Let’s Talk About Bits.

One of our biggest tools when riding is the bridle. Some don’t understand that the bridle is the headstall, bit, and reins. The headstall is used to keep the whole shebang in place. To put the bit to where its not hitting the teeth as well as keep everything in place. Some horses need a brow band style so it doesn’t fall off their heads. If you have a horse that likes to flatten their ears or has a lot of movement, I highly suggest a brow band with a throat latch. Been there done that! When riding with a simple o-ring snaffle, you for sure need to consider this style headstall. Same with a hackamore. Moving on…..

Some horses do great with just a one ear. I have even seen some with “no ear” headstalls. For me, I like to at least have a one ear headstall to keep the headstall from sliding back thus changing the angle of the bit in the mouth. Lynx runs in a simple hack designed by JD Morrow. Lynx is super light in the mouth and having a bit in his mouth causes him to do weird things in a run. I found that by staying 100% out of his way, he just simply runs better and turns better. I have 9’ reins, a one ear headstall and his hack set just for him. If I change anything, he gets mad. Yup. MAD. So when you see me warming up, know that I have not changed his headstall set up since he was six. He is 13 now!!! At home he rides in a very light little snaffle on a draw type headstall that is soft. It’s made of braided paracord. I could ride him in a shoe string if needed. He is just that light. WHY is he so light????? Well, its simple. I stay light on his face. He was broke correctly. He learned that the bit is a tool not a correction. The bit is to communicate, from me to him, what I expect him to do. From counter arching, side pass, lifting the shoulder, ribs, hips, collection and to simply move just one foot. Notice I did not say for WHOA. See, My theory is whoa is based off of my body position and the verbal command. I simply rock back, relax my buttocks, slide my feet a little in front of the girth and say the word WHOA. He will slide to a stop. If I have to pull on his face, I can expect him to stop on his front end throwing me forward. I don’t want to stop forward or eat horn for that matter!! So when I say whoa, we stop then we take 3 steps back. EVERY SINGLE TIME. I do this with all of my horses. It’s amazing how much slide you can teach one by simply taking those three steps back!

What is the purpose of running Lynx in the hack? Well, first of all, I’m not in his mouth. I’m on his nose. I use it to guide, not force. I do appreciate the ability to slow up or stop at any point in our run and if we are in the hack, I can simply do my rock back, feet forward and say easy or whoa then if I have to touch my reins, it pulls on his nose, not his mouth. Mostly, I can just throw him the reins and make our run. When I put that bridle on him, he KNOWS we are going to RUN barrels. We only use it to RUN barrels. On the rare chance that I go to the arena and don’t run barrels, it stays in the trailer and I put a simple snaffle on him. That way he knows “we are just going to play in the dirt”.

One trend I see with riders….I don’t want to isolate barrel racers here because I do see it across all disciplines….Is if the horse starts to loose their “feel” they go for a heavier bit. This is a fatal flaw. Once you go heavy, you can’t go back. You are basically teaching the horse to be hard mouthed. When I have a horse that is running through the bit I go backwards. We go back to the snaffle and into the round pen. I don’t care how old or young the horse is, we have to backtrack. I recently acquired a horse that will get very heavy on the bit. He will take the bit and run. Literally. We have been going back to the round pen with a snaffle and doing my “baby tricks” to get him back “in the bridle”. If you don’t know what that is and own horses, please google!!!!! It is very basic! We will tie around and let him fight the bit with me on the ground. Once he gives to the pressure but keeps moving forward, we change sides and do it again. Then I do both sides and move him forward (less inward pull, more downward pull) to teach him to collect and that the bit is not WHOA, it’s a signal to “do something”. Shockingly enough, this horse has gone from a ported shank bit back to the snaffle at home. We are a work in progress and I hope eventually he too can appreciate the hackamore. Not yet, but soon. AND I hope I can get to where at home we can just ride around in the snaffle and achieve all of our goals. This horse is 18.

The reins are such an important aspect to the bridle. The length and style of rein can make or break your ride. Let me back up and say this…..different horses need different things depending on the situation. I think we can all agree with that! At home, I rather ride in a nice set of split reins with weighted ends than anything else. I LOVE splits because I can easily adjust my length, tension, and do what I need to do when I need to do it. In roping reins, you are limited to the length of the rein and how far out you can go. But in splits, I can move my hands wherever I want. Oh, I want to counter arch? Lots of room!!! Oh! I want to go faster? I can shrink them!!! Just trail riding? I can let them hang. However, when in competition, I feel that having roping reins is overall safer. I did make the flaw of having a nice set of black reins made for my BAY gelding with a LONG black mane…..Yup, I lost them…..I should sell those and get some white ones! But why are they safer, you ask? Well, if you drop them, 9/10 times, you can find them. The won’t be on the ground. When your horse is flying, you want to have all your gear within arms reach! I have dropped many splits and I will say that having the horse step on them while running full speed is very, very dangerous for you and the horse!

So lets talk about reins. Because Lynx is so light in the face, he HATES heavy reins and HATES snaps. He will feel my pinky finger move on the rein and move when I ask. Imagine having weight attached to the bit and him feeling that move! He HATES it! So my barrel reins for him are mule tape with button ends, no snaps. Super light weight but strong and will literally last forever. They have knots so I can make sure my hand placement is correct at all times. Those are his. It’s what HE likes. For Splash, he likes a little shorter rein for quicker reaction and needs a little help in his turns. The weight of his reins allows me to move my hand and he can feel it yet I am not pulling on his face. Just the weight of the rein end lets him know I am asking for something. This is soooooo important! We don’t want to have to pull the horse around by their nose. We want them to remember their training and GUIDE them. So the less is more option is my way. If a little weight added to the bit end of the rein is going to signal him, then that is what we use. If his reins are too long, then my angle is off. I like to put my arm out to turn, not pull back. I want them to keep moving forward. Having a shorter rein on him allows just that. Less pulling, more guidance. I do deal with riders who depend way too much on their hands. They balance on their reins. This is a big NO. If you balance on your hands, you are constantly pulling back on the rein while asking the horse to move forward. This creates a drop in the shoulder, lack of responsiveness and an overall bad ride. Every horse is different! I have a nice set of reins with slobber straps that I like for my lesson kiddos. But I have one horse that thinks they are for flopping around. Sigh.

Bit placement is my next thing. There is the general rule of thumb of one or two wrinkles. What is it? One or two? Depends on the bit and the horse. I will say that no wrinkles allows the bit to bounce on the tooth and that is not comfortable. I usually go for one wrinkle. I don’t want to have the bit to their eyeballs! But I don’t want it hanging on their teeth either. So if they are shaking their heads, I will re-evaluate where that bit sits in their mouth. I also prefer a leather curb strap over a chain. Maybe it’s because I like to keep them light? On my hackamore, I have a chain. Generally, it’s because my hack is made to float a little and the leather curb makes it stiff. I always have a curb on an 0-ring or anything without shanks. Why? Because it helps to keep the bit from going into their mouths! Plan and simple!

I hope you enjoyed my little tidbit on bits, bridles etc. It took me all day to write this! Please feel free to leave a comment!