Switching Bits- Testing Trail Riding Bits on a Seasoned Horse

This solo camping trip with a seasoned mare gave me a chance to test out a few new trail riding bits and enjoy the beautiful Hill Country of South Texas.

The Horse

This is a 17-year old Quarter Horse mare who has packed a teen around for the past five years, competing in everything from 4H all around shows, barrel racing and playdays, hunter jumper classes at the local level, to riding through the Dairy Queen drive-thru for an ice cream cone. She goes in anything from a dee ring snaffle to a variety of lifter type barrel racing bits and correction bits.

The Trail Riding Bits

  • Myler MBB Black Flat Shank with Sweet Iron Wide Ported Barrel. This has a high and wide port with medium shanks.
  • Toklat S shank medium wide ported barrel. This bit has more of low wide port with medium shank and ¼ to ½ inch “stop” on the port.
  • The ported barrel on both bits provide mullen relief and keep the bit from collapsing over the tongue, and are typically ideal trail riding bits.

As with any new bit, I give a horse a few minutes to get a feel for it. I turn in both directions and stop and back to give them a chance to feel what’s in their mouth. It takes more than that for a horse to let you know if a bit is working for them but that’s a start.

Day 1– Myler MBB Black Flat Shank with Sweet Iron Wide Ported Barrel (89-64175)

We headed down a gravel road that leads to another campsite in the park. Considering it was an open gravel road, she was a bit of a nut, snorting and worried about everything. This horse is typically pretty solid so this was a bit unexpected. This gave me a good chance to test the mechanics of the Myler bit.

The first challenge was a group of deer, something the mare normally wouldn’t care about. But this night she did. She made a strong effort to turn around. I kept her facing the deer. I had to use significant direct reining to keep her facing the direction of travel. The bit, if using soft unconfident hands, might be tricky for a timid rider. I have firm hands when needed, and at this moment, that is what she needed. The bit had enough feel to keep her square with her concern, and we were able to keep moving forward with a little leg and directional correction. This occurred with a group of wild pigs as well. Then we approached typically non-issue water puddles, but this evening Hazyl decided that everything was scary. There we spent a few minutes avoiding the water puddles. Again, the bit, with more assertive hands, was helpful in working through the water.

We cruised down the road for another 45 minutes, Hazyl watchy and hyper-alert the entire time, but with encouragement, we worked through it. We reached the end of the road, and as a smart pony knows, she was ready to turn around and head back to camp. At this point I wanted to test her and the Myler bit a little, so I asked her to whoa and stand still for a minute. She was not supportive of that and did a bit of head tossing and sideways dancing. I didn’t want to get in a fight with her in the middle of nowhere by myself with no cell reception, however, I did get her to settle for just long enough to agree that the test was over.

Myler MBB Black Flat Shank with Sweet Iron Wide Ported Barrel (89-64175)

The Myler did have enough communication to help the mare understand that we in fact were going to stand still for a moment. Heading back to camp, she was an old pro, covering ground at a confident pace, with no balking through the water or past the deer and armadillos. Overall, this Myler is a good communicator for someone who knows when their horse needs a little stronger message. For a nervous horse it won’t send them over the top when you check them, or if you need to get a little strong in your hands. If you tend to be a more passive rider, you may not get the feel out of this bit if you have a strong mouthed or strong headed horse. Overall, I think Hazyl carried this trail riding bit really nicely, and when I needed to communicate with her a little more assertively, this bit was able to provide that.

Day 2– Toklat S shank medium wide ported barrel (88-68405)

We got up before it got too hot, and tacked up with the lower ported, Toklat S shank. These trail riding bits are fixed in the middle like some of the Myler’s so it won’t pinch the tongue, but the shank only turns about ¼ to ½ way. This significantly reduces the leverage of it, coupled with the lower wide port.

Toklat S shank medium wide ported barrel (88-68405)- A great trail riding bit for a seasoned horse.

This morning was a whole new set of scary things for Hazyl. We first came across some pretty terrifying hikers (not at all, but today she decided that all kinds of things she’s seen a thousand times were scary). That wasn’t a huge deal and we kept moving. Then she gave me a lot of trouble with a mucky area of the trail where there was no way around. This gave me a chance to see if this bit has any attention getting properties. It doesn’t. After a little more muscling her than I would like, I was able to cross the “slick as snot” mud. This whole ride she was watchy and not focused on my cues. I didn’t find that this bit was a great tool in re-focusing a worried horse.

Headed back we took a different side trail. This was marked as an “easy to moderate” trail, so I assumed that it would be even easier than that one we had come off of. Not the case. There was a pretty rough spot where we had to jump up some rocks. Around the corner of that incline was a family hiking with a baby in a backpack with a hood! Like the worst timing ever! Hazyl spun around and almost threw us off a rocky “cliff” (I might be being a little dramatic, my adrenaline was doing it’s thing). Again, this bit didn’t really have the control I would have liked for this kind of situation. We were luckily able to pass the family without killing them or ourselves. The rest of the ride she was on high alert. She tried to convince me at one point that we were going the wrong way. I had to be very assertive with both my reining and leg ques to keep her moving down the trail in the correct direction.

The takeaways on this bit, for a horse who is perfectly comfortable in a stressful barrel racing environment, but not this new trail experience, it is going to require a little more handle and feel in a bit, more like the Myler we tried the night before. We did not have that today. For a horse who is a steady eddy and knows their job going down the trail, I really like this bit. It sets well in the mouth and the low, wide port gives tongue relief. This would also be a good option for a newer rider who doesn’t have the most confident hands, or is still working on developing responsive hands, paired with a more sensitive mouthed horse because it won’t pinch the tongue and the “stop” action on the shank is going to keep you from over queing a horse.

Final Review

Myler MBB Black Flat Shank with Sweet Iron Wide Ported Barrel (89-64175)  

Pros: Great tongue relief, higher port gives a little more control and feel if needed, overall a balanced choice for a variety of disciplines if your horse generally knows their job, but needs a reminder here and there.

Cons: the medium control and feel would make it challenging for a defiant horse who still needs more direct mouth aids.

Toklat S shank medium wide ported barrel 88-68405

Pros: Low and wide port give great tongue relief, “stop” action on the shank swivel can prevent over queuing, ideal for a seasoned horse that knows their job, this trail riding bit isn’t going to over que so suitable for unconfident hands on a super broke horse.

Cons: Minimal feel and handle for a horse who is in need of clear and concise direction, “Stop” action on the shank swivel can re-direct the que directly to the lips rather than the poll and palate.