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Monday, April 20, 2009


Got this little email from a reader. Apparently, she disapproves of the fact that I don't like harsh bits and don't think them necessary. Folks, emailing me and using all lower case except when using them to "yell" at me, tons of misspellings, and ranting at me doesn't really achieve much. I have copied her email (in blue) and my reply (red)...

ok im not going to TRY to be nice about this im just going to say it. the bits that you talked about and the way you talked about the horses was VERY insulting and it probably insulted alot of gaming people. Their horses are not crazy, they love to run, and if they didnt im pretty sure they wouldnt be running, trust me. the horses arent hard mouthed eather, i can stick a very harsh bit in my gaming horse's mouth and she will do everything i ask her to do, i can do the same stuff in a regular D-ring snaffle. but i NEED more than a snaffle beacause she LOVES to run (and i dont think she would ever stop if she could go on forever) and i NEED to stop her. they get more desencitized to the bit than pleasure horses because they arent being turned abunch. (and please dont say i dont know what im talking about, cause im pretty sure i know just as much about horses as you. ive been around horses since before i was even born) but please it would do whoever reads your blog a faver if you would do a BUNCH a research before you post something on the web

Absolute bullshit. The excuse you use of the horse becoming desensitized to the bit is bunk. Why are you cranking on their mouth to turn them in the first place?

I have a mare that was a confirmed runaway. She still loves to run. It was nearly impossible to stop her when I got her. Even the strongest bit had no effect, the harder you pulled, the faster she went. She will still do this if you are too rough with her mouth when riding, and she is 27.

Want to know how I fixed the problem?

I TRAINED HER TO STOP. With anything; bit, sidepull, halter, or even a leadrope looped around her neck.

If your horse will not stop whenever you ask, with whatever you ask with, then perhaps you might want to do a bit more training.

I know a lot of folks agree with her, I also know that many do not. You do not NEED a big harsh bit to stop a horse. You just don't. If you can't force it to stop with pain (hello, if someone was hurting ME I sure would want to get away from it) perhaps it is time to rethink things. Using harsher and harsher bits to force a horse to listen only worsens the problem. What happens when the nastiest bit in the world won't stop them? When you run out of options? Sell the horse and get a new one?

Read this story, this is the story of my old mare, I tried the stronger bit approach, see where it got me?


  1. Awesome use of a straw man by your hatemailer there. "Sometimes it's necessary to use bits stronger than a plain snaffle for certain events." (True) "Therefore I'm justified using this huge shanked bit with it's itty-bitty twisted mouth piece." (Um no. Logic FAIL.)

    I'd venture to say that /most/ (not all but most) of the gamers I have seen have had some pretty crappy hands, hanging on the reins and such for balance when turning. You think maybe it's not the turning that desensitizes the horse's mouth, but your 180 lb ass hanging off the reins?

  2. And furthermore what the bleep does being around horses before you were born have to do with anything?

    My mom cooked while she was pregnant with me. I've been around food all my life. Therefore, I must be an awesome chief! *rolls eyes*

  3. hahah thats such BULLSHIT!

    I do gaming on all sorts of horses bitless! Bigger bit=smaller brains if you have to use a bigger bit to control your horse all the time you need to go back and figure out what the hell went wrong there. No piece of equipment, no matter how harsh or kind is substitute for proper training.

    A lot of horses run when their riders get on for two reasons a) they haven't been taught to slow the eff down and listen to their rider or B) they are running out of pain. Ever seen a horse that bolts when a rider grabs both the reins? No? Well it's not a fun horse to ride and guess what it's caused by riders that hang off the reins. I knew a few real bad ones and two I can think of right now are barrel racers for two teenage girls that hang off the reins when they turn.

  4. Gaming horses do get high - I've heard bull riders comment that they'd rather stand in the bull pen than be a barrel horse "walker-in."

    That said, bigger bit doesn't equal better anything. You're right, if you can't stop one in a snaffle, pretty soon you're not gonna get much stop in one of those monstrosities, either.

