What is the right bit for my horse?

By , June 20, 2016 11:02 am

I’m just back from a great clinic in the UK with Jeff Sanders. Jeff comes from the Californian Vaquero tradition, and has so much knowledge on both bringing on horses, the history of how horsemanship has evolved, and the good and bad reasons we use various tools and pieces of tack.

Most of the clinic we spent doing horses… and it was fantastic :)

One morning we discussed bits & biting… do you know what shape your horses mouth is and what bits will DEFINITELY not work, and what bit shapes could work?

There is a lot of lost knowledge here that probably should be common knowledge.

Thanks Jeff for the great weekend, anything that doesn’t make sense below is 100% my fault.


I started by having a look at my horses mouth. I felt the bars on both sides with my thumb so they didn’t seem sharp at all, pretty flat. This is good as with a bit if a horse has a sharp bar or two (which can be quite common, you should check your horse), bits that put pressure on a sharp bar can cause pain. Worth going out to your horse today & running your thumbs along both bars. Is one sharp? On the inside, middle or outside? If yes snaffles and broken bits can put pressure on the sharp edge that the horse can’t relieve. A straight bar means the horse can lift the bit up off the sharp bar if he needs to.

The ridges on the top of Ozs mouth seem well defined / very obvious.

Tongue doesn’t look too skinny or massively wide for his mouth.

Oz has canine teeth (the little one on the side by itself, just back from the main set at the front), so if these are in the corner of the mouth where the bit is, you’ve got a bit banging off a tooth which will be a major problem.

I saw a pony at a clinic who was doing stuff the rider didn’t like. Jeff looked at his teeth and the reason the horse was unhappy was because the bit was banging off his teeth (really sore). So he put on a hackamore (no bit) and the pony was much happier pretty much immediately.

Ozs canines are not near the corner of his mouth (good). You should open your horse mouth and see if he has a small canine near the corner of the lips where the bit goes. If so you might have trouble…………

I’m going to see if I can look at some other horses mouths at the next clinic to compare & contrast.
Other things to watch out for:

There are 2 major reasons a horse will open his mouth:

1) Your hands are too heavy (pain)
2) You’ve got the wrong fitting bit (pain)

So DO NOT strap your horses mouth shut, fix the problem instead (pain)


None. Not 1 or 2 wrinkles. Wrinkles are constant pressure that your horse will learn to zone out. So he is zoning out the exact area your are using to communicate via the reins to his mouth.


If your horse has a low palate, a broken bit, snaffle etc might hit off the top of his mouth & cause pain. Is there room between tongue and pallet?


Snaffle shouldn’t be the default ‘normal’. They are often not what tends to suit most horses mouths (no good for low pallets or sharp bars). I think years ago they were mainly just used for driving, not really for riding. Now they are just the standard ‘fashion’.


There used to be bit-smiths. And when you sold a horse, the bit that was custom made to fit his exact mouth was sold along with the horse.

Sometimes the bits were made slightly differently on each side, because often the horses mouths are different on each side so the bit took that into account.

You can have thousands of variations of just 1 bit.

ANY bit smiths in Ireland with this info?

Sadly no, not that I found on google :( So as horse owners we need to know this stuff ourselves & be able to check our horses mouths & figure out what type bit we should avoid / would be best.

And – walking into a tack shop and asking people who want to sell you something, and have NEVER met your horse, means there is no way they can advise you properly on what would suit the shape of his mouth.

36 exercises to practise in 5 weeks before Steve Halfpenny comes back to Ireland!

By , May 21, 2016 1:20 pm

It was wonderful to ride at Tanja’s clinic a few weeks ago in Tipperary. It is 5 weeks until Steve Halfpenny comes over to teach for four days in Tipp in June, so I wanted to write out a mini-plan for what I want to practise between now & then.

The good news is I have a plan. The other good news is that there’s a ton of work to do so Oz & I will be very busy!! Happily though Oz will also have a lot of time to work on his beauty sleep.

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1: Follow a feel in forwards, backup and turns.

