Handmade custom bits are the Manolo Blahniks of the Winter Equestrian Festival

  • The ‘bit wall’ at Kochers in the vendors village at the Winter Equestrian Festival draws riders in. “Bits are the shoe fashion of the horse industry,” said Gail Kocher, who started selling bits more than 30 years ago. “Everyone who comes in goes to the ‘bit wall’ – even if they don’t want to buy anything, they just want to look at it.”

    Bits come in and out of style and last week, there was interest in a Springsteen bit that had been spotted in the mouth of a grand prix rider’s horse.

    “And then there are fads like this,” said Leigh York, Kocher’s manager pointing out the Springsteen bit that is also known as a ‘run-through’ or ‘spoon’ bit and as a fairly severe correctional bit, may be safer in the hands of professionals.

    Springsteen bit was in fashion at the Winter Equestrian Festival

    The Springsteen bit proved to be a popular item at WEF last week

    “It’s really a racehorse bit,” Leigh explained. “But one grand prix rider rode in it and a couple of riders saw that, then came in and bought it. If they see a grand prix rider with a bit, the other riders want to try it. Then you have people who don’t know what they’re doing and they’ll put it on every horse because they saw one person ride in it.”

    The industry has changed since Gail started out. “Most people only knew one particular style of bit and it has changed a lot. It has just grown,” she says, sweeping her hand over the 300 or so bits that hang behind her.

    Gail finds a large demand for custom bits – the Manolo Blahniks of the bit world, priced at $300 and up. They are handmade by her supplier. “He’s hidden away in another state,” she said. “And that’s where we’re going to keep him!”

    Some riders will ask advice and Leigh tries to help. “Americans are very big on blaming the bit,” she said. “Unfortunately I find that a lot. The hands make it. A bit can do one thing for a horse and you put it in the next person’s hands and it does the exact opposite.”

    If a rider finds their horse is strong in the mouth, paradoxically Leigh will recommend a milder solution.  “I always tell people if their horse is getting strong, try and go softer. Because sometimes they’ll get lighter. You can’t tell riders what to do, but you can make them think about it.”

    For many, buying bits is in fact a lot like buying shoes – you can never have too many pairs. “I’ll bet most riders use about five bits and they have a trunk of 40,” said Leigh.

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