Bits for the Western Horse

For most riders, the bit is the main means of communication with their horse.   To the rider, the bit is like the steering wheel of a car.  Bits come in all different shapes and styles; however, most of the bits you would use on a western style horse will fall into two different categories: snaffle bits and curb bits.  Finding the right bit for you and your horse can be nerve wracking.   Typically I try several different bits on my horse to see which one works best.  Just because you like the way one bit works with one horse doesn’t mean you will like how that same bit works with another horse.  Likewise, you may have a bit that works great for you and your horse, but with a different rider the same bit will work differently with the same horse.

Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are the most common type of bit used in the horse world.  Basically they are some sort of ring with a mouth piece in the middle.  They work by applying direct pressure on the bars of your horses mouth (space between incisors and molars).  In the western world, the snaffle bit is considered a two handed bit, and when using a snaffle you should ride your horse with two hands on the reins.  Also in most western show rings it is acceptable to use a snaffle bit on a horse five years old or younger.  After that the horse should be switched to a curb bit.  Pictured are several different snaffle bits I have in my tack room.  You will notice the bit crossed out.  Many people will refer to this as a Tom Thumb Snaffle bit;  however, since it has shanks on the side it actually is not a snaffle bit, but a curb bit.  On the left of the picture from top to bottom are an eggbutt  snaffles, D-ring snaffle, and an O-ring snaffle. They are named for the shape of the rings on the side.  Most commonly a snaffle bit will have a jointed mouth piece; however, any bit with a ringed side is considered a snaffle bit.  The two bits pictured below are both O-ring snaffle bits. They just have different mouth pieces.

Curb Bits

Curb bits are bits with a shank on the side and a mouth piece in the middle.  The shank on the curb bit creates a lever action and applies pressure to places other than just the bars of the horses mouth.  When using a curb bit, a pull on the reins does a number of things.  First there is pressure on the bars of the mouth.  The curb strap is lifted and puts pressure under the horses chin.  Then the bridle itself will put pressure on the poll.  Also depending on the mouth piece, pressure can be put on the horse’s tongue or the roof of his mouth or the bars of his mouth.  The bits pictured here are type of curb bits. All have shanks, and all work with leverage.  Curb bits are normally used when riding with one hand, or neck reining.

Choosing a Bit

When I first start a colt I like to use a broken mouth snaffle bit.  They allow me to guide my horses better, and let me show them what I want them to do.  Typically I don’t transition to a curb bit until my horse is starting to neck rein and moves off of leg pressure.  Personally when I first move into a curb bit, I start with one that has shorter shanks.  The shorter shanks mean that there will be less pressure on my horse’s poll and chin.  As he progresses I move to a longer shanked bit.

Choosing a mouth piece is the trickiest part of bit selection for me.  Once I move out of a snaffle bit, I try to avoid mouth pieces with a single joint in them.  When you pull back on the reins with both hands, they have a nutcracker effect on your horse’s mouth.  I know if I was a horse I wouldn’t like this.  So I tend to select mouth pieces with at least two joints or a solid mouth piece.  The best way to select a bit is to try different bits out on your horse and use the one that works the best with you and your horse.  If you don’t have a tack room full of bits, ask some of your horse people friends if you could barrow one of their bits for a few rides before you decide to purchase one like it.  I know I have bits that have cost me over a hundred dollars, and I’ve seen bit that cost as much as $500+.  That’s a pretty big investment for something that might not work for you or your horse.

With my horses, even after I advance them up to a curb bit, I will have days that I work them in a snaffle bit to try to get them to soften up.  Really the most important thing to remember is that a bit is only as severe as the hands holding the reins.  Whether  you choose to use a snaffle bit or a curb bit, if you don’t have soft hands you can hurt your horse’s mouth.  If you want to develop a horse with a soft mouth don’t pull on your horse or use more force than necessary.

One Rein Stop

So imagine, it’s a beautiful October day. You are riding your horse quietly down the road along a corn field.  Suddenly, without warning, a couple of deer run out of the field in front of you.  Which spooks your horse.  His spins around and takes off in a dead run.  Of coarse you want your horse to stop, but no matter how hard you pull back on the reins your horse won’t stop.  Now what are you going to do?  In an instance like this, it is important that you know how to perform an emergency stop or one rein stop with your horse.

