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Western bit progression

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  • Western bit progression

    I've been an english rider my whole life. I am still an english rider but got a western saddle for my mustang. I LOVE my western saddle! I ride with an english (dressage) bridle and a KK bit. My friend who rides western was asking about the bit because she's used to riding in some sort of curb bit.

    I will admit that I am totally uneducated about western bits and the progression from a snaffle to a curb and the whens, whys, and wherefores of doing so.

    Anyone care to educate me?
    "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran

  • #2
    It isn't necessary to change to a curb unless you are showing. Lots of real cowboys ride with a snaffle bit or a very short shanked curb (your next step to a proper curb); people that make a living on horseback are kinda funny that way - less is best. If you took your english bit and hung it on a western headstall, no one would know any different.
    Founder of the Dyslexic Clique. Dyslexics of the world - UNTIE!!

    Member: Incredible Invisbles

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Pocket Pony View Post
      I've been an english rider my whole life. I am still an english rider but got a western saddle for my mustang. I LOVE my western saddle! I ride with an english (dressage) bridle and a KK bit. My friend who rides western was asking about the bit because she's used to riding in some sort of curb bit.

      I will admit that I am totally uneducated about western bits and the progression from a snaffle to a curb and the whens, whys, and wherefores of doing so.

      Anyone care to educate me?
      The traditional way to train a "Bridle horse" is to start in a snaffle, usually a fairly thick (soft) one and often on a big O ring although more now seem to be using a full cheek. Horses are usually ridden in this starting in their two year old year and most if not all the way through their three year old year. The best of these beginners are then sometimes shown in the National Reined Cowhorse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity. They are then traditionally moved into a bosal and mecate (no bit as this is when they are loosing baby teeth and adult teeth are erupting) as a way to stay out of their mouth yet continue to teach them to follow their nose in turns, keep the shoulder up and begin to neck rein...the mecate is traditionally made of horse hair so is prickly and the horses learn to respond to just the lightest touch of this. The next step, usually somewhere in the four year old year but depending on the horse's progress, is to go to the "two rein" which is a curb bit plus the bosal and mecate. They stay in this until they are responding almost entirely to the curb and then gradually graduate to the spade. Once fully trained and using a spade bit and neck reining superbly they are considered to be "in the bridle"....good ones at this point are considered to be a "finished bridle horse" and respond to weight and leg cues and neck reining so well it is like riding a horse that reads your mind.

      In competitive riding a horse is expected (required in most associations and events) to be in a curb at 5. Mechanical hackamores are not allowed in many events but are in some.

      Many ride in a snaffle for most riding...I did with my old cutting horse...he was comfortable, responsive to leg and neck rein and I almost never even put any pressure on the bit but he responded so well if I did it was almost scary. For general riding a horse that does well in a snaffle is just fine. There are any number of "half breed", "gag", "quick stop" and miscellaneous other bits and some probably have some use but I've never found that the traditional trainers used them for more than a single ride or maybe two and were very very cautious with them. One that a lot of people seem to think is a transitional bit is a "Tom Thumb". I personally hate them...they are very very severe in the hands of anyone that isn't really light.

      Most states have affiliate organizations to the National Reined Cowhorse Association (NRCHA) and you can contact the people with those and find an excellent trainer almost anywhere in the country. Go to NRCHA.com and cruise through the site...all kinds of info there.

      Just noticed...you are in California....the NRCHA was originally the California Reined Cowhorse Association and is very active in your state. The Snaffle Bit Futurity is in Reno the end of September and into the first of October (usually runs 10 days....BIG deal!) and there are a lot of shows and trainers in the area around Oakdale, up around Redding/Red Bluff and some in the southern part of the state as well.
      Colored Cowhorse Ranch
      www.coloredcowhorseranch.com
      Northern NV

      Comment


      • #4
        It is just that a lot of western events and activities involve doing a Whoa - right now. Leverage bits make this easier, once a a horse is broke enough to be asked more of or to be riding out in rough country where you need control for the unforseen.

        My favorite bits are the shortest shank tom thumb pelham for english, and an argentine snaffle for western, both with a snaffle mouth piece. They are basically the same bit, and you would use them exactly the same. For general riding in either, I use long, thin western reins on the curb ring, and a laced snaffle rein on the snaffle ring. This is the first bit I would move up to on a colt after the snaffle, gradually introducing the curb leverage (wrapped curb chain), and I pretty much stay with it. I was raised in the hackamore to two rein to curb tradition, but like this way better now.

