Question Category: Talk about Tack

Question: Julie,

How do I know what bits to try on a horse that is new to me? And can I ride western (neck rein) in a bit without leverage? My 7 year old gelding was ridden western in a bit that looks like a broken snaffle with a copper roller in the middle and a slow twist, with long shanks and a tie down. I’ve tried a D-ring broken snaffle and he doesn’t seem to like the action (backs away from the bit), tried a solid kimberwicke but he is tossing his head a lot, tried a curved eggbutt with a French link and a cavesson (English rig) which seems better but out in the open he is blowing through that. He seems to neck rein well (was light in the western rig I tried him out in) and not so good at direct reining (English). Should I stick with the harsher western bit and gradually try to move to the English bit? Can he get used to 2 different bits? I’d like to ride him both western for trail riding and English (hunt and dressage).

Thanks so much!
Sallianne (and Pride)

Answer: Sallianne,

Snaffles are direct pressure bits, which are designed to be ridden two-handed. Curb bits have leverage and are designed to be ridden one-handed. Just because it is a snaffle, it is not necessarily harsher than a curb bit, and visa-versa. While you can ride two-handed in a curb for training or correction purposes, you shouldn’t ride one handed in a snaffle.

From what you describe, it sounds as though your horse is ‘finished in the bridle,’ meaning he is trained to ride one-handed, neck reins well and is comfortable with the curb bit. If he works best in a curb bit, ride him that way. You may not need as harsh a curb bit as you describe, with the long shanks and slow twist; if he is compliant and responsive, consider going to a milder curb bit with shorter shanks and a smooth mouth piece with a low port and/or with a curb strap instead of chain.

Any time you want to, you should be able to revert back to the snaffle and ride him on contact, as with riding English, or to work on training exercises like flexing and collecting, but always ride two-handed in the snaffle. Remember, if he is a finished Western horse, he is not used to being ridden on direct contact, so don’t try and ride him with heavy contact. Just the lightest contact will work and in the beginning, just ask him to accept direct contact for short periods of time and gradually increase. If you have trouble controlling him out in the open with a snaffle, you need to work on the one-rein stop and the pulley rein.

There are several Q&As on my website that relate to bits, bitting problems and solutions and the one-rein stop and pulley rein. I am a firm believer that a harsher bit will never fix a training problem, although going to a milder bit often does. One more really important concept is that the harsher bit in the right hands can be mild and the mildest bit in the wrong hands can be unbelievably harsh.

JG

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