What Bit Should I Use?

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Dear Julie,
I am currently schooling and riding in a D-ring snaffle bit. I want to start training for Western Pleasure. What kind of shank bit do you recommend for the transition?

In most rule books, horses six years old and up are required to show Western in a curb bit. Horses five and under can be ridden two-handed in a snaffle. As the horse advances in his training and you are doing more advanced stuff, your horse will probably work better in the curb, provided you find the right bit for him.

First, it is important to understand the difference between curbs and snaffles; many people have misconceptions about this. It has nothing to do with the mouthpiece—being jointed doesn’t make it a snaffle. A snaffle is a “direct pressure” bit, meaning the reins are attached directly opposite the mouthpiece and there is a direct, pound-for-pound pressure on the horse’s mouth from a pull on the reins. A snaffle could have a solid mouthpiece and a bit with a joint in the mouthpiece but shanks is not a snaffle—it is a curb bit. Just because it is a snaffle does not mean it is mild and a curb is not necessarily harsh; many curb bits are milder and more comfortable for the horse than snaffles.

A curb bit has a shank on each side which drops down below the mouthpiece and the reins are attached below; a curb strap (or chain) behind the chin creates leverage. It is the ratio between the top part of the shank (the “purchase”) and the bottom part that dictates the amount of leverage; a 1:2 ratio means that for every one pound of pull, the horse gets two pounds of pressure. In general, the curb bit can give you more braking ability. If it has a mild port (a rise in the mouthpiece) it may be more comfortable for your horse than a straight snaffle; the port gives a relief of pressure from the tongue.

You should always ride two-handed in a snaffle. With a curb bit, you may be able to ride one handed or two. If the curb bit is one solid piece, riding two-handed does not do any good because if you pick up on one rein, the whole bit moves. If the bit has articulation from side to side, like Myler bits do, you can ride two-handed when you need to and you are able to work off the sides of the horse’s mouth, giving you greater training ability.
Most likely the bit I would recommend for your horse is the Myler MB04 with an HBT shank and a leather curb strap; it is an excellent bit to transition from snaffle to curb. The HBT shank is quite short and has very little leverage. The MB 04 mouthpiece has a small port which gives the horse a little relief of pressure for his tongue and is more comfortable for him than the D-ring snaffle you are using now.

Any time you change the bit on a horse, give him a little time to get used to the new feel in his mouth. Any different shape will be very noticeable for him, just like it would be for us, and he’ll need 15-20 minutes to get used to the new feel before you start doing anything with the reins. After that, you can start riding as you normally would, being aware that there is now a little leverage, so you may not need as much pressure from your hands.

Start out riding two-handed with a lightly loose rein as the horse gets used to the new bit. Practice keeping your hands closer and closer together and moving them as one; that’s how you’ll work up to riding one-handed. Even once you are riding one-handed, do not hesitate to go to two hands as needed to keep the horse correct (in the right frame and arc). Of course, in the show ring you’ll have to ride with one hand, but when training always keep the horse correct and use two hands as needed.

The Myler bits that I most frequently recommend to people are listed on this web page, along with an explanation of what type of horse I would use them on http://www.juliegoodngiht.com/myler Also, there’s a great new 4-part online free video series from Dale Myler that you can find a link to on the main page of my web site. He talks about his bits and explains the transitions well: http://juliegoodnight.com

Good luck with your horse and I hope your transition to a curb bit is easy!

Good luck!

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician

Saddle Advice

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Ask Julie Goodnight:
Is My Saddle Causing My Horse’s Issues?