  5. When my lovely bucking dun first came to me, I had him loaded down with a pelham or kimberwicke(for english) and a simple curb for western. Back then I was still lucky if he would stop WHEN i asked.
    Now, about 9 years later, I am working him on nothing but a snaffle. It takes a lot of work to get a strong flighty horse to respond to the lightest of bits (in my personal opinon/experience) but it is definitely do-able.
    I suppose it all depends on personal experience and opinon. Depends on how much time you are willing to put into it.
    Love this blog!

  6. how much does she thinking she learned in utero (my mom was in nursing school while carrying me, but I do not think the licensing board will accept that as training)? If what she learned then is so important it is safe to say she has not learned much since...

  7. Yeah... I agree with you. I take my horse cross country jumping, mock fox hunts, trails, and dressage all in the same bit (Myler eggbutt snaffle and he is fine. Because he was TRAINED to stop and listen to the rider (though thats debatable sometimes in the arena... he doesn't enjoy ring-work much).

    If he ever ran off with me we'd have a serious going back to basics session until running off was out of his system.

    Horses that are run aways (in my experience) tend to do so because they know it gets them out of doing something. I learned pretty quickly horses tend to be "because I can" critters, especially my gelding, and its the handler's responsibility to make sure (aka train...) the horse that "no, the handler is in charge." Then I let my gelding go run off into the pasture when I'm done to do his "because I can" thing with his herd.

    Big bits are for people that don't take the time to train, IMO. Yes, it can take a long time, but I consider it worth it to trust that your horse will stop with a gentle cue from a gentle bit (or, preferably, your seat).

    I think horses like gamers tend to get so drilled into an "OMG GOTTA RUN RUN RUN THE PATTERN!!!" frame of mind they just get out of control and then people make all these crazy combo bits for them instead of letting them relax now and then and get the running thing out of their head.

    In response to the letter writer, also: Yes, some horses love to run, but many horses are trained to feel the need to run, which a lot of riders interpret as loving to run. Gotta train them to listen too, though.

  8. If her defense is that she needs a harsher bit because her horse doesn't get "turned" as much as the other horses, we have an even bigger problem. Is she only pulling her horse out to work when it's time to run? No wonder she has a hard time controlling it! I don't care if you do gaming, show jumping, cross country, or Western - if you're riding a horse, especially if you're showing it, you need to take the time outside of the show ring to work on basics. Her horse should be able to turn and be worked quietly just as well as any hunter or eq horse.

    That said, I take issue with just about any artificial means of training. I don't even like riding horses in a martingale. If you can't ride your horse without a bunch of contraptions, it needs more/better training.

    scaequestrian, is this your first blog-related hate mail? You've truly arrived!

  9. horses run from pain - harsh bits cause pain. It's a vicious cycle. I evented as a teenager on into my 20's. Nothing harsher than a kimblewick and running martingale was used on the x-crounty leg of the event. Those were fit horses with lots of energy, they loved to gallop. But they all had good solid basics due to the fact they were required to put in a decent dressage test on day one.

  10. scaequestrian, is this your first blog-related hate mail? You've truly arrived!

    No, its just the first one that I have posted here. Most of the others consisted of folks bitching at me about things that if they would have actually READ the entire post, their "concerns" would have been addressed.

    I just found this one so asinine that I felt I should share it.

  11. "That said, I take issue with just about any artificial means of training. I don't even like riding horses in a martingale. If you can't ride your horse without a bunch of contraptions, it needs more/better training."

    Ha, me too....

    In my experience, unlike most equestrian disciplines, Contesting Kids are usually not about "correctness" and that's why they do contesting. They just want to go FAST, and never learn how to ride well - just stay on. It's a very irritating mentality.

  12. Wow... I can't take anyone seriously when they can't even use proper spelling and punctuation. That sounded like a 12-year-old whining and carrying on. Very immature and uneducated.

