Mark Goss Horsemanship page

WHAT IS THE BIT FOR?

I would like you to open your mind and think about what I’m saying here. Constructive discussion is welcome. Destructive criticism will be deleted. Bits cause some very passionate opinions. Be positive. These opinions are mine and only opinions based on experience.I thought it was time that I put out a post on my thoughts on bits and how they affect the horse. This is one of the most often asked questions, “what bit do you use on your horse?”.There are so many different types of bits that it can be very daunting to choose the proper one for your horse. Well, actually that is not true. Choosing the right bit is super simple. All we have to do is understand is what a bit is for and how a bit works. Then it is easy to choose and use the one best for our purposes.First, we need to think about what the bit is used for. Many think it is a tool to steer and stop the horse. Mostly to stop the horse. But, it is actually a communication device. It is one of the tools we use to talk to our horse. The other (and most important) being our body.Since it is a tool to talk to our horse we need to think how loud we need to talk and how often we need to talk. If our hands are busy and bouncing around moving the bit in the horse’s mouth without actually asking a question, it confuses the horse. He doesn’t understand all that movement and so when we ask a question it may take him a little time to sort out the fact that we are asking something. Think about it like this. If you have the radio on in the truck and it was jumping from station to station every two or three seconds how would you react? Same with the horse. It is hard for the horse to sort out the ask from the static. And then we get mad that he doesn’t respond. Well, he couldn’t sort that ask out of the bouncing reins. It is not his fault you sound like the noise at a rock concert. He and we would prefer to have a discussion in a quiet place. Where we could easily understand what is going on.So be quiet on that bit first off and most bit problems go away.Second, how we place the bit in his mouth has a great deal to do with his acceptance of the bit. Many people are taught to put wrinkles in the corner of his mouth. Some as many as three. It puts them on the bit is often the reasoning. Most of the time the reason is “because that’s the way we have always done it” or “that’s how my teacher taught me”.But, if we think about how the horse reacts to having the bit way up in the corner of his mouth and so tight that it won’t move, we might choose another setting. The horse would prefer to be able to move the bit to a place more comfortable. Most horses like to be able to keep the bit up off their bars. To hold it with their tongue. So, it works for them best if it is just contacting the corner of the mouth with no wrinkles.Since they want to relieve the pressure on their bars that might say that bits with tongue relief are not the best choice since tongue relief means the bit sits on the bars regardless of how the horse tries to hold it.Third, how does the bit function in the mouth? Since the mouth is the most sensitive area of the horse, we can see that the horse can feel the slightest movement, the slightest. Now, is our bit a means of pain or communication? With such a wide variety of bits, the most common attribute of most bits is their ability to cause pain. Think about that. We use the bit to cause our horse pain. Many don’t think about it that way, but it is true. We place a shanked bit in the mouth, tighten a chin strap of chain or leather and then some even strap the mouth closed on the bit with a caveson. When the reins are pulled it creates leverage that puts significant pressure on the sensitive bars of the mouth.If you have doubts about that bit’s ability to cause pain try this. Place your arm through the headstall. Run the bit about half way up your forearm. Tighten the chin strap on your arm as tight as you have it on the horse. Hold the headstall against your shoulder and stick your arm out straight. This should put a little pressure on the mouthpiece of the bit. Don’t let the headstall move and have someone pull on the reins from behind. Now you know. It ain’t without pain. Pain is not what we should be using to ask our horse a question. This setup is using a bullhorn from two inches away when we should be whispering. So, we ask our horse to go with us down the trail and tell him we are going to have a great time, but we have to hurt him for most of the trip. You might be having fun, but I don’t think he is. So if we want to cause the least pain for our friend maybe we don’t need a leverage bit. Maybe shanks are not a good thing. So what bit is not shanked? How about the plain old snaffle? The snaffle is designed to work off the corners of the mouth, not the bars. (I know, they can be hard on a horse too, but not if they are properly used)The snaffle has a “broken” mouthpiece. Some snaffles have a “dog bone” link. But, the true snaffle has no shanks, is broken in the middle, and the headstall and reins attach to the same place. There are D-ring, eggbutt. and loose ring snaffles. The headstall attaches above the reins so there is very little leverage. The snaffle is used with a chin strap that is not tight because it’s only function is to keep the bit from being pulled through the mouth.When the reins are pulled on the snaffle, the bit pulls up against the corner of the mouth. A snaffle is most often ridden in two hands and should not be pulled back with both hands at the same time. A snaffle can being ridden in one hand but the rider should be experienced enough to use very little rein pressure.That brings us to another place. Hands. The most common problem that riders who move to more harsh bits have isn’t the horse, it is their hands. They are too harsh. They have not been taught how to ride properly. Reins are not to be used to balance the rider’s body.Quiet hands make a quiet horse. We must teach ourselves to have gentle hands that don’t bounce or brace. Our hands shouldn’t move quickly from no pressure to fifty pounds. Our reins should have drape. They should get tight but seldom. Learning to use our body to direct our horse instead of using the reins is a must to create a good horse. I know some will say, “My horse is good with the shanked bit setup like you describe, I don’t need to change.” Well, if that’s true, fine. But, most of the time horses start to accept the pain as part of the deal and get stoic about it. To see if your horse is really satisfied with your setup, check his headset and his neck. If his head is high or he reacts to the reins by raising his head, it might be the bit. If he has a convex muscle under his neck that is an indication that the horse is pushing on the bit because of the pressure. If his neck is stiff and he has little flexion he might be afraid of the bit. The bit is a great tool when it is used right and a torture device when used wrong. Think about how you are using the bit and if you are causing your horse pain to achieve what you are wanting.The horse appreciates quiet hands, a loose bit, and a knowledgeable rider. You can really help your horse by learning how to operate him off your legs and butt and not using your hands so much. If you love that horse as much as you say, why would you have to cause him pain to ride him? Think about that. Your horse sure does. Caveat: The Spanish Spade bit is a horse of a different color. To be used by very talented horsemen. And the true Hackamore is another deal all together. This post was for those who prefer to use a bit.

