BREAKING AND TRAINING HORSES #5
THE BRIDLE AND BIT
Yes, you know .... what the first words I'm going to say. You
have spent time stroking and rubbing around the ears, your horse
or pony. If it's raised on the ranch you will have done this many
times over a two year period. With your once wild horse you have
done it enough by now to have no problem with touching his head
and ears. You've already for a while being putting on the halter.
There are different "schools" of thought as to starting your
horse with a bit, bossal, or hack-a-more. In my younger horse
breaking days at the stable I worked for we used a bit and bridle
immediately. Looking back, it seemed to work just fine for us.
There maybe of course exceptions to the rule, there nearly always
We would start our horses with a "snaffle" bit. The snaffle bit
is just about the rule of thumb to start your horse. Again, time
and experience tells you that SOME horses can, for whatever
reason, never go in a bit, they are bossal or hack-a-more horses,
and will work just as good as the "bit horse." Then time and
experience will tell you the kind of bit for that particular
horse. Some we had, were "straight bit" horses, others were
"rubber bit" horses, still others "snaffle bit" or "slight curb
bit," or "tom thumb bit" or "severe curb bit" horses. There is
every type of bit out there for every type of horse. As a horse
person you should have studied and read about all the bits and
how and why they work.
It is interesting to note when watching different "horse events"
like "horse racing" and "show jumping" and "rodeo work." In horse
racing just about all horses use a "snaffle" bit. Now in horse
racing you are not concerned with a quick stop after the finish
line, the jockeys just let the horse "wind down" to a stop and
walk. So race horses do not need a strong "curb" bit. But "cowboy
horses" in ranch and rodeo work do need quick stops, hence most
of them use a curb bit, and depending on the horse, that could be
a weak or very strong curb bit.
When I purchased my golden Palomino Quarter horse, who was 5
years old, she was only "green broke" and knew just about nothing
as a saddle horse. She was a brood mare, and had only lived in a
paddock all her life. She had had two babies, the second just
weaned before I bought her. I spent three months teaching her
various things and also taking her all over the ranch to acquaint
her with life and animals outside of a paddock.
The day came to see how fast she could go. I took her down to a
valley with a nice straight area, turned her around and said,
"Okay girl, let's open up and have a gallop." Within a few
seconds she realized how fast she could go, and she went for it
as they say. We flew along like a bullet for a few hundred yards.
When I tried to pull her up, the snaffle bit I had used for three
months was useless; it took me another hundred yards or so to
bring her to a stop. I realized for what I needed her for, a
snaffle bit was not the way to go. I immediately went out and
bought a severe curb bit (as severe as the bit Roy Rogers used
with the original Trigger).
It was the answer indeed. I have no problem doing the fast and
stop starts that I need in the work I do with my horse at the
ranch. It is also the bit I still use when I jump her, which I
started to do when she was 7 years old.
And talking about horse jumping. We here in Calgary host the big
International Show Jumping event in September. They come from all
parts of the world, and it is now internationally acclaimed as
one of the very best show jumping events in their calendar.
Sooner or later you see all the variety of bits used on these,
best of the world show jumping horses. I remember one year the
lady TV commentator explaining the "rig" on the head and in the
mouth of this one horse. She told the viewers, "This horse has
every bit you can have in its mouth." And it was so! A strange
kinda sight it was. A snaffle, a curb, the lips chains, the whole
9 yards of bits. I guess for that particular horse, all that gear
in and around its mouth was needed.
Once you have decided for the first times what bit, if any, you
are going to use, let the horse keep it in its mouth (we will so
be talking that you are using a bit) for a number of hours. Let
the horse get used to having it in its mouth. Let him eat some
hay with it, maybe some crushed oats. Do this for a number of
days - "ex" number of hours a day.
This is new for the horse, let him get comfortable with it,
before ever starting to try and step up and get in the saddle
The ranch raised horse should have little or no problem accepting
the bridle and bit, that is the general truth in actuality. BUT,
as said before, there are exception to every rule of thumb. I
will give you one classic exception in all the years I've worked
I go back to 1973 and 74. I had returned to England for nearly
two years, to work in the "Thoroughbred Stud Farm" industry at
NewMarket, the "capital" of the Thoroughbred Stud farms. I worked
for about a year at one of the larger breeding farms, as one of
the "hired hands." Then in the second year I took a position as
the "one man groom" of a small Thoroughbred farm. No stallion and
breeding there, it was all done outside, but the young ones and
mothers came home and I took care of them. I remember when I was
hired that the owner (an older wealthy man - doing this for his
hobby) had two fillies, about two years old, that I had to get
ready for the sale ring. There was no problem with haltering them
and walking them around, no problem grooming them in every way,
they were "farm or ranch raised horses." I had no problem putting
a bit and bridle on the one filly, just as good as gold as they
say, with anything I needed to do with her. The second filly was
good to work with in every way, EXCEPT she would NOT take the bit
into her mouth. I mean she would NOT open her mouth, her teeth
were as closed as metal safe box. I tried everything with my
fingers on the bars, wiggling them in her mouth, but this filly
would just NOT open her mouth. You could just see the absolute
determination in her eyes that she was NOT going to open her
teeth and have this metal bar object stuck in her mouth.
I tried for I believe three days, each morning to get this filly
to open her teeth and accept the bit. She just would not open her
teeth. I well remember after the third day going home to my wife
(we had a house on the farm) and saying, "That filly will not
open its teeth, I have no alternative now but to use some 'out of
the West' horsemanship I learned back in the early 1960s, on the
The next morning, I tried again to put that bit in that fillies
mouth, no way was she going to open her teeth. "Well girl" I said
to her, "you leave me no choice in what I have to do."
I tied up her left front leg with a rope around her neck and
shoulder, and with the right moves put her on to her right side
on the ground. I put my right knee on her neck and with me now as the
dominate "master" of her, I put the bridle and bit on her as if
we were both standing. She opened her mouth with no hesitation.
A horse is helpless on its side with one leg tied up and you
having a knee on its neck. It is now very aware that you are the
boss. I never had another problem putting that bridle and bit on
that filly. I got both fillies ready for the auction ring and
they were both very well behaved, and looked like a million
WHAT I HAVE JUST DESCRIBED TO YOU ON BITING A STUBBORN HORSE, YOU
MUST NEVER DO UNLESS YOU ARE AN EXPERIENCE HORSEMAN OF MANY
YEARS. YOU MUST HAVE WORKED WITH WILD AND DOMESTICATED HORSES AND
WITH MEN WHO HAVE HAD YEARS OF EXPERIENCE THEMSELVES, BEING YOUR
TEACHERS AND MENTORS, BEFORE YOU EVER TRY TO DO WHAT I HAVE
EXPLAINED TO YOU.
To be continued