Question: Dear Julie, I am switching from English to Western and am hoping to get one of your Peak Performance saddles. I am looking at the Monarch Arena/Trail saddle or the Wind River Trail saddle. I really like the sounds of the close-contact design, the narrow twist and especially the memory foam in the seat for my tired old rear-end! But not knowing too much about Western saddles, I am confused by a couple things. First, what does “3-way in-skirt rigging” mean and what is the advantage of that? Also, I noticed that your saddle does not have fleece on the bottom like other Western saddles I have seen and I was wondering why?
Thanks for your help!
Answer: No matter which of those two saddles you choose, I am sure you will love it! Actually they both have many awesome features that I designed into the saddle, some obvious, some not; both the Monarch and Wind River have all the same great features—the only difference is that the Wind River has a more rounded skirt, which is often better for a short-coupled horse. Also, both saddles are made on the Flex2 tree, which provides the benefit of weight-distribution like a rigid tree, as well as a better fit for the horse and greater comfort for the rider because of its flexibility. While the flexible tree is not right for every rider, if you are under 230 pounds and not planning to rope steers, it’s a great choice– more comfortable for the rider, gives better fit for your horse and fits a greater variety of horses.
Other comfort features that these saddles have, in addition to the narrow-ness of the saddle and the cut-aways under your leg that give closer contact with the horse (and make the saddle lighter weight), they also have pre-twisted stirrups and specially softened leather under your leg that gives the saddle a “broke in” feel when it is brand spanking new. I should know, I ride in a brand new Monarch saddle every weekend, since Circle Y ships me a “demo” saddle for people to sit in and try on their horse at expos and clinics. By the end of the weekend that saddle always goes home with some lucky buyer and I start with a new one the next weekend.
The 3-way in-skirt rigging gives you better fit options for a variety of horses and helps with the close-contact design, reducing some of the bulk under your leg. The rigging on any Western saddle refers to where the dee-rings are located that you attach your latigo and cinch to. “In-skirt” means that the dee-rings are sewn into the skirt of the saddle—between the layers of leather, rather than sitting on top of it, like a more traditional saddle. The “3-way” part refers to multiple rigging options, allowing you to move the pressure of the cinch either forward or rearward, depending on the fit-needs of the horse.

There are three basic styles of rigging available in a traditional Western saddle: full rigging, seven-eighths and three-quarter. Most Western saddles only have one rigging option but my saddles allow you to easily change the rigging according to the needs of each horse you put it on. It will help you to understand each type of rigging, so that you can understand the advantages of having multiple rigging options. Here’s a video that talks more about riggings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmgykJDIX1s&feature=channel_video_title

Full rigging: You may be most familiar with a “full” saddle rigging, when there’s a dee-ring attached to the saddle’s tree or skirt directly beneath the pommel. This is the most forward position for saddle riggings. To cinch up, you would wrap the latigo from the cinch to this dee-ring, with layers of the latigo lining up in one vertical line. Saddles with this rigging often have a flank cinch, or rear cinch, (a double rigging because the saddle is attached at the front and back) to keep the saddle from tipping forward when traveling downhill or to help distribute the pressure when the rider dallies the rope to stop a steer. This full double rigging is the preferred outfit for ranch riding and roping. The pressure of the saddle lands just under the pommel then the flank cinch keeps the saddle balanced. The Rocky Mountain Ranch saddle in my line of saddles is the only wood (Kevlar reinforced) tree in my line; a wood tree is necessary for roping and cow work or for riders that may be too large for a flexible tree. It has “J” rigging which allows for both full and 7/8ths rigging and it comes with a flank cinch.

7/8 rigging: This measurement title means that your cinch is 7/8 of the distance from the cantle to the pommel and it brings the pressure from the cinch slightly rear-ward on the horse’s back, compared to the full rigging. You can also use a rear cinch with the 7/8 rigging to help secure your saddle on hills. This configuration helps the saddle sit in a balanced point and can relieve pressure from the horse’s withers.
3/4 rigging: Similarly, this rigging means that the dee-rings are attached a little behind the 7/8 rigging, or three quarters the distance from cantle to pommel. This will protect the shoulders and withers even more and give more room between the horse’s elbow and the cinch. This rigging position on the Flex2 tree can be very useful on a horse which the saddle tends to “bridge” on the back (with pressure at the front and back of the tree, but not in the middle). Keep in mind: The farther back the rigging, the more pressure rests in the middle of the saddle instead of at the front, where the horse may be stronger. This 3/4 configuration moves your cinch back from your horse’s heartgirth—switching to this rigging can help your horse avoid girth sores during long rides.

Trail rigging: The Blue Ridge Gaited Trail saddle in my line has a dee-ring at the back of the saddle known as a “Y rigging,” which is angled down from the cantle to form a Y shape, in addition to the 3-way rigging. Instead of attaching two different cinches, these saddles are designed so that you can run the latigo through the front D and cinch, then the back D to help keep the back of your saddle anchored. This Y rigging will move the pressure back away from the withers, freeing up the shoulders and it works well on gaited horses and other short-coupled horses.

