Bits - A Discussion - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 146 Old 12-17-2019, 11:17 PM Thread Starter
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Question Bits - A Discussion

I'd like to start off by saying I'm not here to offend anyone or point fingers - this is just what I've learned over the years and what I've been taught, and also what I've come to as a conclusion from studying these things. I've formed my own views on this, and they seem to hold up to science - but people have other views and I'd like to hear them as a means to discovering why this is so controversial as it is as in my opinion the scientific facts at least, seem very clear and decisive. I'm not looking to start an argument - I want to show you my side and hear yours to better understand the perceptions around this area.

So now once we've gotten past that - gag bits. I've always been told since I was young that they're terrible contraptions, that when the reins are pulled the mouthpiece slides up and hits the molars(depending on the amount of gag and length of shank, though there are many that are very long these days), and at the same times applies poll pressure. The horse, however, being more sensitive in the mouth than the poll usually, ends up riding with his head up in the air and his back hollow do to riding behind the vertical(or even in front of the vertical but with the neck at maximum elevation so this is negated), which as shown in many areas - riding with a hollow back is detrimental and can even be the cause of such things as kissing spine. That's what I've been taught, and seeing the bits in action as well as studying the mechanics of the bit seems to prove that point. I also suppose I should define what is considered a gag - any leverage bit in which the mouthpiece can slide up and down the shank, allowing it to move up and apply pressure to the lips and poll in one motion. That includes the "American Gag", Dutch gag, sliding gag, running gag, etc. Anything that can slide, even if it's only a millimeter has gag action. (Hence why the Myler loose-ring snaffles with hooks are considered gags when the hooks are in use.)

So. That is what I've come to, and yet I've never heard the counterarguement for a gag bit. Some argue that it is a source of collection, but that cannot be true because collection comes from the seat and is not the result of any one bit. (It's also sorely lacking in any discipline these days, so I doubt that a bit would change that anyhow.) Others say it causes good self carriage, but if the head-high/back hollow is good self carriage then I've given up trying to understand the bio-mechanics involved in riding, because up unto this point they've all been wrong. So, my fellow equestrians - whether you use a gag bit or not, I'm not looking to make arguments or pointing fingers, as I said above. I just would like to understand what the point of using these bits is - as I'm rather confused. From a classical standpoint, they are something I would never use. There's many bits such as that, and I'd like to know what exactly a gag is supposed to do that's beneficial. And like I said, it's not that I wish to belittle anyone for using it or shout that my way is the only way - but I'm frankly just confused as to why a bit such as that would be considered a useful training tool when I've been taught it's the exact opposite. I cannot learn if I cannot listen to both sides, after all.
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post #2 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 01:07 AM
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Regardless of the type of bit, I think any "tool" that causes obvious pain or severe discomfort when used either isn't a fair tool or isn't being used properly. A horse that raises its head to avoid the bit is doing that out of pain or discomfort. If you need an advanced bit to control your horse because you can't with anything less severe, you should probably go back to the training basics and work your way back up. Harsher bits, if used at all, should be used as a tool for refined communication for advanced maneuvers, not to control a horse that won't listen or collect on a snaffle. And at that point, I don't see gag bits as refined communication, because the only thing it does is put the bit further up the horse's mouth - which isn't refined communication, it's forceful control. Just my opinion.

See Warwick Schiller's videos where he rides any green horse/horse that needs to go back to the basics with just a rope halter, and teaches them to reliably steer, walk, trot, and canter on a loose rein before he even considers doing anything more advanced with more advanced tools.

Commence the debate...
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post #3 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 01:24 AM Thread Starter
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And I completely agree. I'm by no means against bits or a "snaffle-only" person, but if I'm going to put something in my horse's mouth you can bet I'll know what the mechanics of it are first. Any finished horse should not have to be ridden in a sharp bit in my opinion, no matter the discipline - yes, some are faster than others but if your horse isn't trained enough to pace itself or accept aides when moving at a faster pace then I don't consider him finished. Finished is more than being able to complete the task - it's completing it with skill and finesse.
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post #4 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 03:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aprilswissmiss View Post
Regardless of the type of bit, I think any "tool" that causes obvious pain or severe discomfort when used either isn't a fair tool or isn't being used properly.
Agreed! It's up to us to interpret why a horse is behaving the way it is. When a "pain" behavior is caused by tack, it's not complicated and it's usually a pretty obvious reaction. If the head goes up, does that happen when a different bit is used? Without a gag bit? If no, there's your answer. If yes, then you're still on a detective mission. I've never known any horse to not respond to tack used within 1-2 rides. If tack is okay, and the horse has no other source of pain, everything is just o-kay.

Quote:
Harsher bits, if used at all, should be used as a tool for refined communication for advanced maneuvers, not to control a horse that won't listen or collect on a snaffle.
Also agree.