The one rein stop is a fairly simple idea.  You use one rein to stop your horse while disengaging your horses hind quarters.  This is one of the most important maneuvers you should learn how to do with your horse for the simple reason that any horse can spook or buck, no matter how broke they are.

There are basically two parts of the one rein stop: lateral flexion and disengaging the hindquarters.

Lateral Flexion

By lateral flexion I mean, bending your horse’s head to the left or right with a single rein. By being able to do this you can control what his body does. So how do you teach your horse to flex?  First, I found it is easiest for your horse to learn to flex in a snaffle bit.  Snaffle bits work off of direct pull on the corners of your horse’s mouth making it easier for them to follow pressure.  While sitting on your horse pick up one rein, making sure the other rein will be loose enough for him to bend his head around. Pull the rein back toward your hip till there is pressure on the bit and hold. Now this is important: you don’t want to try to pull your horse’s head around.  You just want pressure on the bit.  At first your horse may move around or pull against your hand.  It is important to not release any pressure until he stops and tips his nose slightly to you.  If you do you will teach him to pulling against you will get you to release pressure.  Be patient, eventually he will quit moving and tip his nose.  When teaching your horse to flex you have to have good timing.  The second your horse tips his nose toward you, no matter how little, release all pressure.  That is his reward for doing the correct thing.  Now you pick up the rein and repeat, repeat, repeat.  As your horse figures out what you want, he will get better about not moving around or pulling against you.  After his is flexing well to one side, work on the other. If you notice in the picture, Dollars head comes around and down.  This is what you want in a good flex.  Flexing is one of the things I make my horses do ever time I ride.

Disengaging the hindquarters

The second part of  your one rein stop is the disengaging of the hindquarters or yielding the hindquarters.  This simply means your horse moves his hind end around and crosses his back legs.  Your horse’s power  to run or buck comes from its back legs. Making your horse cross his hind legs you take away that power to run or buck. To get your horse to yield his hindquarters you must first tip your horse’s nose one direction. Then with your foot on the same side as his nose is tipped, cue him in foot position three.  When you first start working on this, you only want to flex his nose over slightly, then cue with your foot hard enough to get him to move.  To start I walk my horse in a big circle. Slightly turn his nose in and cue with my foot.  As soon as he turns and crosses his hind legs once, I release him and let him walk forward.  Then repeat, repeat, repeat. After he is taking one step well, move him up to two. Then three, four, five, ect. Pretty much till you can get him to turn in a couple of circle for you without any problems.  When one side is going good, work on the other.

Now that your horse is flexing and yielding his hind quarters well we can put it together.  Walk your horse forward. Slide your hand down the rein (around 18 inches to two feet from the bit depending on the horse), and pull back to your hip while cuing your horse with your foot (remember rein and foot on same side of horse).  Hold until your horse flexes, disengages his hindquarters and stops.  Repeat at a walk till you are comfortable, then move up to a trot.  After you are comfortable at a trot, work on stopping at a lope or canter.

Practicing and mastering the one rein stop can be a life saver.  I know that there are many times I’ve been out on the trail and have had a horse spook, and the one rein stop has proven very useful and effective.  Knowing your horse has emergency brakes can give you peace of mind as you ride.  The more you practice the one rein stop, the better your horse will respond if he becomes frightened.  Also practicing will help you become familiar with the movement it takes to cue the stop.

Foot Positioning: Where to Cue Your Horse


If you use your legs when you ride, it will be easier for your horse to understand exactly what you want him to do.  When training my horses my main objective is to teach them to move away from pressure or give to pressure.  I will apply pressure in some way (such as pulling on a rein, or tapping his body somewhere), and when my horse responds to that pressure, I reward him by releasing the pressure.  Leg cues are a form of pressure I use on my horse, and where I apply those leg cues will tell the horse to move in different ways.  I will refer to foot positioning in many of my training posts and videos.  When I ask my horse to do anything, I’m using a foot cue.

