In the May 2012 issue of Barrel Horse News, Bridget Cook’s article shares some of the industry’s top trainers’ favorite pieces of tack. I was asked by our editor Bonnie Wheatley to take some pictures of Bo Hill’s favorite bits for the article. She told me if I didn’t have time to get Creedence or Stephanie of Pixel Works to do it. Like, I was going to turn down a chance at digging through Bo Hill’s bit collection? Yeah right, I was gung ho for this assignment!
Bo’s a self-proclaimed “bitaholic.” She has what seems like hundreds of variations of her preferred bit—a handmade Troy Flaharty ring snaffle, but she also has bits like an impressive array of Tom Balding curb bits that would make any reiner, cutter or team roper swoon with joy.
A sampling of Bo Hill's to-die-for bit collection. Credit: Pixel Works
As she was showing me just a small portion of her bit collection that was stashed in her trailer (some were in there simply because there wasn’t room for them in her freight crate of bits at home), I kept thinking to myself, some of the bits have appear to have some serious bite. Square mouthpieces, square mouthpieces with a slow twist, squares with a strong twist—all looked pretty scary to me. Yet, she rode her horses in them every day. How could you not tear a horse’s mouth up or at least make them very dull over time?
I voiced my concern to Bo and she shared with me the secret to making these bits very effective. Unlike many trainers, she doesn’t crank these bits up in a horse’s mouth—you know where the horse has wrinkles in the corners of its mouth clear to his eyeballs. She said, “You want the horse to be able to pick it up rather than be a constant source of pressure.”
I shared this newfound knowledge with my hauling partner and neighbor, Marcheta Garrett, who just happens to own a Dash For Perks son that Bo—well her husband Jeff Switzer, she says—raised. Although Marcheta was slightly upset that I didn’t let her assist on my assignment, she too, was intrigued.
As fate would have it, Marcheta and her stud won a square-mouthed Flaharty ring snaffle in the open race held at the Diamonds & Dirt Futurity. She may have won it, but the bit is on my futurity hopeful for next year. I have it on him looser than any snaffle I’ve ever used, probably a comfortable wrinkle in the corners of his mouth.
This handmade bit has a lot of weight to it. When you pick up or relax your reins the horse really feels the difference. It’s also quick. When you ask with a square or square twist mouthpiece, the horse reacts that instant. There’s ‘No, oh, I’ll think about it.’ Rather, it’s ‘Okay, right now, yes ma’am.’ When you ask with that heavier, sharper bit, the horse responds immediately and you can release immediately. They learn without you constantly getting in their grill.
Ah, there’s a reason you rarely see an action shot of one of Bo’s horses with their mouths gapped open. They know their job!
Marcheta, who’s trained two National Finals Rodeo horses, did her own “bit” of experimentation with her stud. She bought two twisted square mouth-pieced ring snaffles. She’s on a 6-year-old, 16.1 hand, 1,400-pound stud verses the baby barrel horse that I’m riding, so she needs a little more bite than the plain square offers.
With his new headgear placed with just a wrinkle in each corner, her stud set an arena record the first weekend and won a 1D saddle a week later.
With Marcheta’s horse winning and my colt progressing, we have a new appreciation for these “mean” looking bits. Handmade bits rock, and a bit IS only as harsh as the rider using it. I’m sure glad I took the time to learn more than simply pass judgment in my mind.