Monday, September 7, 2015

A Short Course in Bits

I had a customer who was asking about picking up the right bit for a newly purchased horse. This client is new to horses and new to bits.  What followed was a short course on bits. I thought I would share that talk with you today.

Many bit manufacturers use the humane Myler bitting philosophy.

 Here are the basic technical points I mentioned to my client.
  1. A bit is used to improve the rider's communication to the horse, allowing the rider to have soft hands and soft cues and be effective in communicating.
  2. The mouthpiece is designed and matched to the horse. (I will get to how to do that below.)
  3. The shank is designed and matched to the rider. (I will get how to do that below.)
  4. SO, to determine the right bit for horse and rider, you find the right mouthpiece and put it with the right shank for the rider.
  5. A snaffle (meaning a bit with no shanks) uses no leverage, is a direct pull, has nothing to do with the mouthpiece and has everything to do with where the reins are attached to the bit so no leverage is used.
  6. There is no such thing, technically as a 'snaffle with shanks'.
  7. The more a rider needs to use their hands (ie, training, fixing, steady contact, a novice), the more a rider needs shorter shanks.
  8. Anytime a rider has quiet hands or wants quiet hands, the longer the shanks can be. The longer shanks gives the rider superior communication at the same time as precision communication.
  9. A rider generally has a few bits for specific purposes.

Here is the added information for the above mentioned points:

   0. There is a lot of wrong and confusing information in the horse industry about bits. I believe its because people have to justify the bit they are using when the reason for it is simply because it's always been the bit to use.

   1. All riders want soft, quiet hands that are effective. The right bit helps us get there as most of us are not so skilled that any bit will work fine.

   2a.  Pressure applied to the tongue via the mouthpiece, is what gives a rider a 'braking' system. The straighter the mouthpiece (ie, more surface area of the mouthpiece touching the tongue, the more braking power or  mechanical 'brakes' you have available for use, should the rider need it.) fyi. A broken or jointed mouthpiece gives a lot of brakes via discomfort or pain! So I would not recommend a bit with a broken mouthpiece.

  2b.  The mouthpiece needs to take into account the horse's personality.    According to Dale Myler, this is the most important factor. If you have a horse with a bad attitude or stubborn , for example, you will need a bit with a straighter mouthpiece in order to have a good 'set of brakes' in case you need to deal with the 'attitude'.  I still wouldn't as a last resort use a broken mouthpiece for this type of horse - I would get another horse.

  2c. My client has an older, very well trained, absolute sweetheart of a horse so the mouthpiece I recommended has a very large port in the centre of the mouthpiece, to give the horse lots of room for the tongue to move around since the rider won't need a lot of mechanical brakes. 

  3.  A long shank gives a skilled rider assistance in keeping our hands quiet and soft. It is my sincere wish that all riders and horses get to the point of successfully using a long shanked bit. 
   4a. Sometimes the bit to use is determined by the sport you do with your horse and/or the rule book. BUT, you can always train and practise in the better bit and just show in the regulated bit.  Those people who would ridicule you for it, don't need to know the bit you are using at home. :)

   5a. A snaffle is not about the mouthpiece. A snaffle is about a bit with no leverage. Which means the reins are attached so no leverage is used - generally on a loop.  A snaffle has been incorrectly associated with a 'broken' mouthpiece or a mouthpiece with a joint in it.
A snaffle. Note the mouthpiece.
   7a. Shorter shanks allows a rider to not be as quiet and still not be generally harsh as a lot of movement would do.

   7b. So short shanks are for rough hands, busy hands, fixing hands, training hands, novice hands, "I don't have good balance" hands. You get the idea. Anytime a rider has to use their hands a lot.

   8. Long shanks assist a rider in keeping their hands soft and quiet. It's part of a rider becoming a skilled horseperson.  It is my sincere wish that all riders and horses will get to the skill level of being able to use a long shanked bit successfully. 

  9a.  Riders need: 1. A snaffle for learning new activities or a tune up or anytime a rider has to move their hands a lot for some reason. My client bought a snaffle as the rider is still learning to ride and the horse is new to her.

 9b.  Riders need: 2. A curb bit to keep their hands and cues soft. My client also bought a long shanked curb bit as the rider is skilled enough to use it with a very well trained horse.

Note: I didn't mention combination bits which I love, to my client as it would complicate the basics he was looking for.

I hope this has helped you.  For more in depth information on bits, please search the other articles on this website. I'm also available for consultation. Thanks.

Putting my spin on bits.
@KISS Reiners

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