A Bit of Advice, Part 1
Start your horse training off on the right foot by selecting the proper western bit.
June 19, 2018
FromThe American Quarter Horse Journal
If you have stood in front of the bit wall at the local tack store and wondered which one was your all-around horse’s “magic slipper,” you are not alone.
With each style and brand touting various attributes to help your horse improve, what is the best way to choose one for your horse?
In 2012, the Journal consulted with Pete Kyle, who was then an AQHA Professional Horseman and who is now the AQHA chief show officer; AQHA Professional Horseman Robin Frid of Denton, Texas; and AQHA Professional Horsewoman Jackie Krshka of Yukon, Oklahoma, to see what’s in their horses’ mouths.
When first starting a 2-year-old, Pete and Robin prefer to use a snaffle bit.
While Robin says that he usually gets horses in who have at least 90 days under saddle, he still prefers a fat ring snaffle on his youngsters.
“You never really know what kind of horse you’re going to end up with when you first get on,” he says. “A snaffle gives you a little more control if, for some reason, you end up with a horse who needs a little more guidance in the beginning stages. Not all of them are easy to handle right at the beginning. I am not asking a horse to give to a ton of pressure, I’ll just ask him to follow his head.”
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Pete, too, starts his colts in a smooth-mouth snaffle. As the horse’s education matures, he tends to switch bits around, using different mouthpieces, depending on what he’s asking for.
“Sometimes we’ll rotate them into the twisted wire when we start to ask for more of their face, then we go back to a smooth,” Pete says.
Jackie, however, prefers to start her horses in a rope hackamore.
“This is passed down from my father, Jack Kyle, who was a master at starting his young horses in a hackamore,” she says. “The theory is you can instill trust and voice cues with a horse, as well as developing some flexibility with a hackamore while preserving that delicate mouth. Once ‘Whoa’ has become a recognizable cue and flexibility is established, then I move to a snaffle bit.”
When is a horse ready to graduate into a curb?
In Pete’s barn, it generally takes at least eight months of training on a colt before he is educated enough in the basics to consider moving up, although as always, it depends on the individual.
Do you have questions about other pieces of tack? Curious about rein material or selecting the proper saddle blanket? Learn more about horse tack by downloading AQHA’s Horse Tack Information e-book.
“Those who give their face and their body real good, and they’re not real resistant to you,” Pete says. “They’re really dropping off well and have done that consistently for a while. If they’re being pretty consistent, then we know they’re ready to advance up into the bridle. We try to not rush them, we make sure they’re ready to go into it.”
Robin’s horses - not only youngsters, but new horses in the barn - have to prove they are ready to move to a curb before they switch over.
“It is a long process for me,” Robin says. “I do not change into a curb bit until I can totally control and maneuver every single part of that horse’s body. I can ask him to give to pressure, ask him to break through his withers and drop down. Until he has decent self-carriage where I can handle him, move his body all over the place, I don’t go to any form of a curb bit. I stay in some form of snaffle until then. Actually, every single horse I get in, if I have not ridden it before, it’s in a snaffle right away until I can control that horse and totally be able to maneuver its body where I feel I need to.”
Jackie wants a horse to be responsive and light before graduating to a curb.
“I want to make sure I have established an excellent responsiveness to feel through the bit,” she says. “In other words, with a light pull from the rein, I can move the horse from side to side and have vertical flexion. As well, the horse should be responsive to stopping with a light pick up.”
Look forward to learning about curb bits in Part 2.
How to choose the right bit for your horse? AQHA world champion Doug Milholland explains some popular bits and the correct way to use them.