When Illinois native Lauren Tisbo entered the ring for her round in the Saugerties $1 Million CSI5* Grand Prix on September 11th, she immediately turned heads. The profile of the American rider and her mount MR Visto was starkly different than any other rider in the class for a single reason: MR Visto does not wear a bridle. Rather, the 11-year-old Holsteiner stallion (Levisto Z x Ariadus) is ridden in a simple rope bit with no headstall, a decision Tisbo says has been instrumental in their recent success. This was certainly the case that day, with the pair finishing in 4th place after completing a clear Round 1 and having an unlucky rail in the jumpoff over a technical course worthy of its million dollar prize.
Tisbo, a 32-year-old professional rider whose show record includes numerous top finishes at Spruce Meadows, Old Salem Farm, and the Winter Equestrian Festival, currently rides under her family’s Tequestrian Farms LLC in Wellington, Florida. Between rounds Tisbo spoke about her growing partnership with MR Visto, and how an unconventional decision has paid off in a big way.
NoelleFloyd.com: Following your 4th place finish in the HITS $1 Million Grand Prix, MR Visto has gotten a lot of attention for obvious reasons. Can you talk a bit about your partnership with him?
Lauren Tisbo: MR Visto, known as “Vinnie” in the barn, has one of the coolest personalities in a horse I have come across. He is totally 100% confident in himself—I don’t think anything could rattle him! To be entirely honest, I think we are just starting to cement our partnership together. It has taken a bit of time but I’m more than excited with the way things are going.
NF: How and when did you acquire the horse?
LT: I have had Vinnie since January of this year. We found him at a show in Belgium last November when I was in Europe looking for a grand prix horse. We had already tried a few horses in the area and decided to stay and watch the grand prix there. He was one of the horses in the class and when he came into the ring I actually remembered him vaguely from England, when I was there in the summer of 2014. I was set to go back home to Florida the next day, so I tried him at the show after the class was over. Up to that point, he had been owned and ridden by Carron Niccol.
NF: So, the rope bit. Can you explain the mechanics of it? From photos, it’s honestly difficult to see how it even stays in his mouth!
LT: The bit has a few names. I’ve heard it called a rope bit, an Indian bridle, a war bridle, and variations of such. It’s very simple actually! It’s basically a loop of rawhide rope with an additional piece of rope attached under the chin. The attached piece is designed to coil around the original loop to ensure proper fit in the horse’s mouth.
NF: Have you used the bit on other horses of yours in the past?
LT: No, Vinnie is the first horse I have ever ridden in this bit.
NF: What made you choose the bit for Vinnie?
LT: Vinnie is a strong horse but he is also very sensitive. It’s a fine line between not having enough and having too much control. My friend suggested I try the bit back in May after Vinnie “took over” at the end of a grand prix. I have to give Carron a lot of credit, because Vinnie is an amazing horse but he can be quite strong and when he is, he has a tendency to pull downwards. She made him look so easy! But every rider has their strengths and weaknesses and I prefer my horses to have an uphill balance. I was looking for a bit that would elevate him and help me adjust his stride easier. My friend suggested this, and it did the trick. Vinnie is who he is and no one is going to change that—I think figuring that out early on is exactly what led me to his bit.
NF: What about this bit lends to your success with him?
LT: First, I’d like to point out that I think every horse and rider connection is a very personal relationship. What works for one horse with one rider might not work for the same horse with another rider. Carron was so gracious to send Vinnie on to me with his flat bit and his show bit—but for whatever reason—we didn’t connect with those bits. I spent a lot of time this winter, and bought a lot of bits, and didn’t find any success until the last week of circuit. Even then, it lasted for a couple shows and then it didn’t work. When it was suggested that I try the rope bit, I was happy to! Anyone who knows me well can tell you I will do anything it takes to make my horses happy. That’s the way I look at this sport; we are lucky enough to work with these amazing animals and we should try to do anything we can to make them the happiest they can be. A happy horse is a horse that performs the best for you.
I was genuinely surprised that he was so reactive to the bit. I had always felt that he resented a lot of contact with the bridle. When I jumped a course that required a lot of that contact, he would get worse the further we went. With the rope bit, he was very respectful and also jumped in better form. I’m not sure why he likes this bit more but he definitely focuses on his job better when he wears it. I have tried to switch back to the last bit he was so successful in, but he made it very clear to me that he would rather have his new bit.
NF: Was there ever any concern about using the bit in terms of FEI rules?
LT: No, because I knew that the bit had been used before by American rider Susie Hutchinson with Samsung Woodstock. She used it when she rode him at World Cup Finals in 1993.
NF: Are there any disadvantages to using this bit?
LT: Not for Vinnie and I! If there were I wouldn’t be using it. But for his groom, Juan Agular, maybe. He has to lead him everywhere in a halter!
NF: What’s up next for you and your team? Any specific goals for the coming year?
LT: Vinnie will go to the New Albany classic this weekend. The rest of the horses will show at Tryon for a few weeks—and hopefully I qualify for indoors and get into both Washington and Kentucky to pursue a spot for World Cup Finals!