Okay the names of the foot positioning can be hard to remember.  Are you ready?  They are position 1, position 2 and position 3.  Okay maybe they aren’t that hard of names to remember.  First let’s look at neutral foot positioning.  Here you can see my legs hang down from my hips.  There should be a straight line running down from your ear, through your shoulder and hip to your heal.

In position 1 your foot will close to where the front cinch is.   When your foot is in this position you are asking your horse to move it’s front end, in turn crossing his front legs.  This is the position you will have your feet in if you are doing a maneuver like a pivot, spin or roll back.  Remember we want your horse to move away from pressure. Cuing here with your right foot will make him step toward the left.

With your foot in position 2, it will be in the middle of the barrel of your horse.  Position 2 is use to cue your horse to move both sets of feet at the same time.  This is use to preform moves such as side passing.  Pressing on the left will make your horse side pass to the right.  This is basically where they should sit when you are in a neutral riding position.

Position 3 is located at the back of your horse’s barrel where your back cinch would sit.  Cuing here tells your horse to move his hind quarters which will result in him crossing his back legs.  This cue is used when you want to your horse to perform a pivot on his front end or at times when you need your horse to disengage his hind quarters.  When you combine proper foot positioning with the right rein, movements you can literally get your horse to move in any direction you wish.  As you progress with your horse, you will find it easier to get him to do exactly what you want when using the proper foot positioning.  Remember these.  They will be referred to in many of my training posts.

Mounting Your Horse

Most horse owners know how to get on their horse; however, for many this can be an agonizing task.  Their horses move around while they are getting on, or their horse spooks or takes off as soon as their  leg is swung over the horse.  I’m going to give you some tips on mounting that will help eliminate these problem.

Probably the most important part of mounting your horse is making sure your horse is on level ground, there is nothing your horse can spook from or get hurt on, and that your cinch is tight.   Now we are ready to get on  our horse.

When I mount my horse,  I start out facing my horse.  I take hold of the left rein and ask my horse to turn his nose toward me.

With the rein in my hand I grab either my horses mane, the saddle swells or the saddle horn with my left hand and the back of the seat with my right.

I put my foot in the stirrup and pull myself straight up.

Standing in the left stirrup, I reach over my horse’s back and pet him on his right side.  This will let  him know that the rest of me is going to be coming over, and he will be less likely to spook when I throw my leg over.  (If you are riding an older horse or a horse that has been ridden countless times or a horse that you know and trust, this step is probably not necessary; however, on a horse that I’ve never ridden before or a green horse, I always test out the other side before getting on).

Swing your leg over your horse’s hindquarters taking care not to bump or spur him, sit down in your saddle and put your right foot into your right stirrup.  If your horse starts to move off while you are swinging your leg over or before you get your foot in the stirrup, you can pick up the right rein to stop him.  However, since you have his head flexed over, it is unlikely that he will try to walk away.

My horses are pretty good about standing still when being mounted, but it is not uncommon for a horse to move around when you put your foot in the stirrup.  The easiest way to fix this problem is to take your foot back out of the stirrup and  longe him with your reins in some small circles.  By doing this you are showing him that if he moves he’s going to have to continue moving.  Most horses would rather stand than work.  After a few circles, let your horse stop and try to mount again.  If he still won’t stand, run him in more circles.  Generally after a couple of tries, your horse will understand what you want and will stand still.  Some horses learn slower than others, and you may end up trying six or seven times before your horse stands still.

The following is a link to my video horse mounting.

Do It Yourself for the Average Horse Owner

Do It Yourself for the Average Horse Owner. What exactly does that mean? It means that this is a website designed to help normal people with their normal, day to day horse issues. The horses that I use are not professionally trained, show horses. My demonstrations are all done with horses that I or my friends own. In fact, the horse featured in most of the pictures and video, Dollar, is a horse that I acquired in a trade when he was only a yearling, and I have done all the training on him.  He’s not perfect, but he gets the job done.  I created this site, because most of the horse owners out there are just average people. They have their horses out in a pasture. They saddle and bridle their own horses. And for a many, they don’t do much with their horses except for the occasional weekend ride.

