“I have a question and do not want to come off as disrespectful.  I rode hunt seat equitation in my younger years, early 90’s and rebelled on the Pelham bit as it backed my horse off and was given bigger spurs.  In the show ring this bit was expected (sadly) I showed once in it and told my trainer no more.  I decided for my Ches, a loose ring snaffle was his bit of choice.  Later in years transitioned to dressage, love the classical learning and always in a loose ring snaffle.  I see western with ports and shanks and have read a bit, but still wonder why not a softer bit.  People say all in the hands but i I could do all in a simple bit.  Trying to learn.  Thank you ~ Laurie via email

Answer from Martin:

Feel is difficult to explain if a person has never experienced a specific feel. The feel developed by a traditional California Hackamore or spade bit can be so much different than that of a snaffle bit. They function differently and because of that the persons hands have to operate differently. The majority of people get along good with a snaffle by pressure and release, but with more pressure than relief from the horse’s perspective I’m sure.

Regardless of what we put in our horse’s mouth they hold it between their tongue and pallet and with their lips. The more mass in their mouth just means the more sensors they can feel the bit with. The same quick and or heavy hands that already have the volume at 8-10 (11 being fighting and panic from the horse) and have trouble not hitting 11 at times, definitely don’t have any business with a spade bit.The lighter hands that may operate 3-5 with a snaffle will probably have trouble operating under 6-8 with a spade bit because of the way it’s amplified. Not a comfortable relationship for either horse or rider.

The hands that understand that the high spade is a refinement device with the massive mouthpiece and the weight of the heavier cheeks that amplify the slightest movement of the reins requires and the slightest movement in the fingers for the horse to respond will operate with a minus 1. Saying that there’s a small percent of the horse’s that are ridden with a spade bit that actually operates on any different level than any other bit.

To the thought of a spade being a harsh bit, the snaffle bit that puts pressure on the bars combined with a drop noseband that puts pressure on the soft cartilage on the end of the nose can do more damage to a horse than the spade that doesn’t restrict the mouth from opening. The high port is only a pre-signal, the enforcing signal is the leather curb strap and the straight bar that lays smooth across the tongue putting no pressure on the bars.Without trapping a horse from opening their mouth the only way a high port can do any damage is with a quick hand, a jerk. A steady pull with a Snaffle Bit, or any kind of tongue relief bit, works off of the bars and can inflict more pain and can do more damage than the straight bar of a spade.

At the end of the day it’s not about the bit on the end of the reins as it is the hands on the other end of the reins.

Thank you Laurie for sending in your question.

Martin Black