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"Bits are a tool. There are no such things as a "soft" or "harsh" bits - only soft and harsh hands." You have heard it. You may have even said it. But, it is really true? What does it really mean when that is said? Doesn't that mean that when using the same hands ("soft" or "harsh") in two different bits that the bits are equal? Is that right? A smooth, single-jointed snaffle in "harsh" hands works exactly the same and has the same "severity" as a twisted, single-jointed wire snaffle in "harsh" hands? Same thing for "soft" hands? What about a thick(er) mullen versus a thin(er) mullen? If not, doesn't that mean that bits do have an inherent "severity" (or more "umph"/signal/warning/whatever)? If so, why do we say that bits don't have a severity - that they have "more advanced bits" and that "it's all in the hands"?
 

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Sticky topic. A lot of bits that are severe are severe because of ignorance.... either the horse, or the rider, or both, have no idea what they're doing with them.


A war bridle - a simple piece of rope around the horse's bottom jaw, can cut their tongues off if the rider and the horse have no idea what to do with one.



I'd say it's more ignorance vs. knowledge.
 

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There's absolutely varying degrees of harshness in bits. There's no way a mule bit is on the same level as a happy mouth d ring. I prefer to think of them in terms of their baseline, amplitude, and max.


Most bits will have the same baseline. That's how it sits in their mouth with no action. Ones like mule bits and some chains will have a higher baseline just due to how they sit in the mouth. Even twists and corkscrew bits will sit comfortably when no action is applied, for the most part.



Two bits with the same mouthpiece but one is a snaffle, one is a shank. The shank will amplify the pressure applied despite the same mouth. In terms other than leverage, I'd consider a corkscrew to have greater amplification than a smooth mouth. The amount of pressure applied is focused on a smaller area and increases much quicker. You can still have the same amount of pressure being applied (to the actual mouth, not just reins), but with the bits with a higher amplification, it takes a much more educated hand to balance it there.


Then max. Essentially, how much damage can it do. If you pull all your weight on two different bits, one is going to translate that into more pressure.


Any bit can do damage. Any bit can be abused. Some are just easier to use wrong or can do more harm than the others.
 

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While most will assume a non-leverage bit is less sever, some will say a shank bit, properly fitted, is kinder as it gives a signal when the rider lifts the reins before it applies pressure to the horse, allowing him to respond before the bit even moves. It's a sticky topic. Ignorance is largely in place when it comes to the 'kind' vs. 'harsh' debate.

People also have different opinions than horses. I have found that many horses are happier and more relaxed in a curb than in even the 'gentlest' snaffle. And one of the most severe-looking bits, the western Spade Bit, is actually quite comfortable for the horse once one realizes how it is designed, how it's balanced, where it sits in the mouth, and how the horse is trained to carry and respond to it.
 

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While most will assume a non-leverage bit is less sever, some will say a shank bit, properly fitted, is kinder as it gives a signal when the rider lifts the reins before it applies pressure to the horse, allowing him to respond before the bit even moves. It's a sticky topic. Ignorance is largely in place when it comes to the 'kind' vs. 'harsh' debate.

People also have different opinions than horses. I have found that many horses are happier and more relaxed in a curb than in even the 'gentlest' snaffle. And one of the most severe-looking bits, the western Spade Bit, is actually quite comfortable for the horse once one realizes how it is designed, how it's balanced, where it sits in the mouth, and how the horse is trained to carry and respond to it.



not disagreeing, but I know that my horse (leased horse) that I rode for 6 years could easily feel the rein being put into action, as I very gently lifted it, and I rode on a plain snaffle. He for sure felt the rein signal before it did any kind of actual moving of the metal mouthpiece.
 

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I agree there are great variants with bits. Some would bring tears to my eyes just looking at them!

One thing you will very rarely hear is a rider admitting that they do not have good hands, all seem to think they have soft hands (which they often state they keep still) see a video of them riding and their hands are all over the place and never moving with the horse's movement.
That is not soft hands.
 

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I wasn't quite able to express my thoughts fully on my post... hubs walked in, it was time for lunch. Had to wrap up my thought too fast.

