Friday, January 27, 2012

Thoughts and Stuff - Bitting

I think a lot about fair treatment to animals. What is fair and reasonable care? When is abuse truly abuse and when is it a reaction to treatment that may not be understood?

A good example came from Flyin' Horse (FH) over at the Equine Mind Meld -

"Mugs can you talk about your ideas on bitting? It seems there is so much confusion out there about types of bits to use. I know you aren't supposed to use a 'bigger' bit to correct problems but what DO people use curb bits etc for? Why don't we continue to always ride in the lightest bits or even bitless if we can once the horse has been trained to it. What is the idea behind 'moving up' in bit type as the horse progresses in training?"

There is a huge misconception of what a "bigger" bit means. Bigger has to do with the horses ability to perform with less hold, less pull and more signal.

I have seen horrific damage done with snaffle bits, halters, hackamores, you name it. Strap it on a horse's head, involve a human and the potential for disaster is always there, depending on the ignorance of the user and the usee.

 It's not the equipment, it's the hands and education of the rider and the education of the horse that either causes pain or a beautiful ballet.

In order to have this conversation, I'm going to define the action behind three types of bits, the snaffle, the curb and the spade, or signal bit.

These are bits I'm comfortable discussing, but I think other riders in other disciplines can chime in here with explanations about the purpose of their bits.

If somebody wants to talk about double bitting in the dressage ring I'd love to learn.


A snaffle bit is a non-leverage bit. A ring on each side of a mouthpiece creates direct pressure from the reins to the riders hands.

A common misconception comes from thinking the broken mouthpiece, or single, double or triple-jointed mouth piece is what makes a bit a snaffle. It's not. It's all about the lack of a shank. So a mullen mouth or straight bar is still a snaffle, as long as it is on rings and not shanks.

A snaffle creates pressure on the tongue, bars, lips and sides of the mouth.

For every pound of  pressure exerted from the riders hand and equal amount of pressure goes straight to the horse's mouth. So the force ratio is 1:1.

Slap a thin, rough, twisted or wire mouthpiece between those rings and you can cause as much pain as anybody. Thinking of a snaffle as "mild" can get a rider into a lot of trouble. Even a simple, smooth, jointed snaffle can cause lots of problems.

The wonderful web site, Sustainable Dressage ( explains what can happen much better than I can.

"The bit folds in the mouth when you pull on both reins (as in heavy contact). It folds around the lower jaw. It acts as a nut cracker on the bones of the lower jaw. Not only that, the V-shape of the bit will cause it to go higher in the middle and cause the link to hit the horse in the palate. Now, if you thought the bars of the lower jaw were sensitive, the palate is even more so. And no tongue can protect it. Also, the more vertical (and beyond) the head, the more the V points into the palate. The firm Herman Sprenger in Germany, who specialise in horse bits, have recently studied the bit's placement in the mouth and concluded that there's not at all as much room in the mouth as previously thought."

On the flip side, a jointed mouth piece snaffle is a great communication tool. I'm talking to my horse straight from my hands to his mouth from hand to rein to the corresponding side of the bit. There's a lot to like.


A curb bit is a leverage bit.
There are two sets of shanks on a curb. The upper, short shank, where the curb strap attaches and the lower, long shanks where the reins attach.

Any bit with shanks, regardless of the mouthpiece, is a leverage bit.

Leverage is created from the shanks and the curb strap. The pounds of pressure ratio goes up depending on the length of the shank according to the following formula:
The pivot point where the reins attach to the shank are divided by the pivot point where the curb chain attaches to the short shank.

A curb with a 5" rein shank and a 1" curb shank will generate a force ratio of 5:1. So a 20 lb. pull on the rein will result in 100 lbs. of pressure from the curb's "vise grip" onto the horse's jaw.

A curb bit works on the bars tongue and roof of the mouth through the mouthpiece, the poll by way of the shanks, the chin groove through the curb strap and with a "loose jaw" shank, the sides of the mouth and jaw.

When used appropriately, a curb increases communication by taking less action from the rider to get a response. The longer the shank, the farther back the bit has to rotate before ANY contact is made, so the horse has more warning the pressure is coming. Ideally, again with the use of educated hands, the horse learns to respond BEFORE any pressure is pt on the bit.

