How to Use a Bit

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How to Use a Bit

4 thoughts on “How to Use a Bit

  1. I have found more information here then anywhere else and am very appreciative but I need help!

    I’ve had TC for 1 and 1/2 years. He is half thoroughbred and half quarter horse and he is 25 years old today.

    He was a mess when I first started working with him. You couldn’t cross-tie him, he would never stand still, shook his head and fought with the bit all of the time and yanking the reins through my hands. We have overcome everything but the one issue I am still having is trying to teach him to walk instead of jig or prance almost constantly.

    When I got him, he came with a tom thumb bit which he fought against constantly, shaking his head, jigging sideways, constantly backing up, would never stand still. I decided to try Dr. Cooks bitless bridle. He quit shaking his head but constantly pulled against me and every time we went out he would wear a soar on his nose.

    Next I went to a Happy Mouth Egg Butt Mullen bit. I have taught him to stand still, he has quit the sideways jigging/backing up and no longer walks off when I am getting in the saddle and though he doesn’t violently shake his head anymore, he constantly pulls against the bit and I am constantly having to check his prancing/jigging for the entire ride.

    To answer your question, yes, I have worked for hours to change this behavior with schooling him and not letting him return to the stable with the other horses often times making him stay out an hour longer until he will finally walk to the stable. (He jigs more from the point he knows we are heading back to the barn.)

    When I keep the reins lose, he prances and will start to speed up. When I make them shorter, he prances, and begins to pull his head forward to pull the reins so he can have his head again to prance faster. This is exhausting, my arms ache and often my hands are swollen and I don’t enjoy our rides.

    What would be the next step? Is there a bit that may produce a better result without terrific pain or is there a way to add a chin strap or chain to the egg butt mullen bit. (I really want to find what he will respect/respond too but not violently fight against like he did the original tom thumb. Please help. Thank you! Sherry

    1. I can tell you have worked tirelessly with the horse, so when I tell you that the answer is still not in the bit, you won’t be shocked. But… 25 years of any behavior is not going to change quickly – even now. And there is much more to this problem than we have room for here. Does he EVER relax into a walk with his head low and body posture relaxed? If he is still head-tossing and bridle-pushing in a bitless bridle (causing a sore on his nose), it is not because of the bit. If not the bit, why is the horse anxious? What type of rider did he have for his previous 20 years? Did they ever show him how to understand rein “pressure and release” to reward HIMSELF properly with a loose rein? Did they run everywhere they went? Are YOU well-balanced? Is there a danger that he will actually run away with you?

      At least a couple of things occur to me as I re-read your comments (not a comprehensive list of “cures” to be sure, but maybe some little nugget of thought will help you):
      1. TB are often “hotter” than other breeds, while QH are usually a calmer breed. He is exhibiting the TB side of his nature to be sure.
      2. There seems to be no opportunity for release of face pressure when your horse is slowing down. Every exercise needs a chance to release when the horse successfully slows down. see: Release Training. Start here. When a horse understands how to release the pressure through his own understanding, he will feel more “in control” and will be less claustrophobic and less combative in his head gear.
      3. While he doesn’t appear to be JUST “barn sour” (evidenced by his jigging behavior in other circumstances), coming back to the barn has been very rewarding for 25 years: No more work. Lots of good food. Friends.

      There are several exercises that could HELP to cure the problem. You will probably have to combine them all and others. I am also going to append a youtube video to this file for your consideration. It is an excellent discussion of some tactics as well as body-positions that are important.

      First he needs every opportunity to understand the gait “walk” – your seat, your reins, and a verbal cue. Have you schooled him in the round pen on the ground with a verbal cue for “walk” or “walk on” or “easy”? Then under saddle in the round pen and the arena or pasture with the same verbal and seat cues? The round pen is rarely a problem because there is just no where to go. But it is where he pairs the words and seat with the gait.

      The pasture adds more opportunity to speed up – particularly if there are other horses at the far end. Move forward gently. Every time he speeds up (using your one-rein cue) turn him in a tight circle for several turns and come to a halt (facing the forward direction) where his reins are relaxed when he stands still before resuming the straight-ahead direction. This gives you an opportunity to reinforce the idea that the reins relax when he stops moving forward. After a 30 second stop, lead off in the proper gait again. As time goes by you should get the opportunity to circle and lead out of the circle at a walk on a loose rein. The point of all of this being that you must find a way to reward him for the slow pace. (The video has other valuable exercises to help “set him up” for a good rein-release).

      Follow this with the same treatment on the trail if you have room to maneuver. If you get into the constant fight with a tight rein (as I am understanding), you have little control at all. In fact, I would worry that the horse is dangerous if he really wants to get away. No rider can stop a horse whose head is straight out and is pushing into a bridle.

      Instead of staying out on the trail longer than the other horses (actually giving him even MORE reason to hurry home), experiment with leaving the other horses to head home BEFORE they turn toward the barn. Just a 5 minute head start will tell you if he is as eager to go home without them as he is to go with them. If he is able to go at least part way home on a loose rein after leaving them, take that opportunity for him to experience that feeling.

      Do they ever “take off like a shot” in the going-home direction? That is a BAD practice for any horse. Don’t go with people who don’t understand that.

      When you get back to the barn, go straight to the round pen where he works hard for another 20 minutes (either under saddle or from the ground – it doesn’t matter), then cross tie (bored) for another 10 minutes. This routine will take FOREVER to sink in after 25 years of a rewarding end to a trail ride. But you can see how the “coming home” needs to be less enticing.

      These are just a couple of psychological tricks to try. I am not sure how far back in his training he needs to go to get control. Perhaps he heeds more flex training as well as more arena work etc. A good instructor might be able to help, but I understand that can get costly. Maybe commit to an evaluation by a good instructor and then see if your hard work and a minimal number of sessions under supervision might do the trick.

  2. This is one of the most easily-understood discussions of bit use I have found. I guess I sort of knew some of it in my gut, but had never seen it all spelled out so succintly. And the discussion of paired cues and going from one bit to another instead of one bit to a meaner bit is really enlightening. This would benefit most of the people I board with at my stable. I will pass it on.
    Jane Ft. Worth, Texas

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