There are bits that are absolutely worthless in any hands, in the mouth of any horse. Some bits that seem severe are only severe in the mouth or in the hands of someone ignorant or inexperienced. I'm still learning which bits are the worst of the worst and which look awful... and would be if I had one and used it on, say, Gina or Trigger, but in the hands of a trained horse with an expert rider simply give a very precise method of advanced dialogue between horse and rider.

As far as shanked bits go - I think it depends on your mouth piece. I'm going purely on what Trigger tells me. A shanked bit with a low or medium port, solid mouthpiece, was to be ignored. A shank bit with a broken two-piece mouth piece (Cowboy/Tom Thumb/Western snaffle) would send him straight up in a full rear to get away from it. A shank bit with a live-saver (O-ring) in the middle, thus a three piece mouth piece, is his happy bit.

Gina prefers a Jr. Cowhorse - why? IDK.

The Old Man is actually happy in a Cowboy Snaffle... go figure... but over the years we've swapped that out for a plain old open ring or d ring snaffle... he's been there, done that, and anyone riding him is there to learn or just enjoy a fun a ride, so not a lot of complicated communication going on with the bit and reins for him, and I don't trust a true novice on him with a bit like that in his mouth.

All three neck rein beautifully and move off seat and leg pressure, so there's really not a whole lot of need to engage the bit, except to stop... and all three have different mouths and it's taken some trial and error... so much error... to see what they like best for that whoa or back up signal. Sometimes I don't need the bit for that... I've accidentally lost my split reins over the side of the saddle while Gina was walking on down the trail... and headed home at a good clip. LOL I stopped her by grabbing the tugs to the breast collar and pulling back with a whoooaaa...

So. Bottom line. Are some bits harsh? Absolutely - Man can be cruel and if it can be dreamed of to subjugate a creature, we can make it and there are humans with too much ego and pride, but not enough compassion to NOT use the things we can dream up.... Are there bits that look barbaric but are to be used with delicate finesse to reach a deeper level of performance and precision... that take years to master and the horse must learn as well? Yep.

And this may be one of the most complicated and difficult lessons to learn in horsemanship, if I'm honest.

Interesting the lesson is one created by Man, not by the Horse in this case, no?


Edit: I can't name specific bits that have absolutely NO purpose existing because they're so cruel... but I know them when I see them these days. Any ring snaffle (or ANY bit) with a thin thin twist of wire for a mouthpiece is a HELL NO. I have one ancient piece of hateful horsemanship in my tack room... came in a tack room buy out.


It's called a jaw breaker and it's not a bit per se. It's a block of aluminum, connected to a headstall somehow (Been a while since I looked at it) and when on a horse, it has a U shape cut out that goes up against the jaw/chin of the horse, like where a curb strap goes. It looks like a boot jack on a head stall. I've had one of these, also in a tack room buy out... and it ended up in a pile of scrap metal to be hauled off.
 
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I agree there are great variants with bits. Some would bring tears to my eyes just looking at them!

One thing you will very rarely hear is a rider admitting that they do not have good hands, all seem to think they have soft hands (which they often state they keep still) see a video of them riding and their hands are all over the place and never moving with the horse's movement.
That is not soft hands.

I admit that I am horrible. I feel very bad because of it. I ride western and mostly with a bosal and if I ride with a bit it is with loose reins and neck reining (they put in the bit to stop the horse in case of a severe emergency of to give more refined aids that I cannot yet give). BUT in one riding school I need to use the bit to ride western (not with constant contact) and I feel bad because I know I am doing it badly. I just don't understand (yet) and the horse doesn't understand me (yet)... :( I try to use my seat and voice first to cue to go slower but the horse doesn't respond so I try to get contact and squeeze the reins... but oh man... well... I have a long way to go...


I knew it was gonna be difficult for me and that's why I opted western, neck reined and bosal. :) But with this top trainer I don't get to choose. Her horses are ridden with bit. I pledged myself to actively try hard and the third time I rode there she told me my hands were better (more still) so I am progressing, but I still feel bad.
 

