Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bits and Bridles

A while back, Linda at Beautiful Mustang, posted about the contents of her tack room. I filed her idea away thinking it'd be a fun post for a rainy day. Well, guess what. It's raining today! I'm not going to post about all the contents of my tackroom today, just about my bits and bridles.

I love horse tack. A few years ago, when horses were my main focus in life (aside from my schooling), I spent a lot of time acquiring, trying, then rehoming horse equipment (saddles, bits, headstalls...). I was finding what I like and getting rid of stuff that didn't work for me. Ebay was a treasure trove of used items and I perused it regularily, and also sold stuff on it. Now I don't have time to do that anymore, although I still like browsing the tack area of farm stores. Thankfully, I've pretty much narrowed down the items in my tack room to things I truly like.

So, my favorite bridles all have browbands and throatlatches. They look balanced (as compared to a one-ear headstall) and they just seem more stable. If you are riding a rugged trail, I think you'd like a tough well-attached headstall that can't be pulled off if something happened to take you through thick brush (and yes, I've gone many a places I'm glad I had well-attached tack). But mostly, I like the way they look. I don't like flashy bridles with a lot of bling, but a little decoration is okay. My favorite bridle has a buckstitch browband headstall made by Martin Saddlery. I lusted for it for quite a while and then ended up getting it as a graduation gift.

Most of my bridles have rope reins. I love rope reins. They are thick, easy to hold onto, and if you drop them, they fall on the horse's neck instead of on the ground, like split reins do. One bridle I own does have split reins (Cody's new bridle), and I am still getting used to them after riding in rope reins for years. My rope reins are attached to the bit using slobber straps. They are a neat looking attachment, but they can be bulky at times. My horses are fine with them, although I have experimented with cutting my own out of leather and making them less bulky. That was quite a while ago, and I remember being pleased with the results, but I ended up giving them away to a friend rather than keeping them in my tack room. Last I heard, she uses them, but I'll have to find out if she does still.

I have very few types of bits compared to some tackrooms I've seen. At one point, I only owned two types, having gotten rid of all the others that I don't like, however I have recently acquired a couple new ones.

First off, I started using a full cheek snaffle bit on Cody as a 3 year old.

I chose the full cheek snaffle for the jointed mouthpeice (supposedly gentle) and the full cheek peices that would help with teaching a young horse to steer. It worked fine and I had success with it on Cody. When I started preparing Chico, my first mustang and first horse I trained solely myself, I struggled with whether or not to use a bit. I'd been doing lots of reading and came to the conclusion that snaffle bits really aren't so gentle. Sure, you don't have any added leverage, but if you pull back on the reins, the bit breaks in half like a nut-cracker, poking into the horse's palate and pinching the tongue. So, with Chico, I really considered going bitless. I taught him everything with a halter. But my first time with riding him off the property, I took him to the neighbor's indoor arena as a new controlled area. He did fine, but he was definitely distracted and I found myself having to use more strength on the halter to get him to respond. Plus a halter can slide back on their face a bit, so you are pulling farther away from the end of their nose, which is where all your leverage is. I know that if you intend to ride bitless, you have to really condition a horse to respond to the cues, and that using a bit is no substitute for training. I mentioned to the neighbor how I was struggling with deciding to use a bit or not. Being an endurance rider/trainer/breeder, she told me that she always uses a bit on her young horses because she likes the finer communication you get with a bit. And she showed me the bit she used on her young horses. It was a very wide-barred double jointed loose ring snaffle. I thought about it for a while and decided to get one. I tried a couple types and settled on a D-ring double jointed snaffle with a very round smooth centerpeice. The bit that I have is JP Korsteel Hunter Dee - Copper Oval Link (in case you want to look it up).

I like the wide D rings to help with turning cues and also to prevent the bit from sliding through a horse's mouth in a sticky situation. The smooth center-peice and joints don't gouge a horse's palate and it can't pinch the tongue. This bit is also contoured to fit right in the horse's mouth so they can comfortably hold the bit.

It can apparently give more tongue pressure than some other bits, but it's also thought that a nervous horse can be settled by the extra tongue pressure (not sure if that is true, but I've never had any restistance to the bit). I used this bit on all three of my horses, but now Cody has graduated to a new bit. Chico has a slightly narrower mouth than Cody and Catlow, so he had his own bridle, while Cody and Catlow used to share another bridle.

Last summer, Cody went to training and my primary goal was to keep her being ridden, and also have someone work exclusively on teaching her to neck-rein. The trainer said that at her age (7 year old), she should know how to ride in a shanked bit. She said it is just the next step in training. Showing horses, I'm sure that's true, although I don't necessarily believe that a horse needs to ever leave a snaffle if you are getting what you want out of it.

