Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Bit Trial

**Disclaimer- I know long-shanked leverage bits look ridiculously harsh to folks who have never been in the western side of things. In English we use constant contact. In Western, we use as little contact as possible. English needs horses to go forward forward forward - scope out jumps, follow the hounds. Western needs horses to stop quickly and spin while the rider's other hand is busy with a rope or a gate or a gun. If you've got a softly draped rein and you pick up slowly on your reins and the horse responds, you don't keep up the pressure. You give an immediate release. That's how we use the bit. Yes, a long shanked bit makes it much easier for the rider to exert lots of pressure on the chin and poll, and a broken mouth shank can have a "nutcracker" effect, but ANY bit can become cruel in the hands of someone who is ignorant of it's proper use. I don't know everything about bits. I learn what I can about bitting and I watch my horse for signs of discomfort, evasion, or inattentiveness when trying to make good bit decisions. I do the best I can.**

First, a little history of Me, Junior, and Bits:

When I bought Junior, he was being ridden in a slow-twist snaffle. My first lesson horse, Dino was ridden with one so I bought one of those as a place to start. On a good day Junior would do everything I asked. On a bad day he'd blow through that bit like it was made of Jell-O. But, we all know we were having other problems at that time, too. Since you can't show a 9 year old horse in a snaffle, over our first winter KAT started working him in a broken-mouth shank, or a "shanked snaffle" as it's sometimes called, or that dirty word: Tom Thumb. He took to it like an old friend. I don't know what he'd been ridden with before I got him. Supposedly he was trained as a cutter, but who knows. When we started showing, KAT put me in a square-hinged-port bit. I was terrified of it but he seemed to be really responsive to it, and I am pretty soft with my hands if I say so myself. I also borrowed an English Myler bit with a very similar mouth piece for the shows that year since he was "framing up" so much better with a leverage bit. And let's be honest, in the stock horse world the Western "frame" and the Wenglish "frame" are pretty much the same so why not use the same type of bit? **I roll my eyes at this, too. Which is why I cross-train with Dressage lessons and Cowboy Challenge obstacles for a little "field cred", BUT if I'm going to these "open" shows.... well, "when in Rome...."**

Anywhoo. So I was unable to use the English one but Max's mom had a Myler curved snaffle with curb hooks she said I could borrow. He seems to LOVE that bit so I bought it and he has been going really well in it. Until I had my first Dressage lesson and the first thing Monet did was take my chain away - which was not a surprise. We've been working without it since last fall. I have since found out that it's technically "illegal" in APHA and AQHA to use a bit with rein ports if you don't use a curb chain. Not that I'm showing breed anyway, but I'll probably need to use the chain at the shows to keep his mind in the arena and on me.

I finally found a used square-hinged-port bit on Craigslist and bought it for $12. The port itself is really wide and I think it bothers him a lot. It almost seems like the port is so wide it's on his teeth. I can jog him around in it but if I have to actually USE the bit he tosses his head up and gets all inverted. So that bit was only used for two rides. It was a fail. I forgot to take it to the tack swap. Durn.

That means I still need a bit. I used my regular long shank snaffle at the shows last year, but I tend to have to get more aggressive with it to get his attention at shows and I don't want the "nutcracker" effect. He tends to giraffe and gape when I have to take contact in it for Horsemanship. He did the same with the square port and I would get really anxious about it because I was afraid to get too heavy handed, which in turn makes him anxious and that's a bad bad cycle.

I'm also a frugal shopper and as much as I like Myler bits I think they're overpriced. Again, I don't have a closet full of free bits to try, so a $100 bit that isn't what I need isn't a good purchase. They're tough to find used for much less than that. So I've been shopping around and decided to try to find something with the same mouthpiece as our English bit since the curve shape seems more comfortable and doesn't do the "nutcracker" thing nearly as much.

At Equine Affaire I found one for a good price that has ALMOST as much curve in the mouth. It's the closest I've found, but it has longer shanks than I'd like to have. It is also rather heavy compared to the weight of the aluminum cheeks on the square port. That part I don't know what to think about. Will it encourage him to keep his head low? The tag says "mild effect" which is relative, of course.

The overall cheek length is just a hair longer than the square port I had, but about 2" longer than the other "shank snaffle" I have. It's about the same "purchase" or "lift" as the others which means it has a higher amount of leverage than the others. It has about the same "pull distance" as the snaffle but more than the square. All that I "get" but how do you know what your horse will work best in when there are thousands of bits out there?!?! All I know how to do is try it out.