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@AtokaGhosthorse My friend taught her horse to stand still when you say HOW and get your legs of the horse and put your feet forward. He must do this immediately when asked. If he doesn't he has to back up. This lessons have saved me several times. :p
 

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@AtokaGhosthorse My friend taught her horse to stand still when you say HOW and get your legs of the horse and put your feet forward. He must do this immediately when asked. If he doesn't he has to back up. This lessons have saved me several times. :p

I still have no idea what how mine were taught to do much of anything. They didn't come with owner's manuals... and Gina is the only one we watched 'grow up' under saddle, so we did know what she was taught to do and how to ask for it. But that day - she was ready to GO HOME DARN IT... (well, back to camp) and she was trucking on. No amount of seat position or verbal cues were getting her attention. The breast collar was handy to have that day. She didn't get in trouble with me - it was own dumb fault for losing the reins. LOL I was showing off and riding with no hands and they literally just... slipped off the saddle and were dragging the ground as we went along.
 
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I disagree very much with the statement "a bit is only as harsh or soft as the hands that hold it", because there are certain bits that no matter who's hands are holding them, they should never be placed anywhere near a horse's mouth. I don't care if you think your hands are soft or if you ride with a loose rein - some things are made only to cause pain and do it very well. That being said, there's certainly levels of severity in bits, but those levels also depend on your hands. My snaffle can be soft and hard, just as my grazing curb can or my Argentine or my Lozenge snaffle. A "signal bit"(spades - well, real spades) can be very soft if used correctly. They can also be horrible torture devices on a horse that's not ready for it or a rider who's not incredibly soft, because the high port stabs the palate much quicker and harder than many people think. The hands, the horse, and the bit's mechanics matter.

Mouthpieces also can make or break a bit - a twisted wire mouthpiece is a big no in my barn, as well as chain, waterfords, anything of the like. I've met horses who can go okay in these bits - but they are not something I trust myself or anyone I'm teaching or who's riding my horses to use, ever. People are not perfect, and we all have a breaking point or a temper and we do not always keep a hold of it no matter how soft we think we are. I've ruined horse's mouths as a child and had to learn to fix them over time. Gags are a no for me as well, I dislike their action and have yet to own a horse who would benefit from whatever their debated purpose is. Most of my horses can bit ridden bitless or bridleless and as a rule I don't "bit up" a horse. If a horse dislikes a bit, I change it. But if they're having an issue with training or a habit in a bit they normally feel comfortable it - if anything, we bit down, go back to basics, or go bitless. Larger diameter mouthpieces seem to be a bit "softer" to the horses I've ridden because they act over a larger surface area and therefore probably distribute the pressure. As for small, thin, and twisted bits - they by no means have the same severity of a smooth or thicker mouthpiece. The smaller the mouthpiece, the more pressure is put into the smaller area. Try wrapping a very thin piece of wire around your arm and pulling on it vs. a thicker piece. Both will have the same action given only the smoothness of the mouthpiece is changed, but by no means do they have the same severity. Twisted wire is abrasive as is chain, and not something I put near my horses.

Mullens can be just are hard as some bits, but I've found them to be pretty soft, gentle bits with a good rider and good hands. Just like any other bit, a thicker mouthpiece is softer than a thin mouthpiece. My opinion is just because a bit can be soft in soft hands does not mean it should be used. Many of the people who claim to have soft hands think they have soft hands because they're not pulling on the horse's mouth all the time, or because they don't have to pull very hard to get a response. But nearly none of the people I've met or seen ride understand the concept of moving with the horse. I may not be a great or even good rider - by I try very, very hard to make sure I'm being soft and moving with the horse. You cannot do so if you do not know why or how, however. Ignorance is the root of many poor and painful practices on horses(or any animal). And just because a bit may be a useful tool when in good hands does not mean it should be used in my opinion. There is too much harm caused by people who think they know how to use things or think they're soft enough and truly are not, and the "popularization" of some bits as good bits because they are good in expert's hands often causes the amateur to pick them up and think of them as godsend for all their problems.
 

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If a loose ring smooth snaffle or plain low port shank bit aren't enough instead of being bit collectors it makes sense to ask the question why.

That said I'm interested in a bit called The Missing Link Snaffle, it has me pretty curious as a full replacement of a loose ring snaffle.
 

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@bsms

The reason I dislike Waterfords is because most of the ones I've seen and handled myself have quite large gaps in the links, which means easy pinching especially around the lips. And just like chain or wire, they can be quite abrasive in a hard-handed person's hands. They fall into the category of "okay in soft hands only" for me, which given who I'm riding with, who I'm teaching, or what horse I'm riding usually does not work for me.
 