        The biggest need when riding in a western saddle is way longer reins, and split western reins are just handier for leading and getting on. If your horse does OK in your snaffle, just add some long, split reins. Get the good, finished edge, thick cowboy ones, and spend time working them between your hands while watching TV to soften them. They will last forever.
        Comprehensive Equestrian Site Planning and Facility Design
        www.lynnlongplanninganddesign.com

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        • #5
          coloredcowhorse has given you the textbook description of the progression.

          Since you are a dressager, I'll point out two things.

          1) The bridle horse world has as much philosophy in it as the dressage world. There are plenty of old skool books that will help you. Being in California, you are also in one of the epicenters of the bridle horse tradition. See if you can find a mentor.

          2) The western horse has a very different relationship to the bit than does a dressage horse (and I'm thinking more of the German rather than French approach). What it means for a western horse to be "in the bridle" at any point in his career does not mean pounds of pressure in your hand.

          Even with the snaffle horse/baby, you are not asking him to physically push into the bit, "to seek the bit." That's why these snaffles are loose rings (the bit is unstable-- there's nothing to rest on). That's why people starting colts tend to hang the bit low in the horse's mouth. They want him to "pick up" and "carry" the bit. They also want him to be able to get away from it. That's why some western people move into pretty thin bits ASAP during the snaffle phase. Maybe these guys just didn't begin the transition to a mecate soon enough. I get the impression that that middle phase of the bridle horse's training doesn't get a lot of airplay by modern trainers. Or the people who are quick to go from snaffle to a Tom Thumb (not a fan) to a leverage bit didn't actually *teach* the horse what they wanted him to do with his body during the snaffle phase quite fast enough or weren't effective.

          In any case, the goal for the western horse is to have the bit be neutral in his mouth at all times. It should be decoration, the very last aid used in a progression of them. What they do want is a horse that goes off your seat, weight and leg. The snaffle is just a means to an end. IMO, western horses get a whole lot more broke to those aids sooner in their training and it's a beautiful thing. At bottom, western trainers want to reverse that ratio of weight carried on the front- and hind end just like dressagers. They spend years getting that, just like dressagers. But they go about it in a slightly different way. On the surface, it looks like they "cheat" and get that done with some scary hardware and a kind of riding that looks too quick and too advanced.

          IMO, by the time the horse is going in a mecate (understood as a transition to a leverage bit) he already understands that he can never drop his shoulder. Sure, he's still building the strength to do that. But the leverage bit is a "signal bit"-- it can't force a horse to lift his shoulder and squat on his hind end. (Well, it can temporarily-- and that's the problem.) In theory, the leverage bit is a "reminder" about what you already taught the horse about carrying himself and listening to your body. So the people doing a lot of crude training with a curb bit have cut corners. IMO, and I'm an outsider, I think big training problems get fixed with a snaffle, not a leverage bit.

          People have spade bits custom made, spend a lot of time thinking about weighting reins or choosing the right thickness/weight of their split reins because all of this *combined with the horse's conformation* determine how the bit will sit in his mouth, and how any movement of the rider's hand will create a particular signal. "Conformation" here involves everything from the horse's tongue and bars to shoulder and withers. I'll bet the horse's personality and tendency to go forward or get behind your leg gets figured into it, too. Old skoolers used to have just one bit fabricated for their bridle horse and he would wear it for the rest of his life.

          So I ask all dressagers-- who *wouldn't* want a horse trained like a bridle horse? They are what anyone would want in an expensive form of transportation, IMO. They are physically easy to ride. On the mental side, they have the sense that they *must* answer any aid, pronto.

          Have fun with figuring out bridle horses in California. You have a great opportunity!
          The armchair saddler
          Politically Pro-Cat

          Comment


          • #6
            Where in CA are you? The NSHA (National Stock Horse Association) has two shows a year - a Classic in Tulare in Feb. and then a Snaffle Bit Futurity in Sept. in Paso Robles (the prep for the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity).

            There are a few regional cow horse associations - the Southern California Reined Cowhorse Association, Valley Cowhorse Association (Central Valley) and Northern California Cowhorse Association. They all have websites and an active show schedule where alot of the "big guns" go to show. Most of the people are friendly and will sit and talk with you if you have questions or want to learn.

            There are also trainers who follow the Vacquero tradition of starting and finishing horses; they also love to sit and talk about that!

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by kewpalace View Post
              Where in CA are you? The NSHA (National Stock Horse Association) has two shows a year - a Classic in Tulare in Feb. and then a Snaffle Bit Futurity in Sept. in Paso Robles (the prep for the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity).

              There are a few regional cow horse associations - the Southern California Reined Cowhorse Association, Valley Cowhorse Association (Central Valley) and Northern California Cowhorse Association. They all have websites and an active show schedule where alot of the "big guns" go to show. Most of the people are friendly and will sit and talk with you if you have questions or want to learn.

