Interview with Sue Gilliatt
Q: Sue we understand both your daughters are avid event riders, where and when did your interest in horses start? We understand you own the very successful Global Herbs and are an expert when it comes to fitting the correct bit for a horse? Please tell us a bit more.
A: I am from a non horsey family, although my Grandfather had a great fondness for hoses – particularly heavy horses. That may be why I imported my massive Irish Draft into South Africa! Global Herbs has been running for over 20 years, I started it to fund my rather nasty addiction to horses as I felt my horses should be funded independently of the “housekeeping money”. My daughters are identical twins and the current SA Junior Eventing Champion and Reserve Champion.
Q: How did you get into bit fitting, its quite an unusual service?
A: The twins are at boarding school at St Annes in Hilton with their horses, after one year of commuting I decided that I would also relocate to the Misty Midlands. Being closer to them meant I could help them with their four horses and competition schedules – leaving them to concentrate on academics. I had a huge amount of time on my hands so I decided to reconnect with Bomber Nel whom I have known for a number of years. At the time Amy was riding an ex racehorse called Heavy Metal (ex Durban July winner) who was proving impossible to bit. We discussed him at length and concluded that the only way to know was to “look inside” and so in mid 2017 the journey began….
Q: We understand you work very closely with an equine dentist, why is that so important?
A: It is the same as having a lameness issue and the vet working with the farrier..the saddle fitter working with physio, we must respect each other’s fields of expertise and complement each other well. I am not a dentist and cannot see what their years’ experience and training show them – without their input I would be bit fitting blindly. Horses sadly cannot tell us what causes them pain so we work together.
Q: What is the process to assess which bit would suit a particular horse? I would imagine the horses mouth conformation plays a part, anything else?
A: It is not just about the bit and the horse – there is also the rider and the discipline to take into account. Once the EDT has given me his rundown I spend time listening to the rider and looking at the horse’s temperament and history. I will not deviate from the comfort of the horse and I will bit the mouthpiece to the horse. The cheek piece then belongs to the rider and I will fit according to their needs.
Q: Do you have a particular brand of bit that you prefer and why?
A: I am fiercely loyal to Bomber Nel, his passion and knowledge of bitting is unsurpassed. South Africa is very lucky to have him! Bomber is revered worldwide and highly respected by many top riders. I am eternally grateful for the knowledge he has passed on to me!
Q: What is a very common problem that you see with bitting?
A: Ignorance. Knowledge is power and people seem to have a one size fits all attitude. Bitting is pretty much your brakes and steering and yet people tend to pay it so little attention. I see people riding with incredibly expensive saddles, bridles, boots, helmets and a R300 bit 3 sizes too big….
Q: We have been told that you do a lot of work overseas too, who are some of the top riders that you have fitted for?
A: Andrew Hoy, Francis Whittignton, Liz Halliday, Like Barber Davis, Jennifer Whittaker, Jess Dunn, Charlotte Du Jardin, harry Mead, Tom Crisp, Lisse Anderson, Holly Smith
Q: You do quite a bit of work throughout South Africa, how could we get in touch with you to book an appointment?
A: Whats app is the best way…. AS horses move through the different stages of their training (particularly top performance horses) they require changes to their bits. When I am not on the road doing actual bit fitting I am watching video clips of horses from all over the world that I have bitted, referring to notes and making changes – so I am never far from my phone.