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From what I've read, Waterfords can be harsh is you create a lot of back & forth motion in the mouth. Then the balls rub back and forth over the bars with considerable pressure. I don't do that.

What Mia seemed to like was the flexibility of the mouthpiece, more like a rope than a bar. I've been told - haven't tried any - that some horses like a chain bit for the same reason. It is part of where the approach to riding makes a difference. Someone riding mostly with one hand and some slack will have options that might be vicious if used "on the bit". For me...chains and twisted wire bits, or very thin wire bits, are too risky. And since my horses get to eat with a bit, anything that catches grass is a no-no. But LOTS of folks never let a horse eat with a bit, so their needs would be different.

George Morris recommended a double twisted wire snaffle for a confirmed bolter. Me? I'd rather quit riding than go that way, but what is "right" may depend a lot of the rider's experience and skill.

"I've accidentally lost my split reins over the side of the saddle while Gina was walking on down the trail... and headed home at a good clip." @AtokaGhosthorse

I'm developing a fondness for the Booma Rein:




Don't know if they would work with split reins, but Bandit spooked a few days back when we were a lot like the bottom picture and it only took a couple of strides for me to get the reins back in hand.
 

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@bsms That's actually a good idea... There's some tricks to split reins, just tie them in a knot or use a keeper with them... but I did learn my lesson about screwing around with no hands while walking down the trail that day. LOL I've kinda been considering using romel reins, but not sure how well they'd work considering they're usually used in conjunction with the connector chains and a spade bit... and none of our horses have a clue about spade bits and neither do I... nor do we need to know. We just don't do anything on that level of horsemanship. I THINK I found the best solution given what I do and split reins... I use weighted split reins these days.


Speaking of severe things... There are, unfortunately, a LOT of people who assume the thick, heavy end of weighted split reins are there to whup your horse with. HOLY CRAP. No. No no no... Same for poppers on the ends of trail reins. The popper or the weighted end is there for that reason... to add weight to the reins. It makes it easier to keep them level (both at the same length) and to shorten them up quickly... because they're weighted.



This is why I tend to think, by and large, the severity of a thing often comes from complete ignorance of the thing.
 
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Speaking of ignorance... and I was there once... truly in the absolute dark about a LOT of things Horse... but I am seeing some light now, I've learned to filter bad advice from good, etc.... but speaking of ignorance:


I was told by people who I thought knew what they were talking about that a 'correction bit' is to correct a horse that won't whoa.

A correction bit would also make Trigger stand straight up because? Because I was convinced by people I thought knew what they were talking about that a correction bit = better brakes.

I'll never forget sitting around a camp fire, deer season, three years ago, and my husband's friend, the one who gave us The Old Man, let out this odd... laugh... and said at the same time: HOLY SH---- no wonder! Do you even KNOW what you're trying to correct? No wonder he's rearing up! He's trying to get away from the bit you have in his mouth... but at the same time you're telling him forward is the wrong answer, backwards is the wrong answer... He thinks you want him to go UP! because you're tearing his mouth up thinking you're jamming on the brakes!


(Honestly looking back, he gave me a butt chewing I deserved. This was also the first time I'd seen or heard of a Paul Petska bit. Hubs friend had several, all different kinds, each for a different horse, each did/conveyed a different thing)


Before I could answer, he shuffles his drunk self to his barn and comes back with two long pieces of baling wire. On each piece was about 20 horse bits. All different kinds. He sat down next to me, we had more beer, and he took each bit off that wire and showed me how each one worked in a horse's mouth. Granted, in his inebriated condition a lot didn't make sense to me... but looking back it's because I didn't know what I didn't know. But it did set me off on a quest to find animated gifs and videos of how common western bits work in a horse's mouth. It made me take the bits I have, and literally slip my arm through the nose portion and engage the reins to see how the bit moved, how it put pressure on what part of my arm. It made me dig deeper and actually do research on how specific bits work and what they're supposed to convey in terms of communication.

Trigger had a TON of issues, but needing a bigger bit wasn't it.