2: Backup circles smoothly.

3: Walk trot and canter circles with no emotion from Oz. Start at walk and build it up.

4: If Oz moves too fast, stay in that gait and push him out a little. To be equally good on both sides.

5: If Oz gets emotional in a certain gait, stay in that gait until he calms down. I used to back off and reward the unwanted / distracted behaviour by bringing him back to walk.

6: Stop on a circle without moving the HQ out.

7: Remove slack from the lead rope and in walk & trot, to check if horse is leaning or not.


1: Be REALLY aware of every step Oz takes. I’ve been slacking off on this. If I don’t specifically ask for it, Oz gets put back where he started.

2: Be really aware that my first priority is to get Oz’s attention. If I don’t then everything gets worse. If I do Oz relaxes.

3: I am not to stand too far forward on the near side which I have a habit of doing.

4: Don’t tiptoe around Oz. Just get a bit more practical and things work out much better. A little change but a good result.


1: Have an inside bend when doing circles in the hackamore. If its missing, vibrate the inside rein a little. If Oz is distracted he slows down. This stops Oz being distracted and he doesn’t slow down.

2: Walk along a fence line, then do 90 hindquarter yield so you’re facing the fence line. Then walk the other way back down the fence line & repeat. This gets Oz off the forehand and stops hi pushing forwards.

3: Hindquarter yield at halt with no reins. This is done but I have to make sure not to forget it!

4: Hindquarters in with the tiniest of cues on both reins in walk. We started this with Tanja, so working on the polish for this. Currently one side is better than the other.

5: Walk pirouette, building on our hindquarters in.

6: Walking a circle not an egg, best done with a physical object in the centre of the circle and me focusing on every step and noticing immediately when Oz is falling in or pushing out of the circle.

7: Trotting circles and not eggs both ways

8: Immediate walk to trot transitions. The other option is slow transitions leading to a more tense walk leading to a tense trot when we get it.

9: If Oz wants to go one way, go the opposite way.

10: Shoulder in in walk and trot, nice and relaxed

11: Bucks teardrop exercise, with leg yields and some HQ in. Also I am not to lean when I change bends.

12: Leg yield like the wind is moving us over.

13: Counter bends: – Walk forwards – Leg yield out a little (moving to the left) and make sure I get this softness through the bend & body – Keep the footfall rhythm – Keep the forwards – Now while keeping the bend and the sideways, move the front feet a little more to the left so they are on a bigger circle now than the Hqs – Get a step of two and then circle to the right with the normal / existing bend – Ride a straight line – Change bend – Do it all again in the opposite direction


1: Flat back and not leaning forward. A habit I have to work on daily. When I do this Oz’s stride is longer.

2: My legs should not be tense.

3: My hips need to move as Oz moves. When I do this Oz’s stride is longer.

5: Breathing slowly & calmly.

6: Releasing faster.

7: 5 fingers on the reins

8: Only using my fingers when I ask for something, not moving my whole arm

9: Hands near pommel, so my body stays balanced and not tipped to one side

10: Bend in elbows, to prove I’m not leaning forwards

11: Feel proud of my little horse when I ride which makes me smile

12: I have a habit of tipping my body to one side when I change reins. Not necessary and I need to stop it 😀

I look forward to seeing everyone in June :)

Elaine & Ozzie.

Light Hands Equitation May 2016 with Tanja Penders Horsemanship Clinic Ireland

By , May 4, 2016 2:07 pm

Tanja Penders flew in from Germany to teach for a weekend in Tipperary. Lots of riders did wonderful work. I rode all weekend in a hackamore (bosal & mecate) & Ghost treeless saddle, both which were excellent.

Anything that doesn’t make sense is 100% me. Lots of homework to do & can’t wait for the next clinic!

For this clinic, Oz was relaxed and mellow throughout and was basically an all round superstar horse :) Here is what I was working on.

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Working on leg yield above.


BEND: Circles in the hackamore. At the start, Oz was a little distracted & looking other places. Tanja had me vibrate the inside rein a little. Quite soon Oz started to focus on me more & everything else less.