My Peak Performance saddles, made by Circle Y, juliegoodnight.com/saddles, have multiple rigging options, giving more flexibility for saddle fit and making the saddle useful on a variety of differently shaped horses and circumstances. In a saddle with 3-way rigging, there will be two dee rings at the front of the saddle and it can be rigged up three ways—in the full, 7/8 or 3/4 positions. Make absolutely certain when using a saddle with multiple rigging, that the rigging is the same on both sides. If you use the front dee, it will be full rigging and if you use the back dee, it is ¾ rigging. To achieve 7/8 rigging, you create a V with the latigo by running it through the front and back dee. To view a video which explains the rigging in a visual format, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmgykJDIX1s&feature=channel_video_title .

People often ask me about the lack of fleece on the underside of the saddle; it is a unique feature and there are a few reasons I designed them this way. The purpose of the fleece under a saddle is to provide padding and to absorb sweat; but this is a layer that adds unnecessary thickness and it wears out before the saddle does. So by removing the fleece, it helps make the saddle even narrower and closer contact and it improves the longevity of the saddle. Since most riders use an absorbent pad (I prefer a ¾” wool felt pad); neither the padding nor the absorption are needed under the saddle. And one of the most important reasons I took out the fleece layer is because on the underside of my saddle, gel pads are sewn in between the bars of the tree and the horse’s back. The memory foam in the seat is for your luxury; and the gel pads are for the horse’s comfort. Without the fleece layer, the saddle is thinner underneath you, the horse gets the full benefit of the gel pads and the leather bottom of the saddle is much easier to clean and maintain.

I couldn’t be happier with my line of Circle Y saddles; I ride in them every day and my horse works so much better in the Flex2 tree. I’ll have a demo saddle available for everyone to look at and try out, at each clinic and expo that I do this year, so I hope you’ll be able to check one out in person. For more information on my Peak Performance saddle line, visit http://juliegoodnight.com/saddles or contact your local Circle Y dealer. Whichever saddle you choose, I know you’ll be happy with it!
Good luck!

Post The Trot

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Ask Julie Goodnight: Do Western Riders Need to Post the Trot?

Question: Try to settle this discussion – please! Is posting on the correct “diagonal” only important in English riding? I always thought it was about the horse’s balance in a bend….some say it’s just not a “western thing”…and will post in a western saddle, but not with any regard for the diagonal?

Answer: Sharon, You are correct that posting on a specific diagonal pair at the trot has to do with the horse’s balance and also his work load; it doesn’t have much to do with English vs. western. Any rider that is interested in the balance and conditioning of their horse would want to know and use their diagonals correctly.
Since Western riders don’t usually post during competition, many might consider it unimportant. But when you are riding the long trot, whether English or western, it is easier for the rider to post and more comfortable for the horse too. If you are posting at the trot frequently, it is beneficial for your horse that you have awareness and understanding of which diagonal to post on.
The trot is a two-beat, diagonal gait; meaning that the feet hit the ground in diagonal pairs—the right hind and left fore hit the ground at the same time and the left hind and right fore hit together, thus creating diagonal pairs. Since the horse drives himself forward from behind, it is really the hind legs that are doing most of the work pushing into the stride and pushing the rider up and out of the saddle when she posts. Although riders commonly check which diagonal pair they are posting on by looking at the outside fore leg (“rise and fall with the leg on the wall”), it is really the hind legs that matter. There are two reasons for paying attention to which diagonal you are posting on; one has to do with turning, the other has to do with conditioning.
When you bring the horse onto a turn, the inside of the horse shortens and the outside lengthens as he bends or arcs his body in the turn. Try this little experiment yourself—walk in a tiny circle (just a few inches across) and notice that your inside leg is taking a very small step and your outside leg is reaching much farther to get around the outside of the circle. This is a magnified view of what happens when your horse trots on a turn. The inside hind leg bears more weight and the outside takes a bigger step. When you are posting on the correct diagonal for a turn, you are rising as his inside hind leg comes forward, to take a little weight off of the leg that is already bearing more weight.
The other time that your posting diagonals matter is if you are going a long distance at the trot. Even if you are going in a straight line, the beat you are sitting on is working harder than the one you are rising on (either he is lifting your weight or you are lifting it). So if you were trotting ten miles in a straight line, you would want to alternate which diagonal you posted on so that you worked both hind legs equally. For instance, you might trot for a mile on one diagonal and then switch for the next mile. This way, both the horse’s hind legs are getting an equal workout.
The rider is said to be on the correct diagonal when she rises with the outside fore leg. Although most people are accustomed to looking down at the horse’s shoulders to see which diagonal they are on, it is much better when the rider learns to feels the correct diagonal—and it’s not that hard! If you can sit the trot well, you should be able to feel a lateral movement (right-left) in your hips, in additional to the vertical movement (up and down). As you feel your hips shift right and left at the trot, what you are feeling is his hind legs—when he pushes off with his right hind, his right hip lifts and so does yours (and visa versa).
To be technically correct, you should always begin posting on the correct diagonal—not just start posting then check if you are correct by looking down. Sit the trot for a few beats, however long it takes you to feel it, and then rise into the post when you feel your outside hip lift. It will take some concentration and coordination at first, but with a lot of practice it will become second nature. Learning to feel your diagonals instead of looking will raise your horsemanship to a higher level and develop your sense of feel of how the horse moves. Eventually you will know when you are on the wrong diagonal because it will feel out of balance.
There are many skills and maneuvers that people tend to classify as either western or English. But the truth is horses are horses—their balance is the same, the way they move and the way in which the rider uses the aids for cueing are the same. The appearance of your clothes and your tack doesn’t really change that.
Good question! Thanks.