So while I was still learning what the heck I was supposed to do with this Mazarati I had, I backed him down to a hackamore... yes the shanked/mechanical kind... BUT BEFORE I DID, I read up on them, I put one on and engaged the reins, I read up on where it should sit, what it does to a horse's nose and face, and I worked HARD on not riding the reins or panic yanking them. Rode him in a hack one summer... changed him to a shanked/Argentine type life saver snaffle, educated myself on how the curb chain works, set his chain to the proper length... and worked on giving him incentive to stop when I ask (Giving snacks when he listens, which also makes him flex back to tap my shin on each side first), or letting him do things his way and keep chugging along... but in a circle... until he recognizes my way is the way with the snacks and praise. His way is the working his butt off by his own choice and getting no further down the trail. Time and taking a different approach to what I was asking has made all the difference.

I had to figure out his problem, why he had it, and help him reprogram himself... bigger bits were the WORST thing I could have done and the worst thing I tried with him.

To go back to the hackamore approach I tried... it didn't help him learn to whoa when asked, but it DID help him gain trust in me that I wasn't going to hurt him while getting his headstall on, I wasn't going to twist his ears (like I suspect has been done in the past) and I wasn't going to bulldog him to accept a bit. Now he politely accepts the bit and doesn't fling his head sky high when I touch his hears to get the headstall over them. The hack was far less threatening to him, so after I gained his trust that summer, I could then go back to using a bit and focus on other ways to get him to stop or listen.
 
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I can only speak for myself & my experiences.

My old lease horse was in a super, super gentle bit. Kinda was like rubber. He was very, VERY sensitive in the mouth. I mean, extremely. So I learned to have super, super soft hands & not depend on my hands to ride. He taught me that.

When I got my mare, I put her in a Korsteel regular Dee snaffle bit. It was a hand-me-down from a friend, so I just took it & rode her in it for about 6mos. She responded pretty well in it. It was more on the gentle side, but also had a nutcracker effect.

After about 6mos, I switched her to a Myler. A Myler comfort snaffle to be exact. She responded even better. She seems to love it! It's extremely gentle. No roof of mouth pressure or nutcracker effect. I am currently learning to ride off my seat/legs, not so much my hands (I was never a handsy rider to begin with though). She responds pretty well off of my seat/legs, so I just don't find a stronger bit necessary. :) But, everyone is different & what works, works for them!

This is what I have:

https://www.statelinetack.com/item/...d8f-0fae-4033-8724-e49c9af080c0#reviewsHeader

I LOVE it. :D

Let me also mention, I said this in another thread too...my old trainer tried to put her in a twisted snaffle. Promise HATED it. It was so bad. She was just not a fan at all. She was miserable in it. It wasn't what she was used to. My old trainer would hate when I'd ride her in the Myler, she'd say 'oh that's just way too gentle for her, how can you even feel her in that?' Because I can...? LOL...people have their own opinions, but I know my horse!

Sidenote, I had a horse that I was riding for about a year or so (after my lease horse) & his owner had him in a gag bit. I tried him in my Korsteel bit & he actually responded MUCH better...there was no need for him to be in a gag. But, the owner got upset (even though she told me I could ride him in it, she didn't have an issue with it!), oh well. :lol: Happy to have my own horse now & make my own decisions, ya know?!
 

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The point being an experienced rider with a sensitive feel and good timing could ride with most any bit and be humane with it.
What bit to use & when to use it will vary depending on a persons individual influences with horses & horsemanship. There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer of what bit to use if the tool is used correctly.
 

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I've kinda been considering using romel reins, but not sure how well they'd work considering they're usually used in conjunction with the connector chains and a spade bit... and none of our horses have a clue about spade bits and neither do I... nor do we need to know.
Romal/romel are traditionally used with a spade, but you can use them with any curb that won't collapse onto the tongue/bars-- a solid mouth/ported bit, not something like a chain bit or shanked snaffle, though. Make sure it's balanced so the weight of the reins isn't cueing the horse when his head is in the position you want, and use a bit connector to keep the shanks from moving around at the lope if you use a loose-shanked bit. You don't have to use the chains-- their original purpose was to protect the expensive braided reins from water while the horse drank. If your horse has a rock-solid neck rein, romals may work very well for you.

I cross long, harness-leather split reins when riding outside the show pen so the tail of the right rein falls on the left side of the horse, and vice versa. Then you can set them down on the horse's neck without much worry of dropping one. And if you do, just reach down and grab it, or stop, tip the horse's head around with the rein you still have, and grab the other one. In 30 years of riding with them, I don't think I've dropped one more than half a dozen times, and it never was a big deal.
 
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