POSITION: I lean forward when I ride. I need to remember that I need a flat lower back AND my hips need to relax so they can move right & left with my horse. The hips thing was big, made a lot of difference to how relaxed Oz was. I also need to focus on slow relaxed breathing.

MY LEGS: On Friday my legs were really tense! If I wanted to use one leg, I can bump Oz very lightly. If that does not work, my habit was to then tense up my leg and add more pressure. This is not good, as it jams up my body and then my horses body. Instead I need to keep my leg totally relaxed and just do a few light bumps.

HQ YIELD WITH NO REINS AT HALT: We could do these, but it was 2 years ago 😉 Need to get there in place again. Halt and sit there with a loose rein. Ask for 1 step HQ yield. Only if horse moves weight forward do you correct it. Then back to loose rein & ask again. Assume its going to be perfect.

SHOULDER IN ON A CIRCLE: Use the outside rein to slow the front down, and this will move the HQ out a little more, if you need them to move out a little more.


– Hands at the pommel
– Notice that I lean forwards, so flat back and make sure my hips are moving as Oz moves.
– My shoulders to be in the same direction as Ozzies shoulders.
– When I change direction, my upper body is to stay straight. I have a tendency to lean!
– Elbows to be bent not straight


– Start with a circle, vibrate inside rein if the horse is looking outside the circle.
– This is handy to do along a fence line
– Do a 180 degree circle
– Leg yield and change the rein heading towards the fence
– Walk a few steps straight
– 180 circle the other way
– Leg yield and change the rein heading towards the fence
– Walk a few steps straight
– 180 circle the other way
– repeat

I need to have a flat back and relaxed hips. Also going from the circle to the leg yield & changing bend, I can be a lot more subtle with my seat & rein adjustments than I had been doing.


HQ YIELD WITH NO REINS AT HALT: We could do these, but it was 2 years ago 😉 Need to get there in place again. Halt and sit there with a loose rein. Ask for 1 step HQ yield. Only if horse moves weight forward do you correct it. Then back to loose rein & ask again. Assume its going to be perfect.


SHOULDER IN ON A CIRCLE: Use the outside rein to slow the front down, and this will move the HQ out a little more, if you need them to move out a little more. I am not to lean in on the circle!

HQ IN TRAVERS: Stand at fence line. Move HQ 1 step to the inside with Tanja helping us to keep the shoulders i the same place.


Oz was great! She had him doing lots of stuff including travers :) One exercise was leg yield to HQ in at the fence line.

IDEAS: Practise 1 handed without the garrocha, flat back, relaxed hips, sit tall and proud, I am not to tilt to the right or left!

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IF HORSE WANTS TO WALK THIS IS A GOOD EXERCISE: The moment I sat in the saddle today Oz wanted to walk off. So first I had to check my back was flat, relax my hips & breathe. After this, choose one front leg and with the same rein ask that front leg to step sideways. Oz wanted to go forward not sideways, so this started off as doing large-ish circles. But after a cricle or two, Oz was still moving but the circles were smaller. Then we would get to the place were Oz would think about not pushing, there would usually be a pause where he was leaning forwards but thinking a lot, then when I breathe out & relax in the saddle, Oz then changed his balance, stopped pushing forwards, and instead took one proper step sideways and then stood still on a loose rein. I let him stand for as long as he wanted, and if he wanted to walk again that was fine, I picked the other front leg and we did more circles until they got smaller and he decided to rebalance his weight, get off the forehand and take a proper step sideways & halt by himself. I give him my trust and a loose rein again.


– Do a leg yield to the fence and look straight ahead while I do this.
– My shoulders to stay level
– Weight on inside of the bend
– Put my outside leg back, to ask HQ to step in
– Sometimes Oz also wants to move his inside shoulder in, so I need to use my inside rein to stop that from coming in

LEG YIELD: Then leg yield use both reins at the start with flat fingers, eventually just use inside weight and Inside leg as if the wind is pushing you. Use all 5 fingers. Adjust the reins just moving your last 2 fingers, or just little finger on the reins, not your whole hand. Weight on inside but sit straight. Leg yield to HQ in :) I am not to lean!

