University of Vermont AAHS

A Trainer’s Response to Article’s Advice on Bits

Paul Travis
Professional Trainer With Over 35 Years Experience

[Reproduced from Caution:Horses, Volume 4, No. 2, Summer 1999]

The following is a response concerning the "Fox Trotters On The Go" Fox Trotter tidbits # 6 article by Kathie Woodward in the March 17th issue of Horse & Pony.

I don't usually take issue about training techniques or equipment used for training but I feel your recommendation of aluminum bits for Fox Trotters is very misleading. There are a lot of things to consider about bits. Probably the most important thing is what's on the other end of it, pulling on it. The bit is the tool, or means, by which the rider communicates his wishes to the horse. The key thing, when starting a horse is for the horse to yield to pressure by softening his jaw and bringing his nose in. Once that has been established you can move on to lateral pull.

If good training habits have been established, and your horse is responsive you can ride with a varied number of bits and have a good deal of success. Most trainers prefer to use what is known as cold-milled steel as the mouth piece. Some call it sweet iron. This material is porous and will rust. Its important to rust simply because it has a more flavorful taste to horses. Stainless is tight, not porous and is more bitter in taste. Aluminum has a drying effect and does not encourage the horse to salivate. Why do we want the horse to salivate? If a horse salivates, that means he's moving his tongue, that means he is relaxing his lower jaw, and that means he accepts the bit a whole lot easier, and the easier it is to communicate with him. So the more we enhance salivation, the easier the training becomes. Optimally, combining two unlike metals to produce the mouth piece such as sweet iron with copper inlays produces a more responsive horse because it generates more saliva. I have observed a lot of Fox Trotters with aluminum bits and along with the aluminum bit was a caveson tying the mouth shut. Fox Trotters that gait naturally shake their head in rhythm to the gait. This is a natural action as with Walking horses, and not achieved thru the bit, but thru proper training. Aluminum bits lost their popularity as horsemen and women became better educated about the horse’s conditioned response thru proper training and more knowledgeable about the anatomy of the horse’s mouth. My advise, if your Fox Trotter is not working as well as you would like, before bitting, check for capped teeth on young horses 2 to 4 years old, check to see if the horse's teeth need floating, check for wolf teeth, check for bruised or any soreness at the comer of the mouth, check the tongue for any signs of scarring or damage. If a horse isn't broke, the bridle bit's not going to make any difference. If the mouth hasn't been properly educated to respond to a bit, you are going to have problems regardless of what bit you use.

[Paul Travis, of Altoona Florida, is a horse trainer, a AAHS Clinician, and a Member of the AAHS Board of Directors. This article first appeared in the April 21, 1999 issue of Horse & Pony and is reprinted with the permission of the author and Horse & Pony.]

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