I share head horses with my husband. I am a #4 and he is a #5+ so we ride a little differently. He also runs around the local amateur rodeo circuit, so everything we have must be snappy and quick to get left. I weigh a bit less than he does, so my upper body strength is not as impressive as his.
Considering this discrepancy, we have many conversations about bits. He can generally ride a softer bit than myself because he can physically get ahold better than I can. In order for me to compensate, I spend a lot of time riding the horses around in snaffles and working on flexion to get them softer to my hand. These flat exercises usually work for a while, but if we are both on the same horse at a jackpot, sometimes they get strong and I struggle.
In the spring, I produce an all-women’s roping clinic with Lari Dee Guy and Hope Thompson. Many topics come up during the three-day event and of course, a big part of the conversation is about bits. I asked Lari what her preference is on bits for roping and she said, “women are just weaker genetically. We have to ride in a stronger bit on these strong horses to compensate”. For those who don’t know who Lari Dee is, she is a nine-time world champion header, heeler, and calf roper. Hope T has her own list of