Oz & I had a lot of fun this weekend. Thank you to everyone who came & huge thanks to Tanja for helping us all in so many ways! :) I can’t wait to do it all again!

Ghost Quevis treeless saddle review

By , February 28, 2016 1:46 pm

I am very excited to finally update you on how I got on with the Ghost Quevis treeless saddle.

I had to look at treeless saddles as having gone through 4 treed saddles, most of which were approved by saddle fitters and ALL of which hurt my horse.

I’ve tested these saddles so far on my round, short, 14.3 Connemara:

– Deuber Espanoila Baroque style leather treed saddle from Germany
– Barefoot Madrid German treeless saddle
– Grandeur bareback pad (not a saddle but great when you don’t have a saddle that fits!)
– Ghost Quevis treeless saddle

This is my review & feedback on the Ghost Quevis saddle. The short version is I love it!

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You can get the Quevis in different sizes. The size depends on the rights weight and height. I’m about a UK size 8 and just over 5 foot tall, so my size is a piccolo.

Other than that, the saddle is as it is. 1 pommel width which very weirdly seems to work for my horse. The panels underneath can be adjusted, so mine are now about 4 thin fingers width apart when I’m riding (the move a little to the sides when there’s a rider in the saddle).

There are 2 stirrup positions, I’m using the most forward one and it seems to give me a nice position in the saddle.

The saddle is quite short, so perfect for a Connemara a smidge under 15 hands.

One unusual thing about this saddle is the very very short saddle flaps. ACTUALLY – this makes this saddle better than other saddles!

It turns out having a saddle flap actually gets in your way and without the flap, your leg is right beside your horse and I got some lovely lateral work with this close contact.

I really like the knee blocks with this saddle. I felt really secure throughout in this saddle.

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In general riding, this saddle to me feels like an expensive dressage saddle.

It’s got a narrow twist (this is the opposite to feeling like you’re sitting on a wide barrel!) and the seat is very thick & comfy with very nice leather made in Italy.

This saddle is also REALLY light.

They call it ghost because it’s meant to feel like its not there. I really really like this saddle.

It’s also interesting to compare all 3 treeless saddles together, after trying them all out on my Connemara.

I have written a long report with all the info & comparisons between the DEUBER Vs. BAREFOOT Vs. GHOST. You can download the full TREELESS SADDLES REPORT here.

If you ride in a treeless saddle, I’ve love to hear your experiences!

Leave me a comment below & let me know how its going. :) If you have any recommendations for a treeless saddle I could try for my Connemara, let me know in the comments.

Adele’s ‘Hello’ Equestrian Parody #adelehorseparody

By , January 2, 2016 5:27 pm

Remember the famous Adele song ‘hello’? Well now we have an equestrian parody of it, and it’s hilarious!

Here are some of the new ‘horse inspired’ lyrics:

Hello, it’s me
I’ve been chasing you for 40 minutes just to get you in
To go into your stable
That I pay a fortune every month for and you’d rather crap outside

Hello, are you listening
Your temporary deafness drives me mad when it’s time to get you in
Your field companion is in
I need to wash your legs and clean your sheath and then pick out your feet
There’s always this mud between us
Or a million flies

Hello, from the other side
In the field I’ve called a thousand times
To bring you in out of the pissing down rain
But each time I call you you piss off again
Hello from the warm and dry
At least I can say that I’ve tried
With treats and carrots time after time
But it don’t matter, even though mud’s up to my thigh

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Irish Horsemanship is a national community of horsepeople in Ireland whose aim is to improve their communication with their horse. Improve your relationship with your horse & build trust and softness at our Lights Hands Equitation clinics in 2016 join our email list here.

Join the Irish Horsemanship online facebook group here.

