Thanks for the responses and advice!
I am very familiar with the school of thought that holds to the minimalist theory of bitting, such that no bit is a good bit and we should all ride our horses in nothing but a loincloth like the natives. As I said, I've been a horse owner for many years and have trained many of my horses from the ground up. In theory, I love the idea of riding any horse in a plain snaffle or hackamore, and I wish that were a feasible theory. In reality, as experienced horse people should know, that is not always realistic.
Currently, this horse in question is downright dangerous to ride if I can't get him listening somehow. I can't begin to work on things like flexing and bending when we are both in danger of crashing through the gate and fences and both getting injured.
As any trainer can tell you, any bit is a harsh bit in the wrong hands, and "harsh bits" are only harsh when used improperly. There is no need to "cringe" when the training equipment is used in the proper way to improve rider/horse communication.
At the moment, I need to use all my strength to control this horse just to prevent him from plowing through fences and gates. I want to use less contact to control him, by using something that gets his attention, I can ease up and ride in a long rein. NO bit is a "harsh" bit if ridden at a long rein with light contact only when needed.
I think my bottom line is, I know what I am doing, thanks. I am not here for the tired old rant about harsh bits blah blah blah. I'm looking for specific advice on the usefulness of certain bits. I've already read the sticky about different bits.
This horse is also very well trained, he was originally trained for western pleasure and gymkhana, but was ridden too long by novices and picked up bad habits. He has advanced enough training that he should come around quickly once I can get him over this initial hurdle.
I am also looking for short term bit solution for training purposes. I want to get him going and start re-learning, then as he softens up I will downgrade.
I have an indian hackamore that I ride my other gelding in from time to time. I've had him 7 years and started him as a baby, so he's well trained, bombproof and has no bad habits. He does well in the hackmore, but he will still be a little stiffer in it and stick out his nose more, and on the trail he's always eager to grab a bite of grass. I could try the hackamore on my newer gelding, but I am not too optimistic.
Honestly I really like the idea of a hackamore or bosal. I would love to give this a try and see if the different type of contact would get a different response. But, I know he's not going to respond to a basic english hackmore or side pull. I'm looking for something with a bit of curb action. Has anyone used the "stop and turn" hackamore?
I really do think it's a beautiful idea to ride every horse in a snaffle or halter and rope and poke right along without a "harsh bit", but ask your local barrel racer, roper, cutter, polo player, etc., and you will see that there ARE legitimate, humane uses for bits that everyone likes to get up in arms about.
Thanks to everyone who provided useful advice! I appreciate it. :)
The basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.
He's of the color of the nutmeg and of the heart of the ginger.
His neigh is like the bidding of a monarch,
And his countenance enforces homage.
- William Shakespeare