Solid High Ports such as Cathedrals and spooned ports make contact with the palate of the horse – some in more severe ways than others. The rider’s soft hands are critical here.
The balance of a Spade, Spoon or Cathedral bit is critical, as they must be ridden straight-up neutral to keep the spoon off the roof of the mouth. When the reins are pulled, the spoon moves forward and up. When the reins are relaxed, the spoon drops down again. They move so easily that this bit is considered a
“signal” bit, hinting to the horse with the slightest bit of rein pick-up that his position is incorrect.
If the horse’s head remains vertical and the reins remain loose, the spoon should remain flat and exert no pressure on the horse’s palate at all. If he raises his head, the balance of the bit drops the shanks and raises the spoon (or spade) automatically, reminding the horse (with no action from the rider) that he should lower his head again.
Spades are usually used on the most highly trained and softest horses. They should be used with finesse to “signal” a highly trained horse with almost no movement. They heighten softness and vertical flexion with practically no movement. A horse whose bars have been ruined by poor riding in another type of bit might benefit from a spoon mouth IF his rider is a particularly good trainer and rider.
Spade bits include a curb strap and have leverage. They exert palate pressure (center spade) but also exert bar, chin and poll pressure from the action of the curb strap like a normal curb bit.
They are not commonly used and can be extremely harsh. I have not found a time, personally, when this bit would be useful to me in the training I undertake. However, any input from friends who have used one would be appreciated.
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