The Irish Treeless Saddle Review – Meet the Deuber, Grandeur, Barefoot & Ghost saddles

By , December 27, 2015 2:25 pm

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I had a rough time over the last year trying to find a nicely fitting treed saddle for my 14.3 medium round, short, Connemara. I wanted something that fitted both me and him, but after watching these saddle fit videos, I discovered that Ireland has a TINY range of saddle makes and models – and none of them suited my horse!

In my quest I’ve gone through:

– 3 bad treed saddles
– 10 bad Irish saddle fitters
– 1 good Irish saddle fitter
– Every tack shop in Ireland & the north
– Many kind UK & German friends who answered all my saddle questions!
– ZERO saddles in Ireland that would fit my horse
– Multiple lost nights of sleep!

I’d be completely happy with a standard treed saddle if I could find one to fit my horse. The problem was I couldn’t find one.

Instead I found some great alternatives, including the Deuber Espaniola, Barefoot Madrid, Grandeur Bareback pad and the Ghost Quevis. I have just published the ‘IRISH TREELESS SADDLES REPORT’ which you can download for free here. Its my journey to find the best saddle for my horse. I hope its useful to you and I wish you a lifetime of great saddle fit.

If you would like to try any of these saddles we will be having a demo saddle bank at our 2016 clinics, for all clinic riders.

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Download the free ‘IRISH TREELESS SADDLES REPORT’ here.

The hackamore and bosal / mecate review

By , September 14, 2015 2:14 pm

For two or three years now I’ve been going to clinics and watching some of the riders use a 5/8 hackamore and mecate. The hackamore is the part with the noseband and head stall. The mecate are the horsehair reins.

Jeff Sanders explains the origins:

“The hackamore is a braided rawhide nose band (bosal) with a mecate attached for reins that has traditionally been used by Vaqueros for starting young horses. The bosal part of the hackamore comes in varying sizes depending on how far along a horse is in its training. A young horse will be ridden with a larger bosal than one that has been transitioned to the two rein. With a two reined horse a smaller bosal goes under the bridle and helps the Vaquero to transition slowly to the use of the bit.”

Last November at a clinic in Germany, all the horses were wearing these, mainly 5/8 sizes which is the one you begin with, and to be honest the level of horsemanship they were displaying was beautiful. While a great horseman will ride well in any gear, I was curious to know why these people seemed to prefer the hackamore to a rope halter.

One kind lady explained that the hackamore was like a more subtle rope halter. You can do small movements and the horse will still feel them. That sounded good to me. The more subtle my aids can be the better.

It works on pushing the horse, instead of the rope halter which involves a greater pull action. The rider needs to have very good & sensitive hands to use one. It’s not a beginner / intermediate rider tool. If it goes wrong it goes badly wrong.

As these are quite a sophisticated tool, first I needed to get one made that was of a high quality and fit my horse exactly.

You can get ones that are stiff and soft. You do not want one thats really stiff.

When you hold both ends of the hackamore in your hand and squeeze then, you should be able to create a little wave in the hackamore (noseband) part. Too stiff = not good.

You shouldn’t buy these in a shop, they have to be handmade for your horse.

You not not want a cheap one of these, as its likely to start hurting your horse if the quality is not perfect. Do not go down that road.

My German friends recommended Micha in Germany (there is 4 month waiting list). I contacted Micha, figured out colours and then got to measuring my horses head. The hackamore should be snug, but not too tight.


With everything set, I left it with Micha and about 3 months later I got a message to say it was completed. Once week after that it arrived in the post!



When you’re hackamore arrives, you MUST get someone experienced with hackamores, like Steve Halfpenny or Isi Brenner (both teach in Ireland once or twice a year), to fit it for you the first time, show you how many wraps it needs and how to tie it, and also then you teach you the technique about how to ride in it.

Do NOT get a hackamore / bosal if you cannot meet all this criteria as otherwise you’re walking yourself straight into serious problems.

Here is a video about how to tie the mecate to the hackamore.

So a week ago Isi came over, fitted the hackamore on my horse and we had our first ride.