So, Cody was trained to use a Tom Thumb type bit, a broken mouth-peice with shanks. I purchased a simple one last fall to use with her after she came back from training. She also got her own bridle with split reins.

I was still concerned with the broken mouth-peice though. I feel like it is kind of harsh, and I've also read a bit about how a broken mouth-peice with shanks can give a horse conflicting pressure signals on their mouth. The misbehavior of many horses can apparently be attributed to confusion from this type of bit. It makes sense to me. So I started looking for a solid-mouth curb bit. I was looking for a specific shape, because I don't want a curb bit that will push too hard on the horse's palate when the reins are pulled. This is what I've found so far.

I like the mouth-peice shape, but I don't like how long the shanks are. I'd prefer them be shorter because I don't need that much leverage. I'll keep looking for another bit, but our local stores don't have a ton of variety and I don't spend much time shopping online anymore.

And you may have noticed that most of my bits have copper on them. That is not necessarily on purpose, it just seems like a lot of the nicer bits have copper. Copper is used in bits to encourage a horse to salivate, which is supposed to make them work their mouth and keep it soft, ultimately relaxing them and making them more responsive. A horse that is uptight, or withdrawn will often have tight, clamped together lips. A thinking, responding horse licks and chews. I don't believe in using an artificial tool to make a horse relax and think. I think that comes with your training methods and being a responsive rider. So, I don't think that the copper is necessary and in fact might even be uncomfortable. Have you ever tasted the copper? It's kinda wonder they salivate with a copper bit. I'm not sure that's a good thing. But then again, I'm no expert. I'm just a person who thinks and often overanalyzes stuff, but if it doesn't make sense to me, then I won't believe it works, and then it doesn't work for me.

So, there. These are my bridles in my tack room!


Anonymous said...

I like your simple selection of bits. I use a single-jointed full-cheek Mylar snaffle on Dawn - the mouthpiece is nicely curved. Pie goes either in a Buckeroo sidepull or else a ported Mylar D - it provides good tongue relief as he has a large tongue. Drift goes in a KK three-part full-cheek snaffle that looks a lot like the one you showed with the lozenge. That's about all the bits I use regularly, although I do have a Rockin S snaffle which is useful in certain circumstances and a couple of other snaffles and a simple ported curb bit.

Linda said...

Now that was an interesting tour of your bridles and bits. I just got a real nice rope rein in the mail--the slobber straps are small. I'll take a picture of it. Our mecate rope reins have larger slobber straps and it works for those sets well. I've used D ring snaffles on all my young ones so far, but still thinking about it with BG. What you said does make sense---that you had to pull harder, etc with a halter only. Your thoughts on copper were also interesting. I have it on my bits, too, but hadn't really given it much thought.

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

I like your choices! Especially the buckstitched headstall. I've never understood the one or two ear headstalls. I know someone who thinks a browband headstall is stupid looking and won't use one - even though her horses never progressed out of snaffles and what I've been taught is you can't use a one ear headstall with a snaffle because of the lateral motion.

I never liked split reins much either, until I used a really well broken in pair of my sister's. They're not thick and bulky and she oiled and worked them a LOT to make them supple. They are so nice. And I like the idea that if your reins get caught in the brush there isn't a loop to really cause a wreck. But I still ride with rope reins almost exclusively, because I can make my own.

I use a rope clip, sold by some clinician as a "Cowboy Clip" but I make my own, instead of a slobber strap or clip on a lead rope. They're easy to use, not bulky, and they don't break. I quit using my slobber straps a long time back because they're a pain to switch out, and they don't work with a curb.

Kara said...

I love hearing what everyone uses. I know most of you who read my blog are also deep thinkers about the tack that you use and it's neat to see what other's have settled on. Andrea, can you show me a picture of your "cowboy clip"? I need to oil up my split reins a little more...they are still stiff and don't hang nice. I rode with a well broke in pair of split reins when I was a kid, but they were tied in a knot, so were essentially like a rope rein with a tail.

Shirley said...

If you are looking for more options in a curb bit, check out the ones that have loose sides, that you can pick up one rein and it doesn't pressure the other shank, it really helps with lateral control when you are progressing from a snaffle to a curb. Also, the bits made by Metalab
are really good quality. I use one on Gussie that looks like a curb, but has an invisible joint in the center that allows you to pick up one rein without moving the whole bit.
There is another option, a mullen mouth with loose cheeks
that you might like.