Horses allow us to ride them, they allow us to put a piece of metal in their mouths and use a length of rein to control them. They forgive for our mistakes, and try to please us and do what we ask. We need to respect their tolerance by being calm and soft with our hands. A rider must respect the control they are gaining with the equipment we choose. Control does not come just from the head and head gear. Correct body positions, consistent cues and leg aids all work together to make the horse and rider become a team. Even the kindest of bits can be harsh on the horses mouth with the wrong hands, imagine how a harsher bit feels in the with hard hands.
Some ways to find out how hard you are being on your horse, or if a bit is too much for your horse, is to watch a video of you riding. If your horse is throwing his head a lot, opening his mouth trying to evade the bit, or you see your hands going all over the place, you may need some correction. A lot of horse problems can come from incorrect gear selection. Just because you barrel race doesn’t mean you need a bit marked “barrel racing". The same can be said for specific problems. Just because it is written that a certain bit corrects a problem, doesn’t mean it happens overnight and it doesn’t mean it will work for your horse. Every horse and every rider is different. If you are having problems selecting the correct bit for your horse, seek professional help from a trainer, vet or other horse specialist.
Things to remember about the bits we choose:
Draw/Gag bits: add pressure to the poll adding flex and collection. These bits do just what they are called. They have a “gagging" action that allows the mouth piece to move when pressure is applied. These types of bits should only be used on soft mouthed horses and light handed riders.
Combination bits: for training and competition. The broken mouthpiece adds bend, the nose band distributes the bit pressure, and the chain adds rate. These are good for heavy handed riders as they spread out the pressure. These bits come in short and long shanks for the amount of whoa needed. It is NOT an excuse to be heavy handed, but old habits can be hard to break. While working on your problem, this may be a bit to choose to help you get used to the way your horse will respond with a different approach.
Hackamores: great for horses already seasoned. A hackamore is the best option for a horse! Would you rather choose a piece of metal in your mouth or a piece of rope around your nose?
Snaffles: for direct/lateral control. Most barrel horses do well in a regular snaffle bit. Snaffle bits are great for training. They can lack whoa so remember what you are asking your horse to do and use your entire body.
The thinner the diameter of the mouthpiece, the more severe. A solid bit such as a curb is more severe because it puts more pressure on the horse’s mouth. Correctly fitted curb chains are another big thing. In order to work properly, you must be able to fit at least 2 fingers between the chain and the horses chin. Otherwise, there is no reason for the chain to be there. If it is too tight, it has no action whatsoever except to rub your horse’s jaw raw, it if is too loose, it is useless because it doesn’t react when you put pressure on the reins. Hackamores should be fit to ride 2-3 fingers about the bridge of the nose. You will hear many things about the way a bit should fit in a horse’s mouth. I don’t like to have more than a slight wrinkle. This gives the horse a lighter mouth, and more time to respond to what we ask.
When trying a new bit on your horse, always go back to slow work to make sure you horse understands the new cues it gives, and you are used to the way your horse reacts. If you can’t have whoa in your horse, you shouldn’t even be thinking about go. It is very dangerous to not be able to control your horse at every gait he is capable of. Work on being able to control your horse at slower gaits, and work your way up. Keep using your body aids and using very little rein pressure. Even if your horse is hard mouthed now, doesn’t mean he cant be brought back down to being a light mouthed horse. It will just take time and lots of training for horse and rider.
A wonderful trick I recently acquired to find out just how much your bit is affecting your horse, is to try it yourself! Put a baggie around the mouth piece, and put the bit in your mouth. Have someone behind you pull on the reins and see how much it hurts. Imagine what you would do if someone yanked on your mouth that hard? Probably buck them off! Now think how kind our horses are to us with all the mistakes we make. If we appreciate our horse’s lightness and keep them light, we will be winners because our horses are able to do the things we ask with minimal physical involvement, or rather interference, from us.
Billie McNamara has been barrel racing for 15 years, competing and winning in several events. She offers coaching, training and clinics in barrel racing and information can be obtained from her at email@example.com or her website, http://www.barrelraceinmaine.com