Cowgirl Up on

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Great Gear: Snaffle Bit Bridles

I have said previously that I would share some information about my tack. I am rather proud of it because I have learned that investing in good (and nice looking) tack can be very addictive.

There are lots of places on the internet where you can find good tack, but more often than not it is a lot of junk.

Initially I rode with a cheap nylon headstall and reins with a hollow-mouth loose ring snaffle. I quickly learned that I did not like the way it interfered with how I communicated with Ariel. And there was NO feel to the bridle. It clearly didn’t help my confusing communication attempts. I sold or gave away all or part of that bridle.

If I remember correctly, the first clinic I rode in I borrowed a saddle and also borrowed a snaffle bit bridle.

Not too long after that first clinic I saved up my money and started buying better equipment. Most of the time I rode Ariel in a rope halter with a lead tied around into reins.

When I endurance rode Ariel, I use a rope halter with a (too) thick marine yacht braid rope with carabiners rigged in a setup similar to a mecate. It worked okay at the time, but probably wasn’t the most effective piece of equipment I have ever used.

We had a tough time for many years with her head tossing so violently that I figured it was just best for me to stay out of her mouth altogether. It was many years before we eventually developed a decent partnership in the snaffle bridle, and even progressing to a hackamore (not mechanical).

I will give her a great deal of credit...while she was head tossing and giving me fat lips, she NEVER truly ran away with me! You know, the bolting full bore down the trail running completely through my hands dead run? Never. Yes, she went faster than I would have liked, and other riders around us gave us a very wide berth, but she never truly ran away with me. Other folks had the nastiest long shank bit and face-cracking mechanical hackamores and still had runaways, but not me. The only times she ran away from me crazy and uncontrolled was in clinic situations. It progressively got worse over the years and I finally decided that she just wasn’t cut out for being put in those situations. It wasn’t worth it. But I digress and will come back to Ariel and those incidents at a later date!

I gradually progressed to nicer headstalls and bits, but I never spent more than about $40 on a nice snaffle bit. And headstalls...well I always drooled over them, and still do. I try to keep my headstall purchase price around $50 as well. That doesn’t include the bling, though! I have a decent one I got off eBay, and a few that I got at tack stores (usually on sale).

Headstall, bit and mecate all purchased via eBay

I have used some full copper mouth snaffles over the years. They were decent and the horses seemed to “like” them, but I decided that the diameter of those bits was still a bit too big and after a few years I sold them down the road. I also tried some French link style bits. Also decent bits, but still the overall bulk in the horse’s mouth seemed to be a bit too much.

Ultimately, I have ended up sticking with a few more reasonably priced and nice looking bits. One was an eBay purchase. It has a silver overlay of a barbed wire pattern on the rings. It’s an egg butt/dee ring style bit. It has copper inlays and is a comfortable bit for most horses.

Another was a free bit given to me by a total stranger. I commented to a gentleman on how nice his bit was and later he came to my trailer and offered it to me. He said his horse didn’t “go well” in the bit. I politely thanked him for the bit and it immediately became my every day bit. It has a small diameter, copper inlays and nice looking silver tone spots on the rings. It may not be the most expensive bit, but it looks nice and the horses I have ridden with it haven’t seemed to have had any objections.

Silver dot snaffle, plain latigo leather slobber straps, RJ Mfg. gold and white colored nylon mecate, basic leather browband headstall and chin strap

The last bit most recently added to my collection is a Jeremiah Watt egg butt snaffle. I have wanted one for a long time. Last September I had the luck of finding one on sale at King’s Saddlery in Sheridan, WY and I just couldn’t pass it up. It is now my everyday bit for Buena.

Since I started on the good horsemanship journey back in 1995, I have tried lots of things. I have tried the cheap do-it-yourself versions. A good mecate has a nice feel and should last a long time.

I have a few nylon mecates by RJ Manufacturing out of Turlock, CA. I mostly found them at local tack shops and feed stores. I like the feel they have and the colors aren’t too shabby either. The only think I don’t like is the “finish” on the knot end of the mecate. Not the best craftsmanship, but for any everyday nylon mecate, it works just fine. I found one on eBay one year and bought it for Paddock Boy along with some other lucky eBay finds. Some day he will be able to actually use the tack I have bought him over the years! He’ll be a very well outfitted cowboy in the making. And it gives me the excuse go shopping and buy more tack!