How tight the chin strap is adjusted also increases the pressure from the bit.

So the longer the shank, the better the communication.

Of course, if you're an uneducated jackass the longer the shank the more excruciating the pain.

Different shanks and mouthpieces cause different responses.

A solid mouth piece, like a grazing bit, is made for a horse that neck reins. When the rein touches the outside of the neck the pressure from the bit causes the horse to move away from the rein. Traditionally, the bit was designed to allow the horse to comfortably graze. It rolls back before making contact so he can stuff himself. Of course we all no better than to let our little Schnookums to eat with his bit on, don't we?

A loose jaw bit swivels where the mouthpiece attaches to the shank. This allows a slight rotation before the bit engages and the shanks can be worked independently of each other. Increased communication or pain, your choice.

Jointed mouthpieces usually accompany loose jaw bit. These mouthpieces (here's where the "snaffle" mix-up happens) increase the pressure on the bars due to the nutcracker action of the mouthpiece. In addition, the joint angle is altered by the shank lever to tip the bit downward and into the tongue. These bits are a lot harder on a horse, again, in the wrong hands, than a curb with a simple, solid, ported mouthpiece.

The shanks themselves can be straight, S-shaped or curved. The straighter the shank, the less warning before the bit engages.

So a dressage horse, ridden with contact and his face on the vertical, will be ridden in a straighter shank, and a cutting horse, ridden with almost no contact at all, and with his nose extended, will have shanks with a curve or an S to give plenty of warning that a cue is on the way.


There's a world of difference between a leverage bit and a spade. A  leverage bit works mainly off pressure from the curb strap.The port is usually low and a chain is often used at varying degrees of tightness to increase pressure. The port size doesn't matter all that much since the pull of the reins on the shanks to the curb strap are what make things happen.

A horse in a leverage bit isn't taught to carry it. There's very little communication through the mouth, so it isn't necessary.

The old time cowboy needed to talk to his horse and use a rope, which is why riding one handed was so important.

The greater the horses ability to get in position quickly and correctly, the greater the chances of roping the cow, turning the herd or shooting his pistol in the air on Saturday night without nailing Miss Kitty.

All of the needed communication with the horse needed to come from tiny little adjustments in the reins, so the rope would stay neatly coiled, easy to get at, and keep every body safe in the mean time.

Small, tiny movements and pressures from the reins have to be taught, they can't be forced.This is where the spade bit came in.

The spade is considered a signal bit.The long (scary) tapering port, the spoon, roller and copper braces were all designed to encourage the horse to pick up his bit and carry it.

The seven or eight years needed to prepare a spade bit horse are intended to create a horse that NEVER gets yanked on.

We start our horses with the intention of making them communicate through whispers. The two-rein, the last phase before going into the full bridle, is where the horse has both a bosalito (1/4 or so inch hackamore) and the spade, so the rider has a place to go when the conversation needs to go above a whisper. If you need to yank, then get yourself to the bosalito.  The spade should NEVER EVER  be used as a punishing tool.

By the time a horse is ridden in just a spade the bit's only purpose is to receive signals from the riders hand. The horse responds to the signal, not pressure.

As far as I'm concerned, developing a spade bit horse is the most amazing, intriguing, complicated aspect of horsemanship I've ever gone for.

The reason I'm sitting out of the show pen during my five year wait to regain my amateur status is a simple one (well, other than the fact I'm really poor at the moment). I want to develop my bridle horse with no pressure on either of us. I want both of us to ride in the spade without fear and to achieve a lightness I've never created before.

This is why we go to a "bigger" bit.


Becky said...

I'd always equated bigger bits with "yell louder" not with "whisper quieter". You just blew my mind with this post.

cdncowgirl said...

Thank you for writing this. The part I hope most people remember is this:
"I have seen horrific damage done with snaffle bits, halters, hackamores, you name it. Strap it on a horse's head, involve a human and the potential for disaster is always there, depending on the ignorance of the user and the usee.

It's not the equipment, it's the hands and education of the rider and the education of the horse that either causes pain or a beautiful ballet."

Its something I've been saying for ages!
I love my horses and do my best to do right by them, but I'm sick of the overly 'fluffy' people that condemn anyone that doesn't ride in a snaffle.

