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Walk into any tack store and you will find what may feel like endless options of equipment for horse and rider.

There are walls of different kinds of bits, variations of bridles, reins, nosebands, and training aids that vary from simple to complex.

Many of these tools are designed to change how a horse feels pressure or how they carry their body. Tools such as side reins, draw reins, flash nosebands, training systems, and more.

So how do you know when a tool may be helpful or if it will cause more problems? How do you determine what is a quick fix gadget or something that could really help you and your horse?

In the video below, I will share several questions to guide you in determining what to use and what to skip.

To learn more about choosing a bit for your horse, watch When Do You Need a Bigger Bit?

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Comments

56 Responses

  1. Nice subject today Callie. Because I am not confident in my “training skills,” I rely upon my trainer to suggest bits, bridles, saddles, etc. So far Maverick rides with a two-piece, full cheek snaffle and a deeper french saddle, which provides a bit more security for me. We did add a breastplate last fall, which I was not using before, but again, that was for my security and has nothing to do with the horese’s training. My trainer uses the mildest equipment necessary to get the job done and only adds on when necessary for training or safety. Less is most always more.

  2. When I bought my horse, she went in a D-ring mullen Happy Mouth. I got her the same bit when she came home, but she suddenly hated it! We switched to a regular D-ring snaffle; she accepts it, but will often chomp or gap when I apply pressure. I’ve also tried a two-ring snaffle that she respected more, but then her head came up and she hollowed out. She has her teeth done regularly, but finding the right bit is a real process! I’m wondering if I shouldn’t pull her noseband and try her in a French link? She can get quite strong, so I haven’t tried it yet. I just really want her to be happy and comfortable and think of our rides as a positive experience.

    1. Finding the right bit is definitely a process! I would keep trying some different styles and thicknesses of bits to really find what she is most comfortable in 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  3. Ditto Carol! Do we have the same trainer?! I’m getting a saddle that will make me feel more secure and started using a breastplate. Thank you Callie for this very knowledgeable video

  4. My 3/4 bred/ID is 31 now and we’ve had him since he was 4, but I think he was trained with side rains because he goes behind the bit and even canters like that around the field – it’s a shame because they never forget.

    1. It is true Kay, reteaching those patterns can be extremely difficult and they never fully go away!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  5. Hi, thanks for this video, interesting topic indeed. Im always a little bit at loss with all these different equipment. I have never used them much but where i currently ride they use them a lot. They mostly have horses that comes from racing. I am currently riding a 6 yo horse who stopped raving only a couple of weeks ago. he has got quite a contraption on, i don’t know what it’s called in english but goes from the girth thru the ring of the bit and then on the reins equipped with rings as well. it can be adjusted in 5 different places. they recommended to have it on the 3rd ring, it keeps s sense of control specially as cantering can be a challenge as he can get quite fast and sudden. I do feel he is a little stuck, the last thing i want is to hurt him or get into a bad pattern of behavior. I did release him the other day on the first ring (the loosest one) and it wasn’t really more difficult. He has a good posture naturally.

    I do want to remove it all but don’t want to take endanger myself loosing all control and being unable to stop him. I do feel every time i see challenging horses wearing those kind of things, it’s not for the horse, to improve something but more as a security if hell breaks loose. Specially if they are being ridden as club horses by various riders who don’t always have the level to face these situations.

    it would be great if you could do a video on emergency breaks, how to encourage a calm canter on a horse who is excitable. The other thing we all experience is having a horse that’s great on one side and can’t do the same or not even close on the other. It’s the case with this new horse, i manage to canter left quite beautifully, on the right he gets defensive, start lifting his head, doesnt bend, speeds up and tries to take over. thing is then people canter him only to the left and he works that weak side even less so it’s gonna get worse. Any tips on what to do to balance it out ?

    thank you again and keep up the great work 🙂

    1. Hi! It is a little hard to figure out what’s going on from your description! Is this piece of equipment used on him with all riders? Does he get strung out at the canter with the equipment too?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  6. I too am a minimalist and some people who think I’m more on the extreme of less. With my first horse, my trainer put her in a port pelham style bit and deep down I felt it too extreme, but her answer was that I needed brakes. Such a false sense and that old saying “I wish I knew then, what I know now”. Being a novice has it’s downsides, but I have learned that you can educate yourself more by reading and watching other horsemen and women. Asking questions and if the answers don’t sit right with you, keep looking. I see too many horses, young and older being traumatized by gadgets that will do more damage down the road. Help your horse by educating yourself. There is so much to learn and it’s available if you make the effort to find it. Don’t reply on just one person, we are the ones with the intellect and need to protect our horses.

