Spade Bit

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 horse bitSpade 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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4 thoughts on “Spade Bit

  1. I’ve used spade bits before, NOT for every horse and only for very advanced horses and riders! However, on the right horse they are a beautiful thing, put one on a mare I had in training to show her in (no place in true training in my opinion) but for showing she set her head at vertical and went on he merry way. However this mare could also be rode bridless with the same stride but the bit gave me the chance to “throw away” my reins and let her keep her head at vertical at whatever height was natural to her worked amazing! But for sure takes the right horse and rider combination! Not a bit to be taken lightly, only to be used lightly.

    1. Areille, I love your statement, “Not a bit to be taken lightly, only to be used lightly.” I would like to borrow it in my discussions if you wouldn’t mind.

      This sounds like precisely the right way to use a spade. It reminds the horse with a “self-caused touch” from the bit. If her head strays from your required position, she knows it instantly and seeks the “sweet spot” without your cue or contact of any type.

      Do I understand that you use it for showing? What discipline and class? I don’t know when it is considered a “legal” bit.

      Thank you for this nice illustration and descripton of your experience.

  2. Thank you for clarifying the discussion. I have never used a “spade” bit, and would love for someone to write an authoritative article about this bit (or any other) and its use. If you have the time, maybe you could oblige us. You could send it to me by email or just write the whole thing in a comment and I can make a whole post of it. Just let me know if that thought appeals to you.

    I would also love some help with Gag Bits, as I have no experience with them either.

  3. You…..you realize what the curb strap on a curb is for, right? It’s to keep the bit from over-rotating. Using one of these nasty “pseudo-spades” (they don’t deserve to be called spades, really) without a curb strap is MUCH harsher than using one with. ANY curb bit (and that includes the single/double jointed curbs you’re calling snaffles) is designed to be used with a curb strap. Just because there isn’t a separate ring doesn’t mean that you don’t use the strap.

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