Talk About Tack: Using A Tom Thumb Bit Logo

Question Category: Talk about Tack

Question: I have a horse that constantly tosses her head and fools with the bit. I use a tom thumb with her. Please give me a short education on bits. Any suggestions? I tried riding her with just a halter to entertain the idea of a hackamore. She was difficult to stop. What would be the next step?

Thanks, Sue

Answer: Tom Thumbs are VERY harsh and a commonly misunderstood bit (this bit is sometimes called a western snaffle or shanked snaffle). People tend to think they are mild because they think it is a snaffle, because the mouthpiece is jointed. In fact, it is a leverage bit, not a snaffle at all, and when you pull back on both reins at the same time, the joint pushes into the roof of the horse’s mouth, causing a gaping mouth, and the sides of the bit squeeze the jaw in what is referred to as the “nutcracker” effect. Almost all horses with this bit will open their mouth and try to evade the pressure and pain. A true snaffle is a “direct-pressure” bit (as opposed to a leverage bit), meaning that the rein is connected directly across from the mouthpiece of the bit allowing direct contact with the corners of the horse’s mouth; a pound of pull on the reins creates a pound of pressure on the side of the horse’s mouth. A leverage bit has a shank, which stretches above and below the mouthpiece, with the reins attached at the bottom of the shank. A pull on the shank creates leverage with the horse’s mouth as the fulcrum. The ratio of shank above the bit to shank below the bit dictates the amount of leverage created. If there is one inch above the mouthpiece and two inches of shank below the mouthpiece, the bit has a one to two ratio; one pound of pull creates two pounds of pressure on the horse’s mouth. In a leverage bit, the horse feels pressure on the poll, cheeks, chin, mouth and palate. The only time I would use a Tom Thumb is with a small child riding a big insensitive horse that needs the extra leverage. A regular curb bit is milder. I would suggest using a regular snaffle or a side-pull or if you need a little extra brakes, try a kimberwicke.

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