiece works well for her, and the pelham (again with curb chain cover) is helpful for keeping the mare off your hand.
I forgot to mention the Myler Baucher which Prair worse for little bit... she went fabulous in it on the flat... but we got that bit just as we crossed into Hunter Land and apparently bauchers are not on trend.... so that bit has been relegated to the garage for the time being. Also it's a tad large for her, which also kept it from ever being a favorite. She does seem to like the mouthpiece though...
I think that is officially our list of bits - It certainly looks like more than it's felt like.. but I suppose that's how these things go, especially when you consider three different trainers and their own preferences/philosophies.
I've never felt like bits are the biggest piece of the puzzle but I do think that good trainers aren't afraid to mix up different bits for different purposes - and the great ones know when they can move on to a softer/subtler option and still achieve great results.