Comparison of the square-hinged port to the new bit:

Comparison of our first shank bit to the new one:

So today after I worked him in the English snaffle without the curb chain I switched over to the new bit. I fit it on him first and let him feel it. I wiggled it around from the ground to let him feel the action. He gaped his mouth at it a bit but I realized he'd gotten his tongue over the top of it so I picked it up a hole. I mounted and let him walk around a bit. He didn't seem comfortable at first so I just let him have his head until he was walking straight and relaxed. I asked for a jog and of course he trotted off like we were in a Dressage lesson so I gently bumped him back down and he did as he was asked. I checked my breaks and he stopped nicely. I played around with walk/jog/back, neck reining and jogging over some poles and all seemed well. Then I bit the bullet and asked him to lope. He was fast but responsive. The bit seemed to be working really well so I even did some quick stops (not sliding, of course) and roll backs. I even had him do a barrel pattern around two barrels and the mounting block. It was a VERY tight pattern and he is not a barrel horse but I found it really refreshing that I was able to keep him where I wanted him without a lot of direction and he seemed to be working easily and comfortably. I wasn't asking for any speed until the run home, instead working on keeping him collected, lifted, and softly changing the lead. I kind of wish he wasn't so big... I forgot how fun barrels are! Oh, and nothing says Wenglish quite like running barrels in a hunt saddle!

I'll see how he does with the bit tomorrow, but today was a good first trial.

I also got to give him his first bath of the season. Can I tell you how much I LOVE having a wash stall with cross-ties and WARM water!?! I was able to wash his forelock for the very first time! I may love it, but Junior does NOT enjoy baths. Not surprising since he doesn't enjoy being groomed at all. (Although the last 3 days I groomed him ground tied and other than reminding me he hates it by swishing his tail at me and reaching his face around at me he stayed put. Sometimes he's so good!) This is why having cross ties made it possible to wash his forelock. He couldn't get away! By the time we were done he was absolutely amped UP. He was reaching out in front of him as far as he could so he could paw the mounting block (that's also how I washed his forelock) because it made more noise than the rubber matted floor.

I ended up taking him to the roundpen so he could work it off.... so of course in the 2 seconds I had my back turned to secure the gate he got down and tried to roll. Sigh. Oh, Junebug. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


  1. Hope the bit works for you! I get a lot of people tryin to "bash" the bits that I have been using on Milo lately, mostly because they dont understand their mechanics. But I personally dont use a bit unless I entirely understand how it is functioning in their mouth. I have come to find that Milo does not like snaffle shanks due to their nutcrakcer effect. He doesnt mind a snaffle,but doesnt seem to respond well or salivate with the snaffle shank. He is in a small port now, and seems to really enjoy it. But to each horse their own, so long as Junior enjoys the new bit.

  2. I agree with paint_horse_milo that a lot of people like to bash a bit because of it's "severity." And I firmly believe that a lot of horses are over-bitted because people don't take the time to research and understand what their putting in their horses mouth. That doesn't mean EVERY horse is over-bitted. If you understand how the bit functions and understand what your horse likes/dislikes, then of course your doing right by Junior.
    My mare isn't a fan of "Tom Thumbs" but my BO uses them on several of her horses. They don't do what they were designed to do, but that doesn't mean they can't work for Junior. Hope the bit works out:)

    Great post!

  3. For myler bits, there are websites that rent the bits before you commit to buy them. That's what I did with my horse. I don't remember the name but if you search myler bit rental you'll find some sites.

  4. You can trial Myler bits and give them back if they don't work out. I did buy one for Solo at about $70. It's what the BO is now using on her horse, LOL, because Solo ended up liking something else better. Ya know, I oughta just sell the damn thing to her...

  5. Bit buying is very challenging. I tried out piles of bits on Dee before finally settling on one (I was lucky enough to have tons to borrow). Funny enough we ended up going with a square hinged port sorta like the one you said Jr hated. But I think if our horses didn't all have different preferences, there would just be one bit out there and we'd all be using it. I'm sure some people's hair turns white when they see my big ol' Tom Balding but it's the one bit Dee holds quietly and doesn't get panicky with when I pick up so it must be the right one. Btw, loved your description of western. I got the funniest image of my princess Dee and me carrying a rope or gun lol.