  7. Hi Callie,
    Thank yiu for your video! I am of the same opinion, but unfortunately see a lot of ignorance around me when it comes to training aides. I use side reigns myself when longing because my arab tends to bring his head up. When I ride, however, I don’t use them and I only use a basic bit/bridle and saddle.
    Warm regards,
    Evelien Leemans
    From Malta (Europe)

  8. Hi Callie, I enjoyed your video on training aids. I was wondering something. At the end when you said that you used mostly “basic” bits, what did you mean. Do you use only snaffle bits or what kind of bit have you found is best to use?

    1. Hi Diane, yes the simple snaffle bits are what we use most often with our lesson and training horses. It depends on the horse but we do mostly use a soft plastic mullen mouthpiece bit.

      Hope this helps!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. Hello Callie.
    It’s been over 35 years since I had a horse. A lot of things in the world of horses have changed. I now have a 3 yr old Friesian Cross mare. My intentions with her are two-fold, pleasure ride, and pull a carriage. Years ago, riding western pleasure, we used a simple curb bit and trained the horse to neck rein. Now it seems two-handed reining is the go-to method. With the combination of years and changes, I’m completely confused with methods and equipment. Hopefully, you are able to help me clear the cobwebs.
    My therapist lives in a barn,
    Barbara

    1. Hi Barbara, there are two different methods of steering with your reins. Neck reining where you use one hand to steer and then direct reining uses both reins. It truly depends on your goals and what you are comfortable with but most horses learn to direct rein first. I hope this helps!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. Thanks Callie for another really useful post.
    in the clip you showed of the horse with the super flexed neck, it wasn’t clear to me if you felt this was a balanced comfortable end result or a flexed neck and an unbalanced end result. Sorry as this is clearly my lack of understanding, but can you clarify? thank you

    1. Hi Rachel, the clip with the horse’s overflexed neck is not a good way of movement for any horse.

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. Hi Callie: I use a check rein on my mare. It runs from the high rings on both sides of a halter under her bridle, and through a grab hold attached to the saddle billets. It prevents her from getting her head down to her knees to buck. Other than that position she can put her neck where ever she wants. She has given me some lovely working trot with this on since she can still lower her head to her chest level. Do you think this may create a dependence on her neck muscles since she sometimes leans on it? I haven’t yet found the courage to go without the strap since she flung me off.

    1. Hi Elaine, if she is leaning on it it might cause some not ideal movement patterns but your safety and comfort level is paramount.

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. Oh my- you handled that delicate subject really well.
    At least some people will listen to a good explanation. The ones who think they know it all are a different story but if you can reach even a few people its absolutely worth it.
    Well done.

  13. I rode an OTTB that was also being ridden by a woman who used a western tie down to put the mare in “the proper head set.” She was severely restricted with a lot of pressure on the poll. I believe now she likely had extreme pain, maybe muscle spasms, from being held in an unnatural position for up to perhaps 45 minutes at a time. I had neither the experience nor the eye to understand that it was a problem. But shortly thereafter the mare would get nervous and act like she might rear when asked to move forward. I feel very sad about it.

    1. Karen, as a young rider I remember a similar situation (different method) but still very bad for the horse. I did not say anything then but I will now. I think we owe it to horses to speak up when we see them suffering because of incompetency. Just wanted to let you know that many of us have felt the same as you.

    2. Hi Karen, I’m glad to hear that your mare is no longer in that situation. Is the problem still happening now?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. The weight of th bit and the weight of the rein– heavy lunge reins for driving add pressure to the bit — I substitute parachute cord for all long rein work and even standard lunging. the diameter of the mouthpiece is controlled be the manufacturer– mostly 3/ 8 in. depending on the anatomy of that breed’s mouth– maybe a 4 piece or a fatter or a thinner mouthpiece could be tried or a different type mouthpiece

  15. HI Callie,
    great video, it seems the more we learn the less we need, regarding bits etc…UNLESS, we are very capable in a bosal, and then can add in a spade bit! or whatever for precision. I’m pleased to say that as I get better with my body cues, and softer hands, the rope halter does the job, and am now looking toward the bosal. Have learn’t so much over the years.
    Thank you, you are a most amazing teacher!

    1. I always like to remind riders that for the most part tools are only as harsh as the hands that use them! The more educated our hands and body gets in the saddle the more options are available 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Callie. Found your video right on target! I rescued a Qtr Horse 2 yrs ago. My goal is to give him the best riding experience I can. Building upon his strengths I’d like to compete in Western Pleasure, Obstacle Challenge and Ranch Horse. Having no idea what type of training he had or his training experience I’m letting him reveal his past. Just as you point out in your video I started him in the most basic snaffle. If additional or different equipment is warranted then I’ll use it. For now the reveal process continues as we move through training goals at a pace designed to keep it simple and fun! He’s awesome and doing great!!

