Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Five Bits

I owned horses for twenty years and I've only ever owned five bits. That must be some kind of record! I am planning on doing a few posts on bits in the coming month as I navigate through this vast new world of kimberwickes and Mullens, Argentinian and Weymouths and other such wacky doodle names! I want to understand the intended purpose of the most common and how to find the right bit for the individual hrose's mouth shape. It all sounds a little daunting when you've only ever owned five bits...

The first bit I ever owned was a Tom Thumb exactly as pictured below. I inherited this bit with my first horse Rocky. I knew nothing about it except that it "worked' for him and I had been told not to change it.... and so I didn't for the next four years. I cant say whether it worked or not, Rocky and I spent countless hours riding down roads, in to the bush, through rivers and up mountains. I didn't know the first thing about picking up a shoulder or vertical flexion. Rocky went where I pointed him, most of the time. It was that simple.

Weaver Tom Thumb

In 2003 I bought a very green broke horse named Tonto. I thought that was the most embarrassing name for a horse I had ever heard. If you had told me that one day I would own a mare named Princess (ha!) and that I wouldn't change her name in the first year let alone the first week, I wouldn't have believed you. But by the time Princess came around (now Ella-Blue, thank God) I had figured out that a rose by any other name does in fact smell as sweet... or in the case of Tonto, as sour. The first day I owned him I dropped the name Tonto in favor of Cheekeye. I wish I had dropped the whole damn horse rather than just his lame-ass name, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. I was told I needed a nice plain snaffle for Tonto/Cheekeye/Loachan. If I only I had been told I'd also require body armor, a bottle of whiskey and a world title in bronc riding... but unfortunately I only bought a snaffle. It served me well over the next ten years with various horses in the arena and on the trail. This bit is now all rusted and coppery and apparently delicious as every horse I've ever put it on has licked and chewed and sucked on it like it's made of candy, all except Marmalade, which is also another story for another day.

Weaver "Offset D Ring Snaffle"

 Late last year I bought a bit to use on Abby. I wasn't ready to put her all the way back in to a solid bridle (curb) but I wanted something with some leverage rather than a plain snaffle. I noticed a Myler come up on a local used tack site that seemed to fit the bill. It was a Myler HBT Shank with Sweet Iron Low Port Comfort Snaffle MB 04

I thought it would be the prefect in between with the ultra low curb and leverage but independently hinged shanks allowed the rider to pick up on either side. I knew I didn't like that bit the second I put it in my hand. The entire bit was loose 'n goosey (a highly technical description!) as it hinged in various places and rolled around in the mouth. I could see how a more experienced rider could use that bit to their advantage but for me it was just way too much communication.  I rode Abby in it one time and we were both confused. I sold the bit a week later.

So I continued to ride Abby in my old snaffle which was fine as I was allowed to ride her two handed in a snaffle in the beginner reining class I had entered that July 13th weekend. Knowing I would eventually need a NRHA legal curb, I began to research and look for the right bit. Even with the specific requirements of port height, bar thickness and shank length in the NRHA handbook, I was still lost as to which would be a good entry level bit. I decided that I would look for middle ground, nothing extreme, nothing that claimed magical powers or had complicated mechanics. I looked for a old fashioned grazing curb bit with a moderate length shank that met the NRHA restrictions and my limited budget. I found the Bob Avila Rio Collection Copper Port Bit by Professional Choice.

Bob Avila Rio Collection Copper Port Bit by Professional Choice

I was planning on ordering this bit online but actually found it at a local tack store and decided, on a whim, to just pick it up so that I had a bit at home should I need it. Little did I suspect that I would need it just one week later. While packed up the trailer to go to the AQHA show I threw in this bit (loose not on a headstall) just in case. When I went to the office to enter a reining class I discovered that there was not AQHA reining class that allowed me to show in a snaffle. I rode Abby in a curb for the first time in five years just one hour before we went in to the show pen. It wasn't perfect but it was damn good considering. She didn't fuss over this bit and I felt like when I picked up my hand we both knew exactly what I was saying, the communication was simple and to the point.

The last bit I bought a few months ago for Marm. After years of my good and trusty friend telling me that I needed to try this bit she had on Marm I finally listened. B had used this bit on her tough mouthed old barrel horse and said that it was the only bit she ever had on that horse that actually made her soft as it was comfortable in her mouth, passive when left alone and enough bit when you needed it. I had huge reservations about using any bit on Marm, let alone a more "severe" one but one day, in the store, I just thought "screw it!" and bought a similar bit to the one she had recommended, a Reinsman Jr. Cow Horse Sweet Iron Small Chain Mouth. When I got home I tried it on but it didn't seem to fit so I took a pic to send to my friend for clarification and took it off. When she said that it looked okay I tried the bit once more for about ten minutes just to see whether Marm would freak out about it. She didn't. She sucked on that bit and didn't want to spit it out. I still wasn't sold on the idea of using it as I had all sorts of prejudices against bits in general that I still hadn't gotten over so I decided that I wasn't going to use it. This whole saga, again, is a post for another time. Last month I had a professional barrel racer ride Marm. We started out in a snaffle. About ten minutes in to that ride she asked if I had any other bit because a snaffle was about the worst thing I could be riding her in. I bashfully said that I did have this bit in the trailer but it wasn't on a headstall. She actually got off and had me put that bit on. What I saw next forever changed my opinion about bits. Before Marm went to her new (and fabulous) home I had two rides in that bit. They were the best rides I ever had on Marm. I only wish I had not been so thick skulled and had tried something many, many months ago. Life lesson learned.

Reinsman Junior Cow Horse - Sweet Iron Small Chain Mouth with Copper Pacifiers
I have spent less than four hours total in last three bits I've mentioned. I've spent the past ten years riding in that tasty old snaffle or a rope halter.

Those are the only five bits I have ever owned.

But I am now a believer in the power of the right bit for the right horse. I wasted so much time by refusing to consider that a more severe bit might actually make for a less severe ride. More on this, next time.

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