A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses
I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.
Monday, October 31, 2011
The Tom Thumb Bit (what it is, and is not)
Now, yesterday I posted a slightly different bit. A broken mouth, or jointed mouth curb. At that point, people said that it was a tom thumb, and conversations (which are a good thing) began about it's usefulness and severity. My teaching in bits has always been based in English riding, but in recent years I have begun to cross over. So, with that in mind, I went and started reading up on what is now a tom thumb bit. It seems that things have changed a bit (not much though) and the category has grown. I think this is both good and bad.
So, I have to publicly do a correction. The bit I first posted yesterday, is now included in the category of Tom Thumbs.
And I have to apologize right here at the start. I didn't exactly have a ton of free time, but I wanted to make sure I got that correction out there. So, while I'm at it, I thought I'd clarify a few things about the tom thumb bit while I was at it. (This will not be my most clear and instructional post ever. Just think of it as a stepping stone to good things yet to come.)
Let me begin by explaining what a tom thumb is.
Secondly, the bit attaches to the mouthpiece with a pivot (green circle). Especially important here is the shape and style of the connection. When the side of the bit is pivoted, but the mouth piece isn't, a lip or other facial skin can very easily get caught and pinched. Again, pain is not a good training device.
Now, if you look it it the other way, and you push down on the side with the orange cone, you are not gaining an advantage (or not as much, I was NOT a physics dork). At any rate, using a curved shank, rather then a straight one, means that a portion of the lever action is reduced. So, you spend more time pivoting the lever on itself, rather then applying the pressure on the end.
Not the best description, I know, but the easiest thing to do is to try it at home. So, lets just go with this, straight shank, means bit pulls harder on horse's mouth for every inch of shank then a curved one.
Lastly, the simple joint mouthpiece (pink circle). When used with a curb, this causes a strong nutcracker effect on the horse's jaw. A 3 piece mouth piece can reduce the pinch effect, but it depends upon the shape of the middle link.
But I have a problem with calling anything that has lever action and a jointed mouth piece a "tom thumb". That would mean that my pelham bits are tom thumbs, my gag bits are tom thumbs, my "argentine snaffles" (which are NOT a snaffle) are tom thumbs. All of these bits are very different, and have different uses.
Now, I happen to own a tom thumb bit, and I actually use it. On ONE horse, and only I am allowed to ride him in it. Boo goes well in my tom thumb, and works nicely in it. Keep in mind that this horse is very highly trained, and I spent years with an instructor who liked to whack my hands if I did anything that could cause the horse problems. I have VERY soft hands now. I ride Boo in one to get him engaging his back. I can tickle a finger for a lateral cue (which will not pivot the mouth piece causing poking or pinching) and I use the curb action to put a wall in front of him so he stops pulling his "I'm an Arab and my nose can point sky high" thing. (No, not all arabs do that, but Boo sure tries to play the stereotype at times). He takes most of his aids from my seat and legs, but the bit is severe enough that he knows it is there, and carries it lightly. This is a great way to recondition him from a long time off.
So there's one example of a horrible and evil bit being used in a perfectly kind and gentle manner. It works for that horse, and it's actually one of the bits he prefers. Like all training tools though, it's not just about what the horse needs, but also what the rider can control. I have seen people try to grab my bridle with the tom thumb on it, and I have a mild panic attack. It's not an "every day" kind of training aid.
So lets also look at what a tom thumb is NOT.
There's the jointed mouth pelham. I personally LOVE this bit. It gives me a lot of flexibility when training (this is not a bit I start horses in, but rather one I like for finishing work). I can use the snaffle rein for lateral commands (side to side pulling stuff) and the crub rein for impulsion. In some cases, I like having that curb rein there just as an "emergency brake".
In fact, that is the bit I used to retrain Poko to stop pulling through the bridle, and start listening to my seat. A short necked, strong muscled, physically fit half draft can easily out pull me. Adding in a bit of an emergency brake allowed me to get him listening to the snaffle rein. Within a month, I had transitioned him back down to a "baby snaffle" (I like to use a fat mouthed, soft french link, O ring snaffle). I also like to use this bit, with two sets of reins, when teaching a horse to move into a curb. They can feel the pinch and head pressure that a curb applies, while having the sinple snaffle commands that they know and are comfortable with. So if you go through and see a horse wearing two sets of reins, it is likely that I have the horse in one of these.
Look closely, and you can see that the pivot point between the sides and the mouth is a longer shape. The way this attaches in the horse's mouth makes it harder for the horse to get a lip pinched.
Basically, the major flaws in a tom thumb have been slightly redesigned, and corrected. This is still not a bit that should be used lightly though. Depending upon whether this bit is used with, or without a curb chain makes a world of difference in how it is perceived by a horse.
If used with a curb chain, the rider must have soft and gentle hands. The flexible mouth piece along with lever action and a pinch between the mouth and chin (curb chains do that) would mean that a little bobble on the head gives the horse a very bit OUCH. I tend to think of this bit as the little sister to a tom thumb.
Next there is the gag bit. Now, I'm a bit weak in all the mechanics of this bit, but let me show you 2 different styles:
The top one looks a lot like that tom thumb, doesn't it? The big deal with these bits is that they are NOT used with a curb chain. That completely changes everything about how they affect the horse. (And before you ask, I will do an entire post on gag and elevator bits. I just need to do a little research first to make sure my limited knowledge is correct)
Now, when you look at all those bits, you can see that they are very different. They work in slightly different ways, and have different pros and cons. No piece of tack is with out a downside, and anything can harm a horse if used wrong, but none of them are evil on their own.
So, as I go through the various types of bits, and all the parts that go with them, you may end up seeing some very serious hardware. Before you close your mind to the usefulness of any training aid, just remember, in the right hands, with the right knowledge, and used on the right horse, it might be the difference between mastering a technique, or being sold on.
Because I do so much work with horses that have bad training (much worse then no training IMO) I often have to un-teach things. Some of the tack I will be talking about is used for just that purpose. My goal through the next few days, is to make horse owners understand what those strange devices are for, and even more importantly, be able to recognize when they are being used wrong.
I've always felt that no training device has ever hurt a horse on its own. It's not the tool that can be bad, it's the human behind it.
Posted by Pinzgauer at 9:00 AM