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Understanding the Loomis Gag

Dena KirkpatrickDena Kirkpatrick uses a Loomis gag bit to soften her horse's face and body around a barrel turn. BHN file photo.This simple yet effective bit is a barrel-racer favorite for training, tuning and competing, but almost everyone uses it for a different reason.

By Tanya Randall

Necessity is the mother of invention.

When the Western performance horse industry was hitting its stride in the 1960s and 1970s, talented trainers looking to perfect their craft started developing their own equipment, especially bits. Aside from standard English curbs and snaffles, driving bits, and grazing bits, choices were pretty limited. Gag bits were almost non-existent.

When 1970 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Barrel Racer Joyce Loomis Kernek married legendary reining horse trainer Bob Loomis, she was introduced to a homemade gag bit that was a rudimentary prototype of what came to be the Loomis gag.

“He had taken the mouthpiece out of an English bit and welded it into steel shanks,” Joyce said. “We fought over who was going to get to use it every day.”

Fellow champion barrel racer and trainer Wanda Bush suggested to Joyce that she get Ben Walker to make her gag from scratch rather than from spare parts of other bits. A Mason, Texas, peace officer and bit maker, Walker often made bits for Wanda and her cutting-horse trainer husband, Stanley.

“I started selling them, and people started borrowing them from each other and they’ve just gone all over the world,” Joyce said. “I’ve sold it to so many different customers—cutters, reiners, endurance riders.” 

marywalkersmgo12012 WPRA World Champion Barrel Racer Mary Walker runs Perculatin in a Loomis gag bit with a leather headstall. Photo by Kenneth Springer

Loomis Basics
“This bit works on the poll as well as the sides of the mouth,” Joyce said. “It’s a great bit to get the sides of the mouth—one side or the other. If you want to supple on the left side, you put direct pressure on the left.”

Although Joyce used to offer a variety of mouthpieces within the gag, today only smooth and twisted are available in authentic Loomis gags.

Dena Kirkpatrick demonstrates the soft and supple circle described by Joyce Loomis Kernek as her horse relaxes into her hand.
Dena Kirkpatrick demonstrates the soft and supple circle described by Joyce Loomis Kernek as her horse relaxes into her hand.

“All my bits have identification on them. Now that Equi-Brand (Classic Equine) has taken them up, they have their identification on them too,” Loomis said.  

Multiple WPRA circuit finalist and 1992 Barrel Futurities of America World Futurity Champion Kim Thomas prefers the twisted mouthpiece. Thomas likes using the Loomis on all her horses, from starting youngsters to competing on finished horses, because she can get control of the horse’s entire body with no resistance.

“Kim’s sold me a million twisted bits, because that’s what she has her clients in,” Joyce said. 

The headstalls vary from plain cotton/nylon rope, wire, nylon and now leather.

“I’ve always offered them with a nylon headstall,” Joyce said. “But my mainstay customers have always wanted the wire headstall, because of the nerve center over the poll. The wire is the consistency of a clothes hanger; it’s not a thin piece of wire. If you put your finger under that wire, you’d see it never rubs a hair when you’re taking a hold. It’s not a dangerous, mean wire. Charlotte Cunningham has also won a lot in this bit, but she only wants the ones with the wire headstalls. She thinks the wire headstall is the key to the whole bit.”

Charlotte Cunningham, also a BFA World Futurity Champion, has rheumatoid arthritis that limits her strength, but she likes to ride fast horses and most of her barrel horses come off the track. She uses a wire or steel headstall to give the horses a different feel since they’ve been taught to run through the bit on the track.

“For me, that’s like a curb chain,” Cunningham said. “If you don’t have poll pressure, they’re going to take that bit and run off unless you have an extremely light, broke horse. I like to use it to bring a horse’s head up. Not to where their ears are in my face, but to where their heads are up in my hands. If you’ve got a horse’s head up, you have control of their face and body. The Loomis allows me to pull their head up and have their head in my hands; it’s a different kind of pressure than they’ve ever had before.”

Tags: dena kirkpatrick, loomis gag, joyce loomis, bits, bit fit, proper bit use