  17. My mare’s previous owner rode her in in equipment that produced a hollow back and high head. When I first got her I tried a training martingale (the kind with multiple rings) but quickly abandoned that because she would dump down and get behind the vertical. I had better luck with a chambon (after many you tube tutorials… I had never heard of them before) but only used that when doing ground work. Her “go to” behavior whenever upset or uncertain remains to throw her nose up, as she was ridden as a youngster, so I ride her in a kimberwick, with minimal contact, but have the option to use a little poll pressure if she needs a reminder to lower her head. I have a three piece snaffle I use sometimes, as well as a bitless bridle for cold weather when I don’t want to put a bit in her mouth. (I live in Minnesota)
    I no longer lunge her in the chambon. The last time I did (after a very trying ride in the snaffle) She immediately dropped her head almost to the ground and gave me a look that said, “ I KNOW how to lower my head, you idiot! Improve your riding skills!” Mares. I love them. She was right, of course.

    1. Dorothy, mares are too funny! Chambons are a great tool and for the most part once they become used to the cue they give you don’t always have to keep using it. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. Thank you for this subject. Far too many people who do not know what they are doing use training tools improperly and the result for the horse runs from mild annoyance and discomfort to severe distress. No horse should be forced into an unnatural position by someone who does not know how to do it and for what amount of time. As we all know, the result of this poor “training” makes for a horse with behavioral problems through no fault of its own. Thank you, Callie!

  19. Liz Folb really described your handling of this subject! Well done Callie. With every video I see, you impress me more and more. Now if you could turn my age back to 35, that would really help me!

  20. I have used a sidepull bridle which had no bit and was little more than a padded noseband. All the horses I used it on loved being ridden in it. I used it on other peoples problem horses and found the horses reacted very well to it. On my own horse, I was even able to do a collected canter with more joy and freedom coming from my horse. I loved the fact that it had minimal restriction, no interference on the mouth and allowed the horse to feel more relaxed. It not only did not cause any problems but solved some in horses with finicky heads or mouths and relaxed horses that had previously been ridden by insensitive or inexperienced riders. It did not have the severity of a hackamore and was easily understood my the horse. It was the most delightful tool I have ever used. The next best thing to riding without a bridle at all.

  21. Hello
    I also have a minimalist approach, as I was told as a child that most of these tools are used to correct a problem that the rider created himself… and that if you want to help the horse, correct the rider…. my instructor realy was a purist I recon.
    Still I have tried recently a tool that I found interesting for a very specific case . I have a half lease on a gelding that would often refuse to take the contact, though he has a very light bit (simple, light, big barrels…). Though I tried to be very gentle he would often tuck his nose in and get behind the hand and refuse to take contact. I thought the problem might be my hand or the one of a previous rider, so that he does that not to get hurt in the mouth.
    So looking for a solution (also trying to have a softer hand, of course) I acquired a pair of reins that are doubled with rubber : 20 odd cm of each rein isrubber, the leather rein is doing a loop for security, in case the rubber would break, but the part of the rein that is tensed is rubber so the rein is elastic to some extend (slightly, of course). Appart from that, they are perfectly basic reins, with no leverage, no pulling, just reins partly made of rubber.
    It had a good effect on the horse and after a few months use, he now takes a better contact, is more confident with my hand, and I hardly have this defensive attitude any more. But maybe my hand has improved also ! so I believe in a few months more, when I have an all time good contact with those, we might go back with normal reins to see.
    This was a case of a tool that helped, but it is a tool that does not restrein the horse, on the contrary, it kind of restrains the rider actions.

    1. Caroline. Sounds like good advice! My horse doesn’t like contact either, but when my trainer rides him, he has no problem. I feel like I’m giving him plenty of rein, but maybe I’m not. I’ll look into the rubber reins. thank you!

    2. Hi Caroline, that is a great example of a tool that can help horse and rider! We are actually a big fan of tools like that that can help the rider, Callie actually did a video on this a couple years ago. Thanks for sharing!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  22. Callie, thank you so much for talking about these training tools. I’ve always felt a bit of a negative reaction inside myself when I’ve used them….feeling as if I were trying to shortcut the time needed for the training and also to make myself feel safer. I have learned so much watching your videos and it’s also very nice to see the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside in the background!

    1. I think it is always good to trust your gut as far as what feels right to use on a horse. I’m glad to hear you enjoy our videos Nancy 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  23. I appreciate your clear and concise explanation about additional tack. To me, the foundation is the connection I have with a horse. My preferred way to trail ride is a bareback pad and a rope halter – to take away as much as possible and let it just be us, horse and rider. Not all horses are accustomed for this freeing. One of my horses trail rides beautifully in a western saddle and a rope halter and I am proud of this. Each horse has past, present experiences. To find the basic connection with them, and then sort out the minimal tack for them is the best. Thank you for a great video!