[/quote]See Warwick Schiller's videos where he rides any green horse/horse that needs to go back to the basics with just a rope halter, and teaches them to reliably steer, walk, trot, and canter on a loose rein before he even considers doing anything more advanced with more advanced tools.[/QUOTE]

These:
https://youtu.be/eYIU72KaLUw
https://youtu.be/e-Lc440xQkc

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post #5 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 10:23 AM
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Some horses do well in a gag. There is no requirement to use a gag harshly. I only used one for a couple of rides. My horse didn't care for it so I stopped using it - but it didn't cause her to raise her head, hollow her back, etc.

Those symptoms come, not from the bit, but from a rider ho doesn't give a release. It happens with any bit that is poorly used.

On a journal thread, an experienced rider I respect has picked a gag for a horse who gets excited on runs, who can be a challenge to control when excited, but who dislikes curb bits. I reject the idea that all horses must learn on "mild bits only" because an excited horse may not have enough control of his emotions to obey a mild bit, and won't LEARN that control unless ridden, in the open, while excited, with a bit the horse WILL respect. Once the horse LEARNS the RIDER has ideas worth listening to, and how to control his (her) emotions, the horse can start listening in a milder bit.

Mia was a good example. In the arena, you could ride her with your pinkie on a snaffle. She didn't get super-excited when in an arena. Out in the open? That was a different question, and she knew how to resist a snaffle. So I switched her to a curb bit. 3 rides in the arena to teach her what a curb bit felt like and how to get her own release with it. Then I took her out on the trail. That first ride out she panicked about a motorcycle. She tried to bolt, the curb bit was enough to restrain (curb) her...and moments later, she realized the motorcycle was now running AWAY from her!

I could almost see the light come on above her head. "You mean, I can stand still and the bad thing will go away?" I couldn't guess how many bolts she had done, but there was only one more time she thought of bolting. That was when she scrapped against a cholla cactus with her hind leg. She leaped forward. I got her to stop in 3-4 strides....then dismounted and pulled all the spines out of her leg. That was the last time she tried to bolt. She'd still spin violently when startled, but she never tried to run away with me again.

She wasn't going to learn to stand her ground in a snaffle. She knew HOW to fight it and, by fighting it, it made things even more scary in her memory. A curb bit taught her a valuable lesson. She always liked curb bits more than snaffles, although I rode her in both. Eventually traded her for Bandit, and Mia became a brood mare who is now mostly ridden in a bosal.

Point being that excitement and/or fear - the horse has a hard time distinguishing between the two - can get a horse amped up. Think of it as background noise. It is easy to listen to someone when standing next to a mountain lake. Much harder in a noisy bar. Excitement is like a noisy bar to the horse's mind. You may need to shout to be heard - but once the horse learns to listen when excited, you won't need to shout any longer.

Mia in the arena:


Mia a couple of years ago on the Navajo Nation with a couple of her babies:


Harsher bits are not harsher if the horse resists a "milder" bit. Gags are basically a snaffle bit - except the linear pull of the snaffle is amplified mechanically. A curb bit rotates, applying pressure against the bars and tongue regardless of head position, and can be useful with a horse who has learned to resist the snaffle. But a curb bit can be a gentler bit, MILDER, than a snaffle once the horse has the self-control to listen. Curbs and gags are not just for finished horses. They can be good tools to get a horse past a problem.

PS: A horse can have an elevated head and a relaxed back. A lot depends on the horse's build and personality. Bandit ALWAYS has a raised head:




Trooper rarely elevates his head. Difference in build and personality:


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post #6 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 11:18 AM
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@The Equinest I 100% agree with your post. Well written!! That is the information I always understood to be true also. I personally do not and would not use a gag type bit. Or any severe bits, and I have seen some that are brutal.

As for the other side of the question, "Why would one use a gag bit?", I have gently asked this of folks when I have seen them used.

These are some of the things that have been shared with me:

1) Barrel racing/speed events. To be able to stop the horse. The horse becomes unmanageable in the ring, and the gag is the only way to stop the horse.

My opinion (and I ran barrels as a teen) the horse is not suited for the sport, or not trained for the sport, or a combination of both. These folks appear to believe that a horse must be "fired up" to run. IME, the opposite is true, a fast run requires a thinking, highly trained horse not a mindless one.

2) Inexperienced riders/uneducated riders. These folks have shared little in the way of logical explanations, as most have no idea of the mechanics of any bit. They have said anything from "the horse came with this bit" to "the horse ran off with me and *X* told me to get this bit"

My opinion; those folks should have started out with riding lessons, and education on the mechanics of bits. I have even seen gags used in combination with tie-downs. These folks also seem to have trouble catching their mounts...
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post #7 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 11:50 AM
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Things like bracing, hollow backs, inverted neck position, sucking behind the bit can occur in any bit (or bitless set up that involves pressure on the nose).
The problem isn't with the gag bit, the bit or the nose pressure - the problem lies in poor training and the process used to get the horse acceptable to pressure.