I will admit that the first time I saw a spade bit I thought "wow that looks hella scary!" So I searched out information and now, well now I think that a horse & rider that properly use a spade are probably one of the more beautiful aspects of horsemanship.

mugwump said...

CDN - Those bits are hella scary. It's why I've been studying so hard for so long.

Kathy said...

thanks for the post! Loved how you explained the communication of each bit. I always loved riding in my shank bit because of the communication it gave between me and my horse, but when I moved barns, everyone there gave me the stink eye for using such an "eeeeeevvvvillll torture device". I caved in and switched to a snaffle to keep the peace, but it always burned by butt when I saw them hauling off on their horses under the belief that the snaffle was a "soft" bit so it was okay.

Almost everyone of those riders had a death grip on those poor horse's faces, and constantly nagged at their mouths to squish them into a frame. I started planning my rides at times when the barn was empty so that I could work quietly and go back to my shank bit without being gossiped about. I eventually packed up and left because I couldn't stand being labelled abusive because I wore a pair of rowel spurs and rode in a shank bit (On a Drapped Rein!!!) when everyone else was chasing their horses forward with a crop and crunching their face and neck in.

Venom said...

THANK you for this post!

SweetPea said...

This was fascinating! Thanks for the post. When I ride my endurance horse in the arena I just use a snaffle bit. When I'm out on the trail I ride with a dog-bone 4" shank (curb) style bit. I never really understood why... I just knew out on the trail that a quick flip of the reins got the quick response needed when riding at speed (usually at a trot of around 15 MPH). The snaffle just wasn't quick enough to communicate when he was SO forward. It really all makes sense now.

Anonymous said...

When I was showing a few years ago, before college, I showed on the Morgan circuit in hunter pleasure. Most horses are shown in double bridles, mine included. I can only speak for myself here, because I trained and showed my horse myself. At one of my early college classes when I was pursuing an equine degree, our teacher had us bring in bridles so we could learn about different ways of bitting. Most of the class was appalled that I showed my horse in two bits, one was a very low port curb bit, the other a smooth snaffle. Nothing outrageous. I explained to the class that while I rode in what were deemed to be harsh bits, my horse was so responsive to them that all I had to do was close a finger around a rein for him to respond. The whole goal of the class (that I showed in) was to have a consistent presentation. It wouldn't go over well with anyone if I was constantly fussing with a horse in a snaffle bit to get him to maintain his frame. I also had a horse that was a bit unruly at times, and the extra presence in his mouth provided a bit extra control in case he decided to spaz out, for lack of better wording. I am not in any way condoning what I did when I was younger, and since having retired from showing, my horse is super happy in a loose ring french link snaffle, and lighter and more responsive than he has ever been. Being the product of the show world, I had a lot to unlearn before I could ride without draw reins and martingales, and before I could let go of the need to have my horse in a perfect frame all the time. I wish I had learned it all sooner, but thats a story for another day. The point to my rambling is that the more bit you put in your horses mouth, the more knowledge the rider needs to have to not do any damage. People need to be more aware of what they are doing, and take more responsibility for their actions, and also not judge so harshly. I was judged immediately because of the bits I used on my horse, but at horse shows I got consistent compliments on how well I did and how well I had trained my horse. I've seen just as much damage to a horses face done with a halter and chain as I have with a bit and bridle. It all goes back to the user.

honeyfish said...

This is an excellent resource for understanding the action of various bits (geared toward Dressage riders, but helpful for all):

It also talks about the double bridle. The first thing she says is the double bridle: "is not a means to increase the effect on the horse."

I think you'll like her, Mugs.

mugwump said...

honeyfish....already referenced and quoted her in my post....

honeyfish said...

Ha ha...this is why you don't post a comment before you read the whole post.

I see you already know Theresa!

Susan said...

Thanks so much for explaining the difference between a snaffle and a curb. It's a little bit of a pet peeve of mine when people (especially those who should know better) call a broken bit with shanks a snaffle. I don't know why it's so hard to understand leverage pull and direct pull.

honeyfish said...

At any rate--embarrassment aside, I'm glad we agree on Sustainable Dressage. When I found her site six years ago I was blown away by how concise, straight-forward and accessible all the information was.

I definitely see bits as indicators of the levels of education of the horse and rider--my horse is still in the snaffle, and for now, that's where both of us belong!