    1. You brought up a great point about some horses aren’t used to having freedom from equipment and that is really important to remember when transitioning a horse from using all types of equipment to little equipment! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  24. I bought a micklem when my last instructor kept tightening the cavason -which I only put on for lessons. I thought that, at least, would miss facial nerve bundles when tightened. However, the micklem bridle’s handy for lunging (head flexed in! And sometimes with young rider on board) With/without the bit. I’m still unsure of the noseband aspect of it, even with > 2 big fingers under it. So now rarely use it riding as bitted or bitless though I used to. I also used baler twine in the way you’d fit a buck stopper,partly for that! And mostly to stop grass snatching

  25. In the title of this video Callie mentions Martingales… however you did not say anything about them in the video. I use a running martingale w/ a snaffle bit quite alot to develop softness, flexibility and understanding of bit direction, in my horses. I never use this as a head carriage training device. I’ve always adjusted it so that the top of the rein ring on the martingale can be pulled into the throat latch of the horse when the horse is standing relaxed w/ a natural head carriage. **I’d like to hear what Callie has to say about ALL martingales since they are not mentioned in the video. **

    Also, I’d like to hear a bit more about nosebands…
    Thanks.

    1. Hi MegAnn, we don’t use any martingales on the horses in our lesson or training programs because of what Callie explains in the video about how those tools may not release in the right manner to actually teach the horse and correct the movement pattern. What information were you looking for on nosebands specifically?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Julia, I think you missed my point. Martingales are in the title of the video. They are not mentioned at all in the video. Perhaps the title should be changed to exclude that word since they are not covered in the subject matter.
        The type of running martingale that I use offers consistent rein direction regardless of horse’s head position or rider’s hand position. The release comes from the rider’s hands as the rings of the martingale slide quite easily along the reins.

  26. My horse has been diagnosed with kissing spine, so asking him to move “correctly” will be my main goal for the future once we’ve got the pain under control. I’m thinking of purchasing a equi band to help encourage him to find a better posture when moving, have you any thoughts on this tool? Thanks for your video

    1. Hi Jacqui, it could be a great tool for building his core to support his spine I would recommend consulting with your vet of course first just to make sure that it is cleared with them!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  27. I am the same with the minimalist approach. I trained for lots of different things, flank cinches, breast collars, both English and Western saddles, bridles with and without cavessons etc. But I never rely on these things to educate me or my horse. More for exposure in the event I ever have to sell her, that anyone on the future can use this equipment if they feel necessary.

    I see so many training aids used as a crutch for poor training, or as a bandaid for a bad behavior taught by bad training, that I am afraid to use training aids, other than maybe a training fork/running martingale, that is more of a pressure and release system, than a forced outline with no or very little release.

  28. Hi. Thank you so much for the explanations. My horse just moved wonderful in an upward transition from the walk into a canter. But i got nervous and stopped . I wanted to trot not canter. I think my legs are stronger than I thought. So I brought a slow twist . Now I’m thinking maybe I don’t need it until I canter and if need be more bit. Made me feel better about this decision. Lisa Pavia

  29. Is a chambone similar to a lunging cavasson?
    I am thinking of trying a lunging cavasson; and am working on lunging to “slow down the front feet, step up from behind”
    I would like the lunge line to feel like a “rein” in my hand.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Rita, no the chambon is not the same tool as lunging cavasson. The cavasson is the attachment for the lunge line that connects you and the horse and a chambon is for changing the movement patterns of the horse.

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  30. Your diplomacy is impressive. The amount of suffering caused by these “quick fix” pieces of equipment must cause so much pain and discomfort and then the horse has a problem…when really it’s the rider/trainer creating these issues. Thank you for your clear explanations. The one thing I would suggest with bits is that riders have a qualified experienced equine dentist have a look at their horse’s mouth and that can help a lot with finding the right bit for the horse at it’s level of training.

    1. Kathryn, that is a great point to bring up! We do always recommend having the horse’s teeth checked before just looking into new bits 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  31. Hi, What I would really love is to have me and my horse come to you for fine tuning! But until then…. My instructor had me use a martingale, I believe to help me have a little leverage on controlling his speed. That was almost 2 1/2 years ago. I was think about taking the martingale off . (It kind of feels like to me that all this time of me holding him back due to my fears , has slowed him down, if that makes sense.) He typically just moseys along and I have to do a lot of encouraging to get him into a faster posting trot. His cantor speed is also much better. I also have improved in my confidence and trust in him. Does it sound like the right time to stop using the martingale? FYI I stopped taking lessons but the instructor runs our barn. And at this time I choose not to “bother” her with riding questions. Thank you for any input. Lisa

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