I really had to focus to move my hands a lot less and be waaaaay more subtle. My horse is very sensitive, but he had no problems in it at all.

At the beginning, we just walked around with it, while I rubbed his neck to relax his body and mind while he got used to the different feel (note – he is used to working in a halter so its very similar. It is not that similar through to a bridle).

Looking forward to doing more with it!


Horse hair analysis and the food changes adventure

By , August 31, 2015 3:07 pm

A friend of mine had reported very good results after she got her horses hair analysed, and then changed her horses feeding. So I decided to give it a go and track my progress here. First up I put a little mane hair in an envelope and posted it off to Rose. My horse is outside all the time, eats old pasture grass and has a mineral block. He’s healthy and has 1 sarcoid.


Low in vit B, hind gut not working as well as it should and overall a bit acidic. So I was directed to get the following.

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So he’s going to get 2 meals a day from now on, also including speedibeat and TopSpec anti-lam. Most of the products in this picture are just for 2-4 weeks only. Rose also suggested I get a mojo band and he’s living out near a telegraph pole. I have no idea if it’ll work but I got one for myself too and will report back.

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I will be doing 2 feeds each day, but will start with 1 feed a day for today & tomorrow.

Aug 31: Evening only feed. Dinner #1 went well. Oz sniffed and tasted it for a minute, then ate it and licked the bowl.

Aug 31: Loved his breakfast.

ANALYSIS #2 and #3

Got the hair sample back from our other 16.3 horse. Different things to fix, including low copper, vit E & selenium, low omega 3 and omega 6. She also said hes shows a little arthritis in his base of neck & lumber area. So have a list of things to get, but not as many as Oz!

I also sent away my hair. But I am un-testable!! My energy wasn’t compatible. 😀 I guess I’m off the charts in either a good or a bad way lol!

Sep 3: Day 2 feeding our bay horse, day 3 feeding Ozzie. Oz cantered up when he saw the bucket. Quite funny.

Sep 3: MOJO bands update. I feel the exactly the same. No obvious changes in my horse. But according to the sleep cycle app on my phone, I’m sleeping a lot better!

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Sep 17: Food update

– Top spec and anti lam twice a day, ongoing and can do this forever.
– Kidney & spleen tonics – to use for 1 month. One will last the month, the other will last about 3 weeks as both horses are getting it.
– Myogard – 2 weeks. Finished now, all good.
– Transit – 2 weeks or ongoing. I have half a tub left so I’ll keep going.
– Shy Feeder vit b for 4 weeks. Half way through so will keep going.

Work on feeling the changes in your horse – Jeff Sanders UK clinic Aug 2015

By , August 31, 2015 11:37 am


This was a fantastic 2 day clinic at Lisas in the UK. Jeff was super. A lot of focus was on how the riders used their bodies, and also how aware they were of how they were using their bodies. Really fantastic to watch the changes and thank you for the hospitality! Jeff was wonderful and lots of homework in this blog post to work on. Anything that doesn’t make sense is 100% me.


– Using a whip / stick: Hold it upright straight up in the air, like you would hold a pencil. Before you use it, put all reins in other hand, so when you use the stick it doesn’t cause any unwanted rein mvt.

– Put your weight on the inside seatbone.

– To ask for piaffe you should feeling your body like you’re in canter, your core is going upwards and forwards.

– Walk a circle then move into sideways while keeping the same rhythm.

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How to use the reins: Continue reading 'Work on feeling the changes in your horse — Jeff Sanders UK clinic Aug 2015'»

A review of the Grandeur Barock Saddle Pad

By , August 24, 2015 5:07 pm

Finding myself without a saddle that fitted my horse, on the recommendation of German trainer & superstar Isabell Brenner, I decided to get a Grandeur bareback pad to ride in.

Here is their website (look for fellsattel) & a few pictures of their new models.

I managed to buy an older second hand barock style one from a friend in Germany.

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I had ridden in a best friend bareback pad a few years ago but didn’t like it much. Continue reading 'A review of the Grandeur Barock Saddle Pad'»

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