This site is designed to be easy to use.  It has step by step instructions with pictures that make it easy to follow.  Then many of my posts will also include a video showing how to do what was described in the post.  Eventually, the posts will also include links to other posts that tie in with what you are learning to do.  For example, the post on bridling will have a link to the post on how to train your horse to position his head while being bridled.  Right now the site is a work in progress, and I don’t have half the information on here that I want to get on here.  But as the weather gets better, I’ll be adding information day by day.

The training information that is going to be on this site is going to be broken down in very easy to follow step by step process.  The training videos will be performed using horses that don’t already know how to do the maneuver we are working on.  I know when I’m looking up “how to” information, it is very frustrating to watch a person explain how to train your horse to do something, and their horse does it perfectly in minutes.  For most of us in the real world, it doesn’t work like that.

Each post includes an area where you can comment.  All comments are welcome.  Please comment if there was something you found confusing or know of a way I can improve the information.  There is also a forum on here.  Hopefully that will take off and people will be able to ask questions or give tips, and get feed back from other horse owners.

So is this a site that is going to be useful to you?  This site is great for a new horse owner who is just learning how to do many of the tasks involved with horse owning.  This is also a great site for children that are just learning how to take care of their own horse.  Perhaps mom and dad are worn out from saddling and bridling their child’s horse for them.  This site is perfect for that.  Also if you are an experienced horse person and are stuck on how to get your horse to do a particular manuveor, this site could be for  you.  Not all horses respond the same to the same training.  I may offer a little different way of training the horse to do something, that may work on the horse your training.  Basically this site can be useful to anyone.

Thanks so much for stopping by,

Anna

Pictured is my daughter Mirandah and Dollar

Saddling Your Horse

Knowing how to saddle your horse is an important step in learning how to ride.  Following are steps to safely saddle your horse.  In this demonstration the saddle has a rear cinch and a breast collar.  It is not necessary to have all that on your horse if you are just out for a leisurely ride.  I just have them included on here in case you decide to use them.

Let your horse see and sniff the saddle pad.  This will let the horse know what you are putting on him, and he will feel more secure about being saddled.

Rub the saddle pad on your horses neck and shoulder.  These lets the horse know it’s okay for the saddle pad to touch him.

Place pad on horse’s back.  You want the front of the pad to sit on the withers.

This is how I like to have my saddle before I approach my horse.  The off side (right side) stirrup and all the rigging (cinches and breast collar)  are on top of the saddle.  With the saddle like this you can sit it on the horse instead of throwing it on him.

Let your horse sniff the saddle so he knows what it is.  Then place the saddle on your horse and put the stirrup and rigging down on the off side.

I like to check to make sure that the center seam of the saddle pad and the thread on the center back of the saddle match up with the center of my horse.  I’ve had saddle pads that would make my saddle ride crooked if they weren’t matched up.

Lift up the front of the saddle pad slightly so that it doesn’t pull down on your horse’s withers.  I also like to  check to  make sure the front is centered.

As you reach for the cinch, you rub your hand along the horse’s belly.  This assures that he knows where you are and what you  are doing.  Always fasten your front cinch before any of the other rigging.  This way if your horse decides to act up, the saddle should stay in place.

Typically I run my billet through my cinch twice.   At this point  only make the cinch snug, not tight.  After I do a little ground work with my horse and I’m ready to mount up, I finish tightening the cinch.

Fasten the back cinch.  Make sure that your back cinch touches your horse’s belly.  I’ve seen people have their back cinches hanging a couple inches below the horse’s belly.  This can cause a major accident if your horse goes to kick at a fly or something and gets his foot caught up in the rear cinch.  The rear cinch doesn’t need to be tight, but you don’t want it hanging down.

Finally fasten the breast collar.  This you want to go over the points of the shoulders.  You want it to be secure but not overly tight.

Now your ready to go do your ground work.  Don’t forget to finish tightening your cinch before you mount up.  Below is a link to my video on how to saddle your horse.

Thanks to Gabby, Mirandah  and Dollar for being so great and helping me today.