No shame in admitting you're not ready for the curb, I say.

Of course, bits can also be used as crappy shortcuts. But I feel like it's pretty (painfully) obvious when they're used that way.

FD said...

I've only 5min to answer this but essentially, in dressage the purpose of the double bridle is to replicate the process you describe with the spade bit - at the very highest levels, movements can be ridden one handed on the curb bit alone (it's not compulsory, but the marking schema is higher if you do) with the intention of showing that the riders use of hand and the horse's response to it are so nuanced that they are able to communicate off've that alone. Because of course, if the rider's hands are satisfactorily still and simultaneously giving, the curb bit will give you away in terms of the horse's reaction to its movement in their mouth. It also helps to demonstrate that the horse's lateral flexion comes as a result of being physically in balance throughout the movement not artificially as a result of rein pressure.

That's the theory anyway. In practice there's a certain amount of disagreement as to whether producing fine-tuned results with a blunt instrument (snaffle) is actually less skilled than producing fine-tuned results from a 'sharp' (metaphorically) instrument (curb).

I think, and I could be wrong here, I'm open to correction, that the difference in rein contact between high level western / dressage riding is why it's not considered reasonable in dressage to expect even the highest level rider to ride off the curb alone all the time, and hence why the bridoon (snaffle) to fall back on.

Anonymous said...

Mugs (or anyone) what about this type of snaffle? I was lead to believe that because it does not “fold in” but only to a point it’s a less sever bit in untrained hands.

mugwump said...

FD - I really don't know - but it makes sense. It's the difference in contact between the disciplines.

mugwump said...

Anon - I'm kind of old fashioned. I like to think of the rider learning to use their hands and develop feel rather than buying equipment that dulls the process.

Kel said...

Anon: Not as much nutcracker effect, but it can still be like a razor blade in the hand of a monkey if used improperly (plus combine it with an overly tight noseband that offers the horse no relief from somebody with a death grip on the reins).

I kind of like doing the "foot test" -- stick your foot in your horse's bridle and try out the action of the bit on yourself (works well with curbs; only way to test out jointed snaffles is to bend them around your wrist). Then just play at how light you can be with the reins and feel it on your foot. It's pretty amazing. You can also go the opposite way to see how it feels -- keep tension (as if you were gripping the reins) and see how numb to sensation your foot gets after a bit, especially with the curb strap/chain working opposite the bit....

Justaplainsam said...

Annon, I have that bit in the western version, and the English with the slots for the bridle/reins with at curb chain. (for HUS/AQHA) My horse loves both of them. But he has a very small mouth and we have found that he really doesn't like jointed bits. It offers him the tongue release that he really desires.

The traditional spade bits scare the crap out of me, however I would love to have the knowledge and the skill that a bit like that would require. A custom bit maker did a great article on how the spade bit interacts in the horses mouth/palate a while ago for AQHA that was fantastic, I'll have to see if I can find it online.

And Mugs I'm a convert to the no nose band group... I'll still have one on for show (English) but it will be loose. I have a much happier horse in a mild shank with no nose band than I ever did in a snaffle and a tight nose band.


mugwump said...

justplainsam - I'm grateful you tried it....really glad it helped.

Val said...

I guess what worries me about a (western) shank bit is that I usually do not see them in the hands of the experienced, just the average trail rider or gaming rider.

Thanks for defining the snaffle bit. My pet peeve is when riders justify using a kimberwicke or Tom thumb by saying that it is just a snaffle and gentle. I dislike both of those bits quite a lot and think that they can do a fair amount of damage, especially because it is easy for the rider to lean on the kimberwicke and not realize that the horse's mouth is gaping.

horsegenes said...

Amen. What mugs said. The old cowboy that I rode with took years to develop a bridle horse and took hours designing spade bits the would communicate or speak to each horse. He explained to me the process but I was a smart ass teenager and didn't fully listen. My loss. I do remember him talking about the reins sending vibrations and that each horse had a little different response or feel for them. He also told me that a bridle horses mouth should be considered more delicate than fine porcelain or china. Great post. Just awesome.

paintarab said...