If someone is using so much force (in a gag bit) that the bit is affecting the teeth then it isn't the bit that's the problem.

When the bit is correctly positioned in the mouth then pressure can't take the bit upwards against the teeth because the corners of the mouth are going to prevent that happening. If it does happen then the corners of the mouth will also be damaged - and again - the problem isn't with the bit, the problem is down to poor riding and poor training.

The only thing a correctly used gag should do is apply a 'squeezing pressure' between the poll and the corners of the mouth and its that that makes them a useful bit for horses that dislike too much pressure on the bars.

I would rather see a gag bit with a mild mouthpiece on a horse that gets a bit too forward, than someone sawing at their horse's mouth with a snaffle with twisted mouthpiece
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post #8 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 12:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnitaAnne View Post
@The Equinest I 100% agree with your post. Well written!! That is the information I always understood to be true also. I personally do not and would not use a gag type bit. Or any severe bits, and I have seen some that are brutal.

As for the other side of the question, "Why would one use a gag bit?", I have gently asked this of folks when I have seen them used.

These are some of the things that have been shared with me:

1) Barrel racing/speed events. To be able to stop the horse. The horse becomes unmanageable in the ring, and the gag is the only way to stop the horse.

My opinion (and I ran barrels as a teen) the horse is not suited for the sport, or not trained for the sport, or a combination of both. These folks appear to believe that a horse must be "fired up" to run. IME, the opposite is true, a fast run requires a thinking, highly trained horse not a mindless one.

2) Inexperienced riders/uneducated riders. These folks have shared little in the way of logical explanations, as most have no idea of the mechanics of any bit. They have said anything from "the horse came with this bit" to "the horse ran off with me and *X* told me to get this bit"

My opinion; those folks should have started out with riding lessons, and education on the mechanics of bits. I have even seen gags used in combination with tie-downs. These folks also seem to have trouble catching their mounts...


I personally have used one of the Myler Combination bits, that has only 1/4" of gag. This bit works well for my well-trained horse, but also has worked well on younger horses that weren't quite grasping the full picture of a bit that mainly utilizes mouth pressure, i.e. a snaffle. The Myler Combination bits use nose, chin, poll, bar, and tongue pressure to communicate, and generally make it very clear on what exactly is being asked. I often recommend this bit, as it has worked wonders on a variety of horses for me!

Beyond bits with a small amount of gag, I really don't see the purpose. If a gag bit has a ring that is capable of moving a bit up 2" in the horses mouth, and the bit is already positioned properly, what is the point?
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post #9 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 02:44 PM
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I am a trail rider and really don't have use for a gag bit but I did try one once or twice........you know the "wonder bit?" I tried it on a middle aged trail horse that I normally rode in a curb. So it's not like he needed it, I just wanted to see how it worked.




I personally hated the "spongy" feel. I guess he did fine in it, I don't remember the horse having an objection, but I remember that "I" hated how it felt. I still have one in a box somewhere, because I sort of hoard bits, but I doubt I will ever have a horse that needs it or goes good in it. But if I did, I don't think it's an overly harsh bit.

Now some of the bits the barrel racers use really scare the crud out of me and I personally wouldn't even try them. BUT, I am not a barrel racer, so whom am I to say they aren't good in the right hands. But with what I do with my horses, I surely don't need anything that intimidating! This is an example of a bit I personally would never even try:




I "guess" you could say it would be mild in the gentlest of hands, but it would be hard to have gentle hands running barrels, at least for me.

I did try a Myler combo on my youngster once and really didn't find he did any better in it than a normal Myler curb bit. And it was more of a pain to take on and off, so I ended up selling it to recoup my investment.........because it was about $100 used. I have several other Myler curbs though and really love them! The short HBT shank is my favorite, I think it makes a fabulous trail bit.
Not a gag bit of course, but since Mylers were mentioned, I thought I would show my favorite Myler.
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post #10 of 146 Old 12-18-2019, 02:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ClearDonkey View Post
I personally have used one of the Myler Combination bits, that has only 1/4" of gag. This bit works well for my well-trained horse, but also has worked well on younger horses that weren't quite grasping the full picture of a bit that mainly utilizes mouth pressure, i.e. a snaffle. The Myler Combination bits use nose, chin, poll, bar, and tongue pressure to communicate, and generally make it very clear on what exactly is being asked. I often recommend this bit, as it has worked wonders on a variety of horses for me!

Beyond bits with a small amount of gag, I really don't see the purpose. If a gag bit has a ring that is capable of moving a bit up 2" in the horses mouth, and the bit is already positioned properly, what is the point?

The Myler combo bit also isn't as much of a gag as it looks like at first glance because it has the built-in stops that keep the mouthpiece from rotating all the way. I think it's a good design. I just didn't keep it because there didn't seem to be an advantage for the horse I was using it on. But I would have no problem using a bit like this if my horse did well in it.


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