    But hey! Can't spell worth shit, yet she's such a good equestrian, right? Maybe I should take her advice and pop a tiny little corkscrew shank into my TB's mouth and start yanking away when he gets headstrong. That'll solve that problem, right?

    He'd probably try to kill me if I did that. No one should ever need anything more hardcore than a kimberwick or pelham, and as a last resort. If you train your horse right, you never need a harsh bit. This girl's just proving that she's a crappy trainer.

  13. I'm helping out with 4-H right now, and there's the cutest little girl with the cutest pony who rides hunt seat - with a Tom Thumb.

    He's got the HARDEST mouth in the world - I bet he was a contesting pony at some point. He's a good little old pony, but I wonder what's up, and what we might do - if anything - to get him into a more orthodox and correct bit. At least a Kimberwicke, which is usually not a bit I like....

  14. good for you!

    i don't run patterns, and my gelding was not a gaming horse. But when i DID do gymkhana with him i did it in a snaffle bit. He ran like hell(loves to run!!),and yes, was hard to stop. But i would ride him out, put my 8 y/o brother on him and they would go back in and jog the pattern.

    Just because a horse LOVES to run, like my gelding, DOES NOT mean they HAVE to run, or CAN'T stop. He is just a well trained guy.

  15. It always bugs me when people use their childhood hobbies as "professional" experience. But this one takes the cake. "Since before I was even born" -- ha.

  16. Great response, SCAEQ! Crazily amped horses CAN be ridden in a normal bit, even if the rider totally blows the situation. Case in point: I was cantering out of the short side of an arena MUCH bigger than my enormous OTTB was used a nice fat eggbutt snaffle.

    He saw all that wide open space in front of him and hit the ex-racer high and opened up full throttle. I did the absolute worst possible thing: I hauled on the reins (*headdesk*) thus telling him to GO for it, in racehorse speak.

    We were off like a shot. He was beside himself.

    Fortunately I came to, *let go*, half halted and pushed him away from my inside leg, turning him to the inside. Dang if he didn't come back. *After* hitting the "high" and having his idiot rider say "Oh yeah, GO". All with a big fat eggbutt snaffle.

    Training training training!

  17. I have no hope of running my Thoroughbred gelding cross country in a snaffle. IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. EVER. But I ride dressage in a French link loose ring and am quite capable of doing anything and everything on the flat in that bit. And he is not going to be hard-mouthed from the elevator because I do not need to yank on his mouth or get into a tug-of-war that he is sure to win, being the size of a locomotive and all. I use a little leverage to be able to slow him down with a quick half-halt when I need to and then get the hell out of his mouth and leave him alone to gallop rhythmically. Bridging my reins and leveraging off his own neck prevents us from fighting and assures that I won't be run away with too much. I do understand the use of big bits in certain scenarios and I also believe that you can't have soft hands if you don't have enough bit. But that e-mail was SO ignorant ... and correct me if I'm wrong here, but is loving to run a good excuse to act rank and require a big bit? My guy loves to run too, but you'd better believe that when I ask him to slow he says, "YES MA'AM!" Loving to gallop is not an excuse for anything, let alone being unsafe or difficult to control, even with the aid of a gadget or two. And "they get more desencitized to the bit than pleasure horses because they arent being turned abunch"? Say WHAT?! It must be a MIRACLE that people are able to do 10m circles and serpentines on dressage and event horses without them becoming abysmally hard-mouthed! And everyone knows that to produce a winning pleasure horse you don't work on balance and suppling at all, you just go along the rail 24/7 without turning ... duh, didn't everyone know that? Oh God, I've ranted enough, I don't want to take up any more space ...

  18. I get newletters from Larry Trocha. His latest is about this subject:

  19. I'm going to go out on a limb here.

    If Stop isn't in her or her horse's vocabulary, I am betting conditioning, softness, bending, supple and relaxed probably aren't either.

    Am I right? Not that it matters.