Anon, My horse really likes the myler bit. I picked a bit for my horse a couple of years ago by borrowing a bunch of different bits and testing them out (riding a few times in each). I picked the bit that she fought against the least, but still listened to. She would also accept the myler bit without hesitation when I was putting on her bridle. I didn't know much about why one uses a particular bit when I picked them, I just knew I wanted a "less harsh" bit than the one I was using. After reading this post I now realize that maybe it wasn't necessarily that the bit was harsh, just that my riding style didn't match the bit. Of course, the myler bit was also the most expensive bit I tried. :)

joycemocha said...

I have always wanted to make a bridle horse. Mocha would be a good prospect, except that I'm only ready now and she's going to be twelve years old. Sigh. So we work on lightness in our little 5-inch correction bit.

I've been to J.M. Capriola's in Elko twice. One time I got to hold some of the spade bits and balance them in my hand. Very cool. That same visit, I also got to listen to an old ranch hand come in to look for a bit to finish off a mare he'd been bringing along. Listening to that discussion was much of a coolness.

I do think you can teach a horse to carry a regular curb--at least, that was part of the introductory process that G had me do with Mocha to put her in the curb. The difference between the curb in her mouth and the snaffle in her mouth is striking. She definitely balances the curb. That may also be an artifact of G's style of training, too.

Cdncowgirl, I am so with you about those who condemn anyone who doesn't ride in a snaffle. Or folks who think you can't ride a horse with both bits. I alternate bits with Mocha all the time and it's a good thing. She's light in both snaffle and curb. Or in the sidepull, for that matter...

mugwump said...

joycemocha - it's an important aspect of the curb - it works off the chin strap and shanks.

It certainly doesn't mean your horse won't, shouldn't, can't, and any other 'nt you can come up with,
carry the bit.

Carrying or not carrying doesn't affect the communication. The communication comes through the reins, to the levers (shanks) to the curb strap.

Anonymous said...

This post offered me the answers I've been searching for in all those bits and bitting type books I've read over the years. Thanks!

A couple years ago, when I had Casey in training, I wanted to get him in a curb bit for showing. We tried a low port that I had and he was unhappy. I don't know the whys exactly. He ended up in an Argentine Snaffle, a broken mouthed, shorter shanked bit. I've never rode him in this bit to date. We seem to do fine in an eggbutt snaffle.

Now, if I'm understanding this post correctly, a curb would be gentler than the broken mouthed bit he goes in? Why do you suppose that was the bit of choice and not a grazing bit or anything like that? I'm interested in your theory, as I'm on the other side of the country from the trainer I used before, so asking isn't as easy.

-Oregon Sunshine

mugwump said...

Oregon Sunshine - I really have no way to answer that.

I'm not sure what your trainer's reasoning was and I don't know anything about you or your horse.

If you take anything with you from this post, please have it be that all bits are gentle if that's how they're used and NO bit is gentle if it's misused.

This definitely wasn't about which bit is the gentlest, I just wanted you to understand how they work.

zebradreams07 said...

Mugs said "I like to think of the rider learning to use their hands and develop feel rather than buying equipment that dulls the process."

I still try to find a bit that my horse finds more comfortable. If you have soft hands and your horses is still fussy or bracing, evaluate the shape and size of their mouth and try other options to see if they like something more. Example: My horse has always gone in a French Link snaffle, but I recently moved him up into a pelham to have finer communication for some of our dressage work. Even though I can ride with very light contact on the pelham and he doesn't lean on it like he does the snaffle, he's unhappy because the one I found has a thick plastic mouthpiece. So I will be buying him one with a slim copper mouthpiece to keep him soft and happy. (This also emphasizes the point that a thick mouthpiece is not always kinder.)

A French Link could be considered duller than a single break snaffle, but if the horse has a low palette they're not likely to ever be happy with contact on a single break.

mugwump said...

zebradreams- you brng up a good point. I have several snaffle bits. When I have a horse in the snaffle, I find the one that suits the mouth of the horse I'm riding, and yes,I own a french link.
When I use a curb, I find the best one in my "trainer box"to suit the horse.
I have a correction, a broken mouth, solid mouth pieces with different port heights and different shanks.
I like Greg Darnell and Les vogt bits.
The bit I just had built for my mare is a Benny Guitron, I'm very happy with the balance and feel.
I have several hackamores too and will play with wich one works best.
But I'm still pretty simple in my approach.I have two snaffles I use on the majority of my colts, one curb (medium port loose shank aluminum Greg Darnesll)and a Les Vogt half-breed for my bridle horses.Most of the time they end upriding in one of those.
So yes, I do consider a horse's mouth when I pt a bit on them.
BUT if a horse is heavy in my hands I always fault my handling instead of the bit.If 10 horses are heavy in a bit I start looking at the bit as the problem.
Call me a purist, or call me too stupid to properly use too many types of bit, I still rely heavily on my abiity to work a horse in a few good bits as they travel up the ladder of training.

