Form, BIT and Function – How to Choose and Use the Right Headgear for Your Barrel Horse

Form, BIT and Function – How to Choose and Use the Right Headgear for Your Barrel Horse

Listen to this article in audio form! It’s #98 on the Barrel Racing Tips podcast.
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As I was getting warmed up to post this week’s video, I was glad to come across some timeless barrel racing wisdom from Ed Wright.

Recently I witnessed and was especially impressed by one of his students as she won the All American Finals in Waco, TX, and again it confirmed that while competition continues to get tougher as breeding programs, tools and techniques are always evolving – certain principles never change.

One such principle is that bits are secondary to education.

And yet, while education is a critical priority – just because we’ve instilled knowledge in our horse’s mind doesn’t necessarily mean there still aren’t blocks in the way physically and emotionally.

Even if we can influence and yield our horse’s body parts relatively quick and effectively doesn’t mean they feel good about it, that they want to do it, and that they aren’t dealing with physical restrictions that make it difficult for them.

This is why I also love learning about and sharing the importance of horse health, anatomy, therapeutic bodywork and biomechanics, as well as what we as trainers, riders and jockeys can do to actually build desire and try in our horses.

Education Equals Success
From the May, 2009 issue of Barrel Horse News

It’s all so much more within our reach and under our influence that we think!

The physical, emotional and mental (educational) aspects of horse development is where it’s at, and we’ll never have the whole package if we neglect any of these areas.

The right tools are very important for complementing the process but are not entirely dependent on it. When we’re thoroughly educated and practiced at providing this interconnected trio, then bit selection for competition becomes something to carefully consider.

If you’re ready for that, the video below will offer guidance as I casually talked through a selection of bits in our tack room.

There was even more discussion that didn’t make the video cut (due to length) about combination bits, the Loomis Gag, more on lifter bits and the different feel swept back vs. straight shanks provide, etc.

To ask questions about anything I did (or didn’t) cover above, ask away in the comments below!

The halter and lead rope combo I use is available here.

If I were to purchase a new snaffle bit, I’d go with a quality, decked out version from The Mad Cow Co.

As for transition bit, I have the Tender Touch and Touch Plus from Sharon Camarillo.

In the video above, I displayed my Sherry Cervi short shank, Ed Wright pretzel bit, Charmayne James low port pretzel, some roper bits from Greg Dutton, and my Bozo sidepull.

If I were to seek out a new, custom made competition bit I’d turn to the expertise from master bit maker, Dave Elliott.

Another good resource is the bit selection designed by NFR barrel racer, Molly Powell.

What are YOUR favorite bits? Let’s here it in the comments below!

For more on bits, bitting and communicating effectively, visit:

10 replies
  1. Divi
    Divi says:

    I am a snaffle girl. I force myself to put a shank bit on my horses just to expose them to it, but I prefer the response I get with a snaffle. I agree with not tightening up a snaffle as much and I always use a leather curb strap. I’m amazed how most people’s go to is the chain curb strap and I feel like using a chain without thought can easily make a horse dull. I am not good with a gag or draw bit. Not sure if it is because of the angle I pull or what, but I never get the response I want and I end up having to pull a lot more. I do not like too much shank and all that leverage can amplify your pull without you realizing it. I like broken mouthpieces, but prefer not to have a snaffle mouthpiece on a shank bit. I feel like it can do a little nutcracker action. The pretzel bit is really nice and so is that chain bit. I would add that I always try to find copper mouthpieces in my bits. Overall I love your bit collection, you just need a couple more snaffles, lol! I think I have more snaffles than any other bit in my trailer 🙂

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      I agree, snaffles are great for keeping tabs on where our horse is at and keeping us all fresh and honest, I ride DC in one A LOT. If you ever wanted to do more experimenting with a gag, going up another notch on the headstall might achieve a different result. I too, haven’t used many bits with A LOT of draw to them. I feel they would give Dot Com some confidence and smooth him out (his tendency is to be over-sensitive almost reactive) but Pistol would tend to push through them and get luggy in his runs over time. He is slower to prepare for the turns on his own (not as athletic), so a faster-acting bit is appropriate, whereas DC is the opposite – something that offers a gentle, consistent feel is better for him. 😉
      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    This is an old article, but I can’t seem to find any newer articles from you about bits. I have an 11 year old gelding that I’d ridden in a snaffle for pretty much all his life. He tends to grab the bit and lean into it, has problems lifting his shoulders and with collection. I’m getting him a new saddle that fits better, getting teeth checked, and doing some of the training in your books, but I’d really like a bit that can help him progressive better. What would be a good bit that we can transition to from an o ring? He tends to like bits with more then one break in them.
    Thank you!

    • hannah
      hannah says:

      I personally would go from the o ring into a smooth snaffle Wonder gag bit and then possibly go into the jr.cow horse bit depending on how sensitive/touchy he is.

  3. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    I have recently acquired an older ex- barrel/ cutting horse. She is very sweet but when I ride her alone.. in the open areas she struggles with walking calming. She will walk calming if I am ponying another horse with her. I am currently riding her in a simple o-ring snaffle. She listens to commands but when I try to ride her with a relaxed rein she begins to trot. She does not fight the bit I just want to know if there is another bit I could try or just try a different approach to the walking issue. I would like to be able to teach lessons with her but not until she will walk by herself. Thank you

  4. Dane Millanta
    Dane Millanta says:

    Is it possible to do barrel racing using a bitless bridle?.
    I ride a 5yr old gelding Quarterpony he initially was trained with varous bits but has transitioned to be comfortable with a bitless bridle.
    Our association allows all bridles with all diciplines.
    Have you ever seen good barrel racers using a bitless bridle.
    Your view would be invaluable to all our members and competitors a like.
    Best Regards Dane

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Hi Dane,
      Bitless bridles are allowed in barrel racing, there are no rules against that. Plenty of barrel racers run in hackamores (which work with some leverage action), but I haven’t seen many in actual bitless bridles. I think there are many barrel racers that *could* run in something as simple as a halter, but since this is such a details game – the refined communication that bits give us, tends to allow for just a little more quickness and better body positioning.


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