Selecting a Bit for the Hard to Please Barrel Horse

Selecting a Bit for the Hard to Please Barrel Horse

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In many cases, “hard to please horses” like the one Stefanie describes in the Q&A video below, who toss their head and gap their mouth, don’t have a bit problem.

As I state in my book, Secrets to Barrel Racing Success, the way we go about performing maneuvers, applying techniques and solving problems, matters. In many cases, it’s not the BIT, but HOW our horse responds to it, that we must be concerned with. If our horse is not responding in a way we would like, we need to ask WHY, and develop a solution from there.

The Solution STARTS here

This time of year, as intense rodeo action is playing out at stock shows nationwide, I’m reminded even more, that the horses who excel those little pens, with short runs and funny angles to the first barrel, are the horses that are especially soft and supple to bit pressure (and through their entire bodies). They not only especially excel in those more difficult set ups, they excel more in general.

Putting the odds in your favor requires a commitment to creating feather-light response to bit pressure. When you do, your horse is more likely to wrap around those barrels wickedly fast, even in less than ideal circumstances – leaving the stiff, resistant horses in the dust!

Of course, horses DO have preferences when it comes to bits, and they are likely to perform better with certain types. However, no matter how advanced and complicated the contraption is that we put on our horses head or in their mouth, it can never replace emotional fitness and a solid educational foundation. (Watch the video below to learn about how you can provide both to your barrel horses.)

In the case of any behavior problem, we always want to rule out a health issue, first and foremost:

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6 replies
    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      If the injury to the tongue is legitimately an issue once it’s fully healed (you’ll want to stay out of the mouth completely until it is), then you’d want to try mouthpieces with minimal tongue pressure. You could also educate your horse to respond very well to other types of pressure, like nose & curb for example so you can use headgear (like a hackamore) without a mouthpiece. Be sure to see the Dave Elliot article for more info as well!

  1. Tricia Duncan
    Tricia Duncan says:

    I have a 6 year old mare. None of the bits I have tried have been working. She has a sensitive mouth but when I put a light bit in her mouth,I don’t have any control. She is very heavy headed. I need a bit with control but not so harsh. What should I use?

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Hi Tricia, I would make sure you’ve really focused on educating her mind so she understand to quickly and easily yield from steady pretty lightly on the ground with a halter first, then a snaffle, then slowly work on that under saddle. Release when she softens and responds and just hold or make it difficult (ex: tap her chest with a stick & string on the ground) for her NOT to respond.

  2. Emily Amick
    Emily Amick says:

    So my barrel horse had a bad tooth but we got it fixed, however he is still throwing his head but only on the back of the barrel. At first I thought it was because of me pulling on him but after watching videos and talking to people around me i think its the bit but I don’t know what bit to run him in. He handles in all the bits i have rode him in, but I want to find a bit he likes to run him in I currently have him in a Sherry Cervi dog-bone.

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Hi Emily, thanks for your comment.
      My goal as a trainer is for a horse to accept and work well in ANY bit, but then select very specific ones to bring out their absolute best performance based on each individual’s traits – it’s like the icing on the cake. The perfect bit can make an already good run, great.
      I don’t consider bit changes as the primary place I go to solve problems necessarily, I want to achieve that through training.
      However, it is important to consider whether there is something pinching your horse – you’ll want to make sure you have big guards if needed, that your curb strap isn’t too tight, etc. Sometimes horses will be really reactive to ported bits when they engage, but that shouldn’t be the case here.
      I’d approach your challenge from more of a training perspective, so that your horse knows that throwing their head up and resisting is never the correct response (we want to reward what we DO want), but first and foremost like we mentioned – we need to make sure there’s not a physical/legitimate reason for them to feel the need to get away from that pressure.
      You’ll want to cover ALL your bases from a training perspective. Then selecting the “icing on the cake” bit is very dependent on many factors related to you and your horse. I’d be happy to help you go more in depth on that with coaching, or also check out this resource to learn more. Hope that helps! 🙂


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