    Obviously besides the spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammer, there are a number of things truly lacking here. Brains being the biggest one.

    "Since before I was even born."

    I'm betting the family tree has only one branch. If that.

    Gets out her saftey goggles and revs up the McCullough chain saw...

  20. Cattypex- You didn't mention the childs hands??? A pelham may work rather than the kimberwick, but working on getting the little guy soft and bending through the whole body will go a long ways too. Does he move off the leg or is he resistant and bracing when asked?

    I guess the big question is- how receptive to your help are the parents?

    Email me if you wish- it's in my profile.

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  23. To whomever the gamer was that wrote this letter. Your idiocy has set the gamers back 500 years. Please learn how to spell, and please stay away from horses before you 'git herted'

  24. I used to barrel race professionally. I showed NBHA Dixie Nationals and ran at Congress. My horse was consistently in the first division.

    When I first started barrel racing (I was 10), I had a trainer that tried to shove one of those really nasty "sweet six" bits- a twisted wire snaffle hackamore combo- in my ex-roper's mouth with a tie down to hold it all together. It seemed like the stronger the bit, the more the horse leaned into me and braced himself against the bit.

    Curious, I tried a loose ring snaffle on my horse with no tie down. Suddenly, he could come into the bit and reach for the contact. Without the tie down, he was able to flex and the poll and bend without the inference holding him back.

    I had to retrain myself. I learned that my hands are not the way to stop a horse. By exhaling and relaxing my weight into the deepest part of my saddle, I was able to slow him down. It took time to sensitize him again, but he got to the point where a slight exhale would bring him back down. Remember, gaming horses are sensitive creatures; they love to play but they are also wonderful listeners if you ask the right questions.

    My horse's whole behavior changed. Instead of pacing and hopping into the arena, he calmly walked in, trotted a warm up circle, and gave a great take-off to the first barrel. Instead of "rating" him before the barrel with my hands, I would use a driving seat to engage his hind end around the turn. Coming home, we blasted through the timer and immediately slowed down.

    I once had a chicago screw come loose on my bridle, causing my bit to swing widly under my horse's chin as we went around the third barrel. Where most horses would have run wildly around the arena, he slowed down and trotted a small circle in confusion before stopping completely. I hopped off and we calmly walked out of the ring.

    Later, the same horse did a few training level dressage tests with me, with success. The same horse that would run barrels in under seventeen seconds and perk his ears every time he saw a cone received scores in the 60s and 70s.

    I learned a lot from that ex-roper. I am thankful that he protested the use of such a harsh bit, prompting me to try something new with him. Most riders don't like to hear this, but good riding comes from good riders, not funky bits and contraptions. Whether it is a hot OTTB or an excitable AQH, the basics are the same. How can a horse find his job fun and exciting if it causes him pain to do it? How can a rider learn to use her seat properly when she relies on harsh bits to get the job done? I really hope someone points that girl to a dressage barn, quickly.

  25. mulesrule,

    You just described what I was going to say, that when we use bits, we must learn HOW they work in the horse's mouth before we put our hands on the reins. You are obviously using bits to get certain movements and work out of the horse, which is exactly what bits are meant to do. The bit is not a way to control a horse--it is a tool to ask horses to do certain things. I tell my students that you can have the heaviest and biggest spade bit in a horse's mouth you want and can haul on it to stop him all you want. But if a Tyrannosaurus rex (SP) comes up over the hill and your horse sees it, he's going to take off, and NOTHING is going to stop that animal short of an oncoming train. No dinosaurs don't exist, but I'm talking about a worse-case scenario.


    Honestly, with that pony, I would actually take the bit out of his mouth and start him on the ground with a halter teaching him to bend and flex. Once I would work with that and have him softening and bending his whole body, then I'd put a plain snaffle in his mouth and teach him to reach for the bit by "stretching the bit." Then I would bring in the flexing and bending using the bit. All of this can be done on the ground or in the saddle, at any speed. I'm paraphrasing, but my point is that I have taken gaited horses by going backwards. They know nothing but heavy Walking Horse bits and carrying themselves stiffly and upside down, so I go back to the basics and start with softness and suppleness. I believe that in those circumstances, the bit needs to become a tool, not continue to be a crutch.