              There are also trainers who follow the Vacquero tradition of starting and finishing horses; they also love to sit and talk about that!
              Adding to all that has been said that today's vaquero tradition is lightyears from what the old vaqueros understood and did with their horses when it comes to truly getting a horse balanced, supple and flexible.
              Those CA vaqueros of today have also evolved and taken in so much more outside influences, that makes what they had that much better.

              Here is one of the old timers, that filtered thru what they know today, gives you those nice horses in that tradition you can see at their shows:

              http://www.elvaquero.com/

              You may still see some of the real old type, the stiff as a board, animated vaquero horse up in the bridle, but that is not any more what is expected today.

              Other than the CA vaquero tradition, that in some ways extended North and East a bit to the West foothills of the Rockies, the rest of the West and SW cowboys were the more plain snaffle, most times a smaller O ring, then a plain grazing curb bit.
              Some would start colts in what later cutters called a "loping hackamore", a rope nose light hackamore.
              All that was not an established tradition as the one of the CA vaqueros, that came from Spain and Mexico.
              This was more farmer's sons coming West and making do with what was on hand, handmade light hackamores and plan snaffles and military style curbs.

              Today, training for each discipline and all kinds of bits are used, you can see it all, some of it that makes one go .

              Comment


              • #8
                Put some long split reins on your snaffle and be done with it (or, better yet, a mecate and slobber straps). Then, start spending a lot of time watching the reined cowhorse people of the old tradition. If you're in a hurry to get in a curb just because you're riding in a western saddle, there are a lot of easier bits you could transition to, but in terms of your horse's education, you might as well put your four year old dressage prospect into a double because that will make him look like a "dressage horse". It takes a long time to prepare a horse to carry a curb bit correctly.

                Be aware of the sad truth that the western side makes the english side look like amateurs in terms of shortcuts, so there are a lot of horses wearing western saddles and curb bits that are not properly educated.
                "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

                Spay and neuter. Please.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I might add that it is perfectly OK to keep your snaffle for the present, add the long split reins for convenience, and change out the dressage headstall for a nice silver mounted or braided western headstall with browband and throatlatch, which is proper (vs a split ear headstall) when using a snaffle bit. There are sooo many choices in all price points.
                  Comprehensive Equestrian Site Planning and Facility Design
                  www.lynnlongplanninganddesign.com

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                  • #10
                    All these posts. I second them. Real western training.
                    GR24's Musing #19 - Save the tatas!!

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                    • #11
                      I just read where there is now the Western Dressage association. They have a newsletter.
                      GR24's Musing #19 - Save the tatas!!

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                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Wow, lots of amazing information. I should clarify that I'm not going to the western side of things, I was just looking for more education. My friend's has had horses a long time but her knowledge is limited so she thinks that horses should just go in a curb because that's the way it is. I don't know enough about western bridling to understand the progression, which is why I asked.

                        Someone mentioned the mecate being used while the horse's teeth are erupting (so at a fairly young age). What about horses who are started later? Do you still go through the same progression?

                        I must say, I do find the western side intriguing! And my mustang looks very sexy in his western trail saddle!

                        (that was last summer, a few months after I got him)
                        "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Pocket Pony View Post
                          Someone mentioned the mecate being used while the horse's teeth are erupting (so at a fairly young age). What about horses who are started later? Do you still go through the same progression?
                          )
                          Yes, because the Bosal/Mecate two-rein phase is the 'transition phase' from a direct pull on the mouth with the snaffle to the 'signal' phase with the bit (which traditionally was a spade, but now is any kind of ported, shanked bit). The traditional bridle horse trainers would never use a bit alone on a horse of any age that needed to have the reins pulled, as those spades were a lot of hardware in a mouth, and some have totally flat mouthpiece bases. http://www.geneklein.com/custom_bits.html

                          The transition phase of a much thinner bosal (a 'pencil bosal') plus the bit lets the rider pull the bosal's mecate reins (applying under chin + nose pressure, if needed, and gradually use the bit more and more as the horse becomes finished.

                          You hold closed romal reins with the little finger closest to the bit, where the little finger can rock the bit as a signal, rather than with the thumb closest to the bit as with split reins, where you have to pull your whole hand back or do a funny flipping motion. I always learned to take up the reins until I felt the mouth, then back off an inch of slack. That was 'contact". When the draped rein western pleasure style hit California, it was preplexing.
                          Comprehensive Equestrian Site Planning and Facility Design
                          www.lynnlongplanninganddesign.com

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