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician

Split Rein Hold

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Split rein hold
Split reins are commonly used by western riders and there are several ways to hold them– the two-handed trainer’s hold (with the reins bridged and both reins in both hands), one-handed trainer’s hold (reins bridged with four fingers between the reins) and the proper split rein, like what is required in competition. The split reins hold is sometimes called the “pistol grip” and is easily taught to riders by having them make a pistol, then grab the reins with the index finger between the reins.
–Julie Goodnight

Know Your Rein Aids

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Riding Right with Julie Goodnight
Know Your Rein Aids

Dear Julie,
I’m a bit confused about rein aids—how they differ in English and Western riding. I’ve been hearing terms like direct and direct opposition, indirect and indirect opposition. What do these terms mean and when do you use them while riding?
Signed, Reining in the Answers

Dear Reining in the Answers,
Excellent questions—rein cues are seldom fully understood. First of all, there aren’t differences when it comes to English versus Western rein cues. The rein aids work the same and your horse will respond the same way no matter what style of saddle you ride in. Some might argue that the neck rein is strictly Western. However, I like my English horses to know the neck rein, too. It’s imperative for sports like polo (which is considered an English discipline because it’s done in an English saddle) where the competitor can only have one hand on the reins in order to play the game. Neck reining is also helpful when trail riding—if you need to have a hand free to open a gate or move a branch.

Let’s clarify some other rein-aid terms. Neck, direct, leading/opening and indirect rein aids are all used when riding English or Western. The term “rein aid” simply refers to how you move your hand and the direction of pull you create on your horse’s mouth (up, back, sideways). The term “rein of opposition” refers to your horse’s forward motion when you’re pulling back on the rein. You’re pulling in a direction that is opposite to your horse’s forward movement. A “rein of opposition” tends to slow down your horse.

For a direct rein, your hand moves from its neutral position (in front of the pommel, creating a straight line from your elbow to the corner of your horse’s mouth) directly toward your hip. There’s a backward (and slightly upward) pull on the rein and therefore it’s a rein of opposition.

An opening rein or leading rein occurs when you move your forearm to the side instead of back toward your hip. There’s no opposition and your aid doesn’t inhibit forward motion. The leading/opening rein is often used as a training rein aid—when you’re first teaching colts to turn, teaching a horse to spin or when asking for lateral movement. It’s a leading rein when it’s the inside rein (you’re moving the rein on the same side as you want your horse to turn). Use the term “opening rein” when you’re cuing with the outside rein— when your horse is tracking or bending away from the opening rein. You’ll use an opening rein when you want to move your horse’s shoulder or barrel out to make a circle larger. Tip: Remember the opening rein is on the outside—both start with “o.”