Bridling Your Horse

Bridling your horse is the last piece of tack you’ll put on your horse before you head out to ride.  Following are the steps to bridle your horse.  In the near future. I will also be adding a video demonstrating a horse being bridled. There are several different ways to bridle a horse, this is the method I use it seams to work best for me and my kids.

1.  I take both reins and throw them around the horse’s neck.  That way if your horse starts to take off you can quickly grab the reins to stop him.  Then I remove the halter.  Some people like to fasten the halter back around the horses neck; however, I do not.  I’ve had horses pull back while I was bridling them with a halter around their neck, and when they hit the end of the rope the tend to panic.  This creates a dangerous situation for both you and your horse.

2.  Standing on the left side of your horse with the bridle in your left hand, use your right hand to cue your horse to drop his head and turn it slightly toward you.  If your horse isn’t trained to drop and turn his head, keep checking my horse training section for an article and video on how to train your horse to do this.  I hope to have it on here soon.


3.  With my right hand between the horse’s ears, I transfer the bridle from my left hand to my right.  With my left hand I then move the bit just below your horse’s lower lip.  With the bit here it is easy to just slide it up between his lips in the next step.

4. Now with your right hand you are going to pull the bridle up as you put the bit in your horse’s mouth with the left.  If your horse is reluctant to open his mouth for the bit you can insert your thumb into the side of his mouth and tickle his tongue.  It might take a little time, but typically they will open their mouth using this method.

5. Once the bit is in his mouth , you need to gently tuck his right ear into the bridle.

6. Then tuck the left ear into the bridle.  If you have a horse that is fussy about having his ears messed with, keep checking out the training section.  I do have a video and  article on desensitizing your horses ears coming.

7.  Finally fasten the throat latch of the bridle.

There are many different theories on how a bridle should fit on your horse.  I like the bit to sit in their mouth so that the corner of my horses mouth pulling up slightly.

Following is a link to my video on how to bridle your horse.

Riding up and down hills

If you do much riding, you will eventually have to go up and down some hills. Maneuvering hills can be tricky, but with a few tips, you can make the trip a little more relaxing for both you and your horse.

First lets go down the hill.  Think about your body position.  As your horse descends down the hill you want to keep your body perpendicular with level ground.   Notice in the picture, Tracey is leaning slightly back.  Her feet then shift slightly forward so that they are under her hips.  This helps the horse maintain his center of gravity and makes him better able to keep his balance.  I also try to remember to keep my heels down and toes out to remind the horse to go slow.  If you look at just the top of this picture (at Tracey) you really shouldn’t be able to tell whether she is going down a hill or riding on level ground (I have cut out the horse in the following picture to illustrate this).   I also found that it works best if you try to relax your body and let your hips move in time with your horse.  Let your horse have a little slack in the reins, provided he doesn’t try to run down the hill.  It’s safest to walk your horse down hills.  If you let him run he could lose his footing, or become unbalanced and fall.  Also running down hills is tough on your horses leg joints.

Now that we are down at the bottom of the hill, we need to get back up to the top.  Again you want to keep your body perpendicular with level ground. Therefore, you basically need to do the opposite with your body that you did going down hill.  Here is Gabby pictured going up hill.  Her body is in good position. Her body is perpendicular to level ground, and her shoulders, hips and heels are aligned.   Again if you were looking at just the top of the picture (at Gabby only), you really would not be able to tell if she was riding a horse on flat ground or up a hill.  Your speed up the hill is up to you.  My horses love to run up hills, but I try to mix it up a little and make them walk up the hills sometimes.  That way if someone else is riding them that doesn’t want to run, my horse won’t have a fit and blow up when they are asked to walk up the hill.

Through a pasture or on a trail, riding up and down hills can be tons of fun, but it can also cause anxiety if you are unsure how to get to the bottom or top safely.  Hopefully with these tips and a little practice you soon will be maneuvering hills like a master.

Thanks for dropping in and maybe someday you will be good enough with hills to handle “The Man From Snowy River” – the decent


Notice that he stays perpendicular!
Anna