Wednesday, December 26

Isn't that harsh?

If you've been around horses long enough, there's a good chance you've been questioned on your choice in equipment at some point. For those who are not familiar, whips, spurs, and bits can seem like torture devices; and they can be, when used improperly. However, when coupled with correct training, these are valuable tools for refining communication with our horse. One piece of equipment that's particularly scary looking is the spade bit. With its straight mouthpiece, high port, and braces, it certainly looks intimidating!

Spade bit with braces. Source

I compare the spade bit to a pair of tall stiletto heels. The average person should not wear them. It takes practice and strong ankles to avoid a disaster, but someone who can pull them off, WOW! A spade bit is not for the inexperienced horse or rider. It is not a means of controlling the horse. The spade bit is a finely tuned communication tool. It takes years of training and a rider with soft cues to use a spade bit properly.

A spade bit is considered a signal bit, as the horse feels the bit begin to rotate in their mouth, they know to collect up and prepare for the riders coming cue. This is different from a snaffle bit, which is used to actually move the horses head and neck in order to show them what the rider wants. If a horse needs guidance on how to position their body, they are not ready to be ridden in a spade bit. It's also different from a curb bit which uses leverage to communicate the posture that the rider would like the horse to take. For some excellent photos and a more in depth explanation of spade bits check out this article by Mark Bridges.  These bits were used originally by cowboys spending long hours working from horseback. Their work required the horse to be easily guided with very little movement from the rider's hands. Here's a video of a bridle horse in training. He is being ridden in the 2 rein. He still has a small bosal hackamore in addition to carrying and receiving signals from the spade bit.

This is another great video showing the mechanics of the spade and explaining a little more about its function.

Hopefully this information has helped you better understand a piece of tack that is commonly misunderstood. I know I learned a lot :)

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