The last article that I wrote took us to the use of the snaffle bit. So it only seems fitting that we continue with bits and take you into the shank bits or the bridle. I think the best place to start with this is the first bit that I use when transitioning a horse into the bridle. That bit would be a short shank snaffle bit, like a Tom Thumb style bit. I actually do not like using the Tom Thumb bit. They just do not feel right to me in my hands and I think they are an ugly. I have two short shank snaffles; one is custom made and the other I can’t remember when or where I got it. The short shank snaffle has a shank that is around 4 to 5 inches from the snaffle part that goes in the mouth to the ring or hole where the reins attach. This gives you plenty of leverage to start with but not to much for the young horse. One thing to be mindful of when purchasing any of the shank bits is the distance from the mouth piece to the hole or ring where the headstal and curb chain attach. The more distance between the two the more leverage that you create on the curb chain. By the way, even if you have a separate hole to attach the curb chain to on the bit you should still attach it in the same hole where the headstal is attached. Also, when attaching a curb chain make sure that it is not twisted or kinked. This will create more bite and is also illegal when showing. The chain should lay flat against the chin of the horse, and you should be able to put 3 fingers in between the chain and chin when the bit is relaxed in his mouth. Also, if you do not use a curb chain you have no leverage, which defeats the purpose of having a leverage bit. The shank snaffle works the same as the o-ring snaffle but now with leverage.
Once I have introduced the horse to a short shank snaffle, I will advance to a knuckle bit, or hinged bit. This bit is made very similar to the snaffle in the mouth piece, but the connection in the middle of the mouth piece is a hinge that only allows the for movement forward and backward. I use this bit because it has the same feel to the horse as the snaffle. However, it has less movement which slows the horses movement down from side to side. Slowing down the movement helps me teach the horse to stay between the reins better. If the horse is doing all that I want for it to do and can do it well in this bit, I will leave them in this bit. I do not advance to anything more.
I have some other favorite bits that I use quite often. The one that I use the most is the correction bit. This is a good bit to transition into from the knuckle or hinged bit. The correction bit, like the snaffle, hinged, and knuckle bit, works on the bars or corners of the mouth, but also introduces a port. The ports in the correction bit come in several different sizes. The one that I like the most is the low port correction which is also one of the hardest to find. Another of my favorites is the medium port grazer type bit. The one in particular has a wide opening at the bottom of the bit. This one is used primarily for a horse that has an injured tongue, but I use it for a narrow jawed horse which gives him some tongue relief. The grazer type bit is also great for the older horse that looses some of his flexibility. I also use this bit to finish horses because, it has none or next to no movement. This allows me to really get a horse to level out and stay straight between my reins throughout his whole body.
Now we have hit a couple of the bits that I use on a day to day basis. However, there are a ton more out there. But, the most important part to the bit, in my opinion, is the hands that use them. No bit out there is going to fix everything and if not used properly it will not fix anything. It is also important to remember the quality of the bit that you are using is extremely important. You have to understand that a horses mouth is very sensitive. If the bit that you are using is not quality made and smooth then it will not be accepted well by the horse, no matter how good the bit looks to you.