The basic neck rein is a gentle touch of the rein against the side of your horse’s neck, well in front of the withers and without opposition. In neck reining, your horse is trained to move away from the touch of the rein on his neck and he moves his nose and neck away from the neck rein. If you pull too hard or cross your hand too far past the middle of your horse’s neck, you’ll inhibit your horse’s movement and he’ll actually turn his head the wrong way. The neck rein is typically used for one-handed riding, but may be used two-handed in combination with another rein aid. For example, when you’re teaching a young horse to neck rein, you may use the neck rein as the outside rein aid and the leading rein on the inside to help control your horse’s nose. Eventually, your horse associates the neck rein with turning his neck and nose away from the rein and you no longer need the leading rein.

The neck rein with opposition (a slight backward pull with the application of the neck rein) is called the “bearing rein” and may be used to turn your horse back on his haunches, such as in a roll back or a pivot on the haunches.

There are two indirect rein aids: the “indirect rein in front of the withers” (not a rein of opposition) and the “indirect rein behind the withers” (a rein of opposition). The indirect rein in front of the withers is a lift up and in on the rein toward your horse’s neck, an upward diagonal pull on the rein; from the normal hand position, just lift your pinkie finger up toward your horse’s withers without pulling back, like you’re turning a key in a door. The indirect rein in front of the withers moves your horse’s shoulder in the opposite direction, while the nose stays bent in the direction of the turn.

The indirect rein behind the withers has some opposition or backward pull, and causes your horse to move his hip away from the rein hand while your horse stays bent toward the rein hand, such as in a turn on the forehand or disengagement of the hindquarters. The direction of pull on the rein is up and back toward the rider’s opposite shoulder, in a motion like crossing your heart (the inside rein comes across your horse’s neck behind the withers).

Some important caveats for all rein aids: it’s not the amount of pull or contact that causes a reaction in your horse, but the direction of the pressure on your horse’s mouth and the movement of the rider’s hand (when using the indirect rein aids especially—it’s only effective when there’s little or no pressure on your horse’s mouth). Also, when riding two-handed your hands should never cross your horse’s withers. If they do, the rein aid you’re using is ineffective and may be interfering with your horse’s motion (pulling his nose in the wrong direction). The rein aids are always supported by leg aids—we’ll cover that soon.

This is a lot of information! It takes a lot of time and experience before a rider is able to use the rein aids articulately and effectively. For further information, refer to Volume 5 in my Principles of Riding DVD series, Refinement and Collection. This DVD explains and demonstrates the rein aids in detail. It never ceases to amaze me how responsive a horse can be to the lightest amount of pressure and the slightest movement of your hand. One really important thing I have learned through the years about rein aids is that the slower you move your hands, the better your horse will respond.

Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician
In this series, master trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight discusses the riding terms and techniques you probably know (or should know). She’ll define rein, seat and leg cues you’ll need for the best communication with your horse. Then she’ll help riders solve problems with their own horses. Learn the proper terms and apply your aids for a better grasp of horsemanship and a better riding relationship with your horse.

Issues From The Saddle: How Much Does Conformation Have To Do With Movement

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Hi,

I have a 5 year old QH gelding that is tall and not very muscular. He has a long back and legs and I wonder if that is why I am having trouble getting him into a nice slow jog. He goes Hunt well, but I’d like to slow him down for western and trail classes.
My question is; how much does his conformation have to do with his movement? He is also “strung out” at the canter and seems to have a hard time collecting. I don’t think he will ever “lope”! I raised and trained him myself and he is quiet and willing, a great horse. I ride him in a simple snaffle, and he responds very well to aids.

Thanks for any advice!

Answer: Joanne,

Conformation has everything to do with movement and performance. Horses that are long-backed especially have difficulty bringing their hocks up underneath them and elevating their backs, which is required for collection. I believe you can improve a horse that is not athletically inclined, but you cannot make him into something he is not. To improve him, I would work on conditioning him in a round pen, at liberty, in a bitting device that encourages self-carriage. The type of bitting device I use is called an ‘elbow pull,’ or the Goodnight Bitting System. In time (months), with better conditioning, be can improve his self-carriage and collection, maybe by 15%, but his conformation will always be a limitation.

Again, you cannot put a round peg into a square hole, and not all horses are successful at slow Western gaits. You can make any horse trot slowly, but the ones that are good at it are naturals; the ones that are not good at it present a constant fight and easily become resentful. It may be that your horse is better suited as an English horse, for which long and lanky are more desirable traits.


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Talk About Tack: Which Bit For Neck Reining On A Finished Horse?

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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.


Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.