    Anyway, just ideas from one of those crazy gaited horse people. :)

  26. P.S. Great post, Patricia. LOVE your strategies. They are exactly what I strive for with my horses and students.

  27. Good ideas... we'll see how much this 7 yr old girl and her family can handle ; )

    _I'm_ way too big to ride the pony, for sure.

    Patricia... that's AWESOME. You should just email that directly to Miss Priss, there.

  28. Katphoti-

    Softening work can be done from the ground, but if the pony is already going under saddle, why not just start there.

    CP- I asked about the childs hands for the reason that without seeing things in action, I wonder if the child is hanging on dear pony and causing the hard mouth. If this were the case, it becomes a matter of 'relearning' for both of them.

    Also since working with the local 4H here a year ago, I questioned the parents reception to actual help. What I seen here, was highly 'educational' in many regards, not just the parents, but the kids and the leaders as well.

  29. "Since before I was even born."

    *snickers and evil grins*

    Well then, the twins are waaaay ahead of her. They were around horses since long before they were even thought of being conceived!


  30. LOL being able to make my horse stop with out using the bit saved my arse from eating sand Sunday in the roundpen.
    I ride in a twisted snaffle (slight twist not a thin wicked one just need a little more to push into) and my horse spooked (mostly operator error) and dumb me I automatically held on with my legs and grabbed reins with one hand and saddle horn with the other(did I mention the part where I was wearing spurs) which made him just go faster in a circle (cause we have been driving into the bit DUH!!!). I relaxed, regrouped and took my feet out of the stirrups (think reiner style sliding stop) and stuck them out while sitting on my pockets and softly said whoa. By golly he did, without the butt drop on his part.
    We then trotted off and continued working like nothing happened, good boy. Glad I have been working on the stop first :)

  31. "Also since working with the local 4H here a year ago, I questioned the parents reception to actual help." Yup, that is why I will assess some more first.....

    I think the child has basically good hands, but the pony I guess has been around for awhile (you know the type) and is maybe famous for his mouth?

    I dunno, I will be treading lightly to begin with. They DID switch to a plain eggbutt snaffle for showmanship! How weird is that?!?!

    There was one boy whose mother BEGGED me for huntseat help... that worked out well. : )

  32. My 'ole mare is a playday and barrel horse and she loves to run! That being said I used to ride her in a plain snaffle she would pop up in the arena and toss her head AND I always had complete control of her. She would act like a race horse waiting for the gate to open and still I had control with just a snaffle. If you need those bits to control a horse then ther is really no control and maybe you should start back with the basics like whoa.

  33. if one feels they need to inflict severe PAIN on a horse to get said horse to stop, then training needs to be reevaluated.

    i've done the step-up bits with my colt, but never to anything that would cause pain. we're talking going from a french training snaffle to a myler comfort snaffle. i don't think i'd ever even want to ride him in a regular nutcracker snaffle. comfort of his mouth is paramount - yes he's had a problem with walking through the bit/pulling/ignoring it - but that's what i pay my trainer for. to work with both of us. sure i could stick a big ol' nasty curb or a combo bit in his mouth and he'd probably stop trying to ignore it alot faster than doing circles when he blows off the french trainer, but he *is* learning and until he gets it, he doesn't get ridden any faster.

    it's taken a little longer, but you know what? he's now respecting the bit nicely. and with nothing harsher than a comfort snaffle. i've now moved him back down to a french trainer and plan on having him going on the trail in just a rope halter soon. and he likes to *go* too. so there's the moral of the story - training and patience (yeah, you might miss that show or that rodeo) to save the horse from more and more pain. then they *really* love what they do.