Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023

First Field Without A Bridle? No Problem



My family and I are lucky enough to live on the Woffords’ gorgeous Fox Covert Farm in Upperville, Va., which means we are within hacking distance to many of the Piedmont Foxhounds meets.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, I decided to hack Youmightbearedneck to our meet at the Stettinius’ farm, Oakfield. It was about a half-hour walk and the whole way there I couldn’t decide if I was about to get myself politely asked never to attempt to foxhunt again, or have the best hunt of our lives.


Hacking Rory down the road to the meet.

I’ve been a member of Piedmont for the last three years and am honored to be one—going first field over the most gorgeous country, jumping big jumps and hearing the amazing sound of the hounds in full cry is my happy place, so I thought long and hard before leaving the barn that morning on Rory, without traditional hunt tack—namely, a bridle!

Last April after a U-Haul truck and trailer t-boned my dually and trailer (causing Rory to break his upper jaw, totaling the trailer and severely damaging the truck), we started our bridleless journey to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover last year. We won the Ambassador Award and I’ve been on a mission to show what us OTTB lovers always have known, the extreme athleticism, versatility, and kind nature of the breed.

But in order to do that, I wanted to show Rory, and most recognized associations really, really, REALLY want us to at least use a bit. So the bit search started…

I might own the largest or second largest collection of Mullen mouth bits in Virgina. Nathe from Australia, titanium from England, a rubber $15 one from the tack shack at Charlestown racetrack, you name it, I’ve tried it, or borrowed it, or even had my husband Dustin make it for me!


Rubber, foam, leather, sheepskin, biothane, baling twine (don’t try this at home kids, trust me, it didn’t end well for me. Rory was thrilled to dump me and trot on home while I walked back!) to about to want to give up! I’ve bugged custom bit makers, vets, and dentists, about what would make a horse happy going in a bit whose upper jaw had a displaced fracture.

And then I found it.


Rory loves the Meroth Freedom Bit. Photo by Middleburg Photo

On a website about the way the plains Native Americans started their young horses, there it was, what’s called the ogalala jaw bit. It’s a simple leather strap around the lower jaw with two rings. I found one made called the Meroth Freedom Bit and ordered it, skeptical I was buying another bit Rory would hate but sincerely hoping it was just what he wanted.

So to test it out I decided to take a dressage lesson with Allison Spivey in it, and he was fabulous! He was willing, soft, happy—what more could I ask for?


Then came Saturday and off we went to hunt with Piedmont in just the jaw bit. And it was amazing! He was so good, so happy in it, it was also his first time in first field and I was so proud of him.



Rory and I heading out in first field. Photo by Middleburg Photo

Last week we took a jump lesson with Jimmy Wofford in it and Rory was fantastic. He’s made it pretty clear he was just waiting for me to figure out this unique bitting thing, and I felt comfortable because I rode in our trusty old neck rope that I know I can steer and stop in (we have also hunted in this alone), but being able to have a bit he likes means we can do so much more.


Schooling over a coop in our new bit.

Like my new obsession, sidesaddle.

See, those silly OTTBs are pretty versatile—in one week we did a dressage lesson with an upper level dressage rider, took our very first sidesaddle lesson, AND went first field with Piedmont in a simple leather bit, no bridle. Pretty cool breed huh?

Michelle Craig and her husband Dustin operate WestWind Farms out of Upperville, Va. They have a son, Carter, and a daughter, Ellie. Read more about her journey with YouMightBeARedneck in the COTH story “Michelle Craig Is Finding The Bright Side By Going Bridleless.”

Michelle grew up riding and showing hunters/jumpers and was introduced to eventing while living in Colorado. She made the switch to eventing on her old high amateur-owner jumper, Aberdeen and they competed through preliminary together. She has competed to the intermediate and preliminary levels on the OTTBs Nap For Sycamore and Something Wicked.

Michelle’s passion for racehorses has extended beyond retraining them—she has worked as an exercise rider for many trainers on the flat track as well as for steeplechase trainer Mrs. Dot Smithwick. She has also worked as a veterinary technician and in large and small animal rescue. 




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