A King’s Saddlery mecate similar to the RJ Mfg. one except it has a fancier horsehair tassle with a braided rawhide pineapple knot

The most recent bridle purchases I made were when I was in Wyoming for the week-long Brannaman clinic. I mentioned the JW bit I got at King’s already. Well, I perused Mary Brannaman’s traveling tack trailer for her Houlihan Horse Gear business. I managed to find myself a couple of nice headstalls to go with my other purchases. One nice pencil-rolled leather one perfectly matches Buena’s colors and delicated features. It was a score being on clearance. Another nice working headstall will be perfect for starting the fillies in a couple of years.

I don’t show as a rule. I have entered a few shows in the past few years, but all were for fun. I like to make sure my tack is nice enough that it could be used for showing (with a little bit of clean-up and polishing) but most importantly is hardy enough for everyday use.

In comments of my last post, Lisa asked me about my reins. I am especially covetous of this particular item because I have wanted a mohair mecate for a long time. Nothing beats a nice mecate that has the right diameter and feel and life in your hands.

Sara Hagel took my custom order for a hand braided mohair mecate when I was in Sheridan. We discussed color and pattern. I wasn’t too picky, I just wanted it to match my horse. We did adjust the length of the mecate to account for me riding a smaller horse and for it to be used as a snaffle rein. The length of my mecate is only 20 feet, as compared to the standarrd 22 feet that most of her clients get for snaffle bridles. I ride small horses (Arabs) for the most part and have too much excess on your lead rope can be a major pain. It can get hung up on things, or drag and then get stepped on. I had been struggling a bit with those issues on my nylon mecates. Now, it’s a non-issue! Mohair mecates can take a bit to get used to as when they get wet, sweaty or dirty they then can stiffen up. It’s important to keep them clean and not to use them to tie up with!

If you don’t know how to properly tie your horse up with a mecate lead, DON’T TIE YOUR HORSE UP WITH IT. Put the halter back on and save your nice tack from potential disaster. For most people, a good nylon mecate of 22 feet will work just fine.

The slobber straps are and import part of a snaffle bridle that has a mecate. Those little (or sometimes big) piece of leather can make or break a good bridle. They need to be well made and kept in good repair. Sara Hagel has some great ones on her site, and occasionally you can find decent ones on eBay, too. Most tack/feed stores that carry natural horsemanship type gear usually have a decent selection. Try a bunch of different ones to figure out what you like best. The ones I use now are from King’s in Sheridan and have hold to putting on fancy (or plain) conchos.

Conchos! The bling of the western horse world! I love a good concho. I am partial to silver with a bit of embellishment of gold tone. Some antique ones are pretty cool, too. The ones on my current bridle are pieced together from various tack, feed and leather supply stores. If I had a bigger budget, I would have more and better bridle bling. Guess I need to play the lottery more!

Bridle loops from Johnson Saddlery in Dillon, MT

Oh, and don’t forget the chinstrap if you are using an egg butt or ring snaffle! It will keep the bit from being pulled through your horse’s mouth if you have to take the head around.

Having nice tack that is well-cared-for is a way of honoring my horse and also honor the traditions that I am trying to learn.

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SunnySD said...

Pretty, pretty! Thanks for sharing. I love the color of the mecate you ended up with :)

Regarding the struggle you had finding a snaffle bit - I've sort of concluded that Arabs are about as tough to bit as they are to find well-fitting saddles for! It's a good thing they're also pretty firm about letting riders know when they're uncomfortable (grin). The trick is generally figuring out what's making them uncomfortable (bit, saddle, hands, etc.) and then fixing it.

For years I used an old star steel full cheek snaffle that I inherited along with an old tack trunk. The bars were narrower in diameter, and the horses really seemed to like the taste of it. Finally, however, it wore enough at the corner joins that it started pinching their lips, and I was worried about it breaking - it's now strictly decorative.

I like having quality tack - but between problems finding something that works for both me and Sunny, and price.... I'm with you - good quality, pretty enough to show in if I want, and still usable. (All that silver some of the stuff I see in the show ring would be pure misery to clean after a muddy cow chasing excursion, that's for darn sure - lol!)

cdncowgirl said...

I like good looking, hard working tack, and of course the barrel racer part of me likes some bling!:)

dp said...

Drool. Gawd, I wanna be a cowgirl.

Pony Girl said...

Great post, and I loved the pictures! All your gear looks great! I appreciated the info. on mecate reins as I would like to get a pair, it's the next thing on my list! I will probably go with nylon over hair for now.
Know any place online that I can visit that teachs you how to tie the mecate reins properly?