Mrs. E said...

Loved reading this. Just had a conversation with a younger rider about one of her horses who she has difficulty stopping on the polo field. She asked about fixing it. I asked if the wanted the short but temporary answer or the longer but better answer. The point of bits is to get to the feet-communication. This rider needs to go back and refine the her conversation with her horse rather than get a bigger bit.

Love Sustainable Dressage as well.

Jennie said...

Long time reader / new commenter here, but I think you guys will chuckle at this story.

At the dressage stable where I used to work, I once found myself in the tack room trying to keep a rowdy but curious eight year old boy occupied before his lesson. He spotted double bridle hanging on the wall: 'There are too many bits on that bridle!' he said with a bit of shock in his voice. 'Not really,' I told him, 'that is a double bridle. It is for very advanced horses and riders. The two bits work in a different way, allowing the rider to communicate better with the horse.' He just kept staring at it, with such a look of intense concentration I couldn't bring myself to interrupt his thoughts with further explanation. Finally it was as if a light bulb went off in his head. 'I get it!' he exclaimed. 'You have one bit to steer with and one to stop!!'

Peanut said...

I have a 'half-breed' bit that belonged to my grandfather - how is it different from a spade bit?

Anonymous said...

I am an ex-trainer who also sat out my time to get my ammie card back. It is well worth it - to ride for yourself and your own gratification.

I do ride dressage and have steadfastly refused to use a flash - no matter what. When the horse brings his poll up and flexes, his jaw needs to move forward, which it cannot do with his mouth tied shut. My horses jaws are soft and move....I can feel them swallow and lick their lips.

I have 2 bits (snaffles) that I start all of my youngsters in. I am comfortable with these two, I get consistent, comparable results - I know what to expect. From those, my preference is a french linked bit (snaffle). The link allows the bit to wrap around the jaw as opposed to the nutcracker action of the single joint. Occasionally I run into a timid mouthed horse that does better in a mullen mouthed snaffle - they get some confidence in a bit that is moving very little.

For a western horse, I like a low ported curb with as wide a port as the horse is comfortable with to provide plenty of room for his tongue. Most low ports are too narrow and seem to encourage some horses to run their tongues over the bit. I only use a higher port on more finished horses. Some horses get their frames to low in a higher port which is why I use the low ports a lot.

Regarding kimberwicks - they seem to be so popular with pleasure riders today, but I see so few riders with good hands that I see the solid ported kimberwicks as a boon to the horse - much more comfortable and tamer than turning those people loose in a snaffle.

Regarding full dressage bridles - your earlier poster had it right about finesse. The two bits give you different levels of communication and contact...pinpoint lightness and responsiveness....but only after the proper training. It's all about the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Myler bit comments.
I am a *ehem* 40 something getting back into riding. As a kid/teen I was heavily involved in horse related activities, but honestly I just got on and went. My first horse was from a local rodeo (bucking stock). All my tack was hand-me down items which I felt blessed to get and things like saddle fit or tack in general was something I never pondered or had to choose. I am trying to absorb all I can via books, videos and local trainers. I know just enough to know I don’t know a damn thing!
I now have a horse with some decent training and I am just getting a glimpse of how to control his feet with something other than the reins. I quickly learned he doesn’t tolerate having his face hung on and the reins have the least amount influence on his direction. I purchased that bit for two reasons it didn’t fully collapse (so I thought it was less harsh) and each side rotated independently (which I thought would give him more feel through the reins). I’m really trying to do right by this horse (he knows much more than I do) but have days where I feel everything I do is wrong. So is there such a thing as a good bit for beginner hands?

ps...I have “felt the light” and it’s what keeps wanting more.

Anonymous said...

