Topic today is BITS! Small bits, big bits, long bits, short bits, just the bit!
This is a very common issue that makes me cringe daily as I scroll through social media. Mostly it’s common human error due to lack of knowing Amy better and I totally understand that. Most that use bits incorrectly have the best of intentions but are unknowingly hurting their horse or back tracking and creating more to the issue instead of fixing the issue. So, here I am to help clear the air and create some sort of understanding when it comes to bits.
In my personal opinion a snaffle bit is all you’ll ever need. Paired with softening ground work you should never need more than a simple snaffle. Horses have two most sensitive places on their body, their anus and their mouth. Keep that mental picture as you now add the person that comes to mind who yanks on their horses face. What if you yanked like that on the other end of the horse? Not a pleasant thought huh? That being said, take the time to promote softness in the horse but also in your hands. If your hands are bouncing off the horse’s face because your flopping in the saddle, take some time to calm down your seat and relax. Learn to read your horses rhythm and match it. Riding is a far cry from just sitting in the saddle you’ve got to work hard too in order to create the pretty picture of unity.
Two common causes of people “needing bigger bits” are simply rider errors. “You made your bed and you are lying in it” as the term goes. Horses don’t start out with hard mouths it come from hard hands of the rider, too much contact and not enough release. The horse then learns to pull against the pressure to find its release instead because they no longer can rely on the rider to give it. The horse starts to not respond to the bit and the rider gets a bigger bit to “fix” the situation. This is only a bandaid, the horse will be soft with the new harsher bit for a while then it too will get used to this new bit and the cycle continues. This is when I hear “my horse doesn’t like any but I use”… no, the horse is not at fault. You just have the heavy hands of a construction worker and the sensitivity of a drill sergeant. SOFTNESS BEGINS WITH YOU!
Ok so we’ve addressed the common issue of why horse’s get transitioned into bigger bits here’s the life hack tip! STOP USING BOTH REINS AT THE SAME TIME! <<< Read that again. Softness is achieved when one rein is used at a time. I know you’re sitting there reading this saying “well my horse neck reins I ride with one hand I have to use both reins at once”, well my young grasshoppers, if you’re in constant contact with your horses face and you’re neck reining your horse needs to go back to the schooling pen and learn to neck rein with ONTLY PRESSURE ON THE NECK WITH THE REIN. This is the intended way of neck reining. Despite what people see on TV of old westerns and horse’s faces being yanked around that’s a perfect example of what NOT to do. Again, SOFTNESS STARTS WITH YOU!
Now let’s talk about bits! “The narrower the mouth, the harsher the bit” also “the longer the shank, the harsher the bit”. For example, let’s talk snaffles. A twisted wire mouth is much harsher than an eggbutt snaffle (Photo’s shown below). The eggbutt snaffle is one of the thickest you can find and I start my colts in this bit. The twisted wire is meant to catch the horse’s attention and is not meant to be used harshly or it will cause damage to the horse’s mouth. Still on the subject of snaffles there’s different side pieces that are meant for certain purposes. The “full-cheek” snaffle is great for teaching colts to turn and listen to the bit. The unique sides help push the horse’s face over when adding pressure also it’s nearly impossible for this bit to slip through the horse’s mouth. Then there’s the common “O- ring” snaffle that is the softest side you can find because it moves and has zero direct pressure. I personally love my “O-ring” snaffles I use them everyday on all levels of horses. Then the “D-ring” snaffle the D-ring is shaped like a D and is direct contact unlike the O-ring. It’s a step up from the O-ring. This bit is another I use frequently. There are thousands of bits but this is to help educate on the uses of the primary bits.
Before we finish up I’m going to add, if you are riding your horse in a shank bit weather the mouth is broken or solid with a port (port is a curb bit used on finished horses who can neck rein properly and softly) if you’re riding with a shank bit use ONE hand. If you’re “schooling” then go back to a simple snaffle not a shank. The shank is intended to direct pressure for riding with one hand. It’s not designed for two handed riding. If used with two hands it’s very harsh even tho you think it’s not because of the broken mouth. The longer the shank the harsher the bit. Snaffles are for two hands and schooling, shank bits are for one hand and neck reining.
Next time you ride just imagine having the bit under the horse’s tail instead of its mouth. Would you treat that area as harshly as you do their mouth?
Softness starts with you! If you want a soft horse, you need to become a soft rider!
Below are photos of bits I’ve mentioned.