Sweet Donna on Girl in the Bitter Root Valley of Western Montana. She has always ridden in a snaffle.

My good horse Frank in his two rein outfit.
Frank in the hackamore after winning the 2012 Open Am World Grand Champion Ranch Horse competition at the Fox Trotter World Show

Mark Goss Horsemanship
February 11 at 2:36 PM ·
WHY CAN’T I FIND MY PERFECT HORSE?
Many people go through life looking for the perfect horse. Most times they never find their perfect horse. And why would that be?
The human is expecting to find a horse that will conform to their program, their way of going, their level of expertise. Truth is that many of the people who go through horse after horse trying to find the perfect horse have already had a couple of them.
Buck Brannaman said once that the horse did not choose us to be their owner, we chose them. That if the horse had done the choosing they would have chosen a horseman. Someone with whom he could enjoy his life. Not someone like us.
The point being that the human expects the horse to conform to our program when we should consider that we might need to conform to his.
If the human would consider where the horse is in his mind and body and compare that with where the human wants him to be, then the human would see how much the human needs to adapt to the horse. They would see that with a little help from the horse and some effort on their part then there would be a great partnership.
But, our ego gets in our way. We can’t admit that we don’t have the skill set to help the horse become their best. It must be a problem with the horse because we are the smart one. No, we are not. We just happen to be the one with the ego. And that ego will not let us admit that we don’t know as much as the horse.
The problem often revolves around the fact that the human will not change their program to fit the horse. Heck, we have all the DVDs, the books, and we have watched hours of TV clinicians. That stupid horse hasn’t done any of that. How can they be smarter than us?
Because the horse has a PhD in horse. The horse knows more about being a horse than we ever will. But, he is also very willing to allow us to learn from him and readily accepts our inadequacies with stoic acquiescence.
We need to understand that we can turn any horse into our perfect horse if we allow the horse to show us what he needs from us to be their perfect human. We have to be humble enough to admit we don’t know it all. We have to be smart enough to ask for help.
After many years of working with horses and showing horses at the highest level, Ray Hunt had a problem with a horse he was riding. He talked to Tom Dorrance and found he did not know it all and with Mr. Dorrance’s help he became one of the best horsemen to ever live. If Ray Hunt had to get help, anybody reading this sure could use some help.
Think about your responsibility to the horse.