The shape of the mouthpiece (swept back slightly on the sides) of the Mylar bits encourages them to flex at the poll and lower their heads. It can be a good bit for a thinking horse that needs a little more stability or for a rider who's hands may not be dead steady. Some english horses get too deep in the bridle in the Mylars. Also some horses with bar damage are not comfortable in them either.

Jennifer R. Povey said...

I've always thought of the spade bit as the western equivalent of a double bridle - easy to screw up with, requires lots of training to properly use, but, when used correctly, gives extremely precise communication with the horse.

Heidi the Hick said...

This is great! I'll take any info about bits I can get. And I'll take a rainy day to teach an unmounted lesson about bits and bridles and why we use each and for what purpose. I have to touch on that during a mounted lesson but I like to get more into it at some point. I have seen a difference in a student's riding.

And I've had the "snaffle" argument with soooo many people! I'm not generally an argumentative person but I'll stand there quietly repeating "if it's got shanks it's a curb I don't care if the mouthpiece is jointed if the reins connect to the bit rings it's a snaffle even if the mouthpiece is solid..."

I think about harshness a lot too. I know any bit can be painful and I think if a rider is going to inflict damage it could even be done with a hackamore. I'm constantly worried about being light handed but still getting my cues clear with the reins. I honestly don't know if I'm getting it right.

I used to use a bit called a Tom Thumb, also called a colt bit. I used to think it was mild. One day when my daughter was riding I noticed that the rise between the bit ring and cheek piece, and the shank, were almost the same length. It really swiveled in the horse's mouth. I tried to picture what was going on inside her mouth - where was the V in the jointed mouthpiece sticking in? I ended up putting that mare Ina mechanical hackamore which she goes well in. She doesn't need much pressure so we don't heavy hand her, ever. This, by the way, is the horse I started in what I thought was the mildest bit available: eggbutt snaffle with a really fat thick mouthpiece. Then I wondered for like a year why she rode with her mouth open and fussed with the bit! She didn't "get used to it". So I got the same bit with a thinner mouthpiece. Ha. Turns out the poor little thing just literally couldn't get her mouth around it.

Anybody else find that, or is it just me and my tiny girl?

Anyways, bitting is a fascinating art and science which I will be studying for the rest of my life! I have so much to learn! Exciting stuff!

Heidi the Hick said...

Ooh another thing - I could talk for hours about this, somebody stop me - when I rode my half Arab with a big solid curb with S shanks, he was happy. He neckreined and stopped nicely. Yeah I Had to defend that choice a couple times at the saddle club, that it was a gentle bit, because it was not meant to haul on hard so I didn't. The bit stayed where it was and didn't swivel everywhere... I wonder now if he was such a hyper minded horse that he couldn't deal with a really active bit.

But that horse had his mouth open and lips flapping constantly which looked bad. He did that all the time though. In a halter even. He just had a lot to say.

flyin'horse said...

Thanks mugs for your very thorough answer to my question!

mugwump said...

I too can talk about this stuff for hours....maybe that's why nobody will sit next to me at Holiday parties.....

quietann said...

Kinda late to the party here, but where I board -- a barn with a mix of jumpers, pleasure horses, trail and dressage (I do the latter two), the mouthpiece of choice is the Herm Sprenger KK snaffle. HS bits are wicked expensive but nearly all the horses in the barn go in them and are happy in them. After a lot of futzing around with other bits, I finally bit the bullet (so to speak) and tried an eggbutt KK on my mare, and she LOVES it.

For anyone doing dressage -- be sure to review the rules on "legal" snaffles (and other bits) if you are going to show. (And the rules for eventing dressage are a little different.) They're pretty strict about bits being mild. I personally won't put a bit that isn't legal for dressage in my mare's mouth.

Half Dozen Farm said...

mugwump said...

" I too can talk about this stuff for hours....maybe that's why nobody will sit next to me at Holiday parties....."

You obviously just don't go to the right parties! 'Cause I'd sit next to you for hours and chat!

I'm so glad you are getting the chance to blog more. I have really been enjoying all of it, the stories and the "brain exercises".

Thanks Mugs!

Mosey said...

I don't see the problem with a kimblewicke, I'm actually planning on getting a low port or mullen one for my boy when I start riding again as he seems to prefer a solid mouth. I think if you use the rings instead of the slots it basically works as a stable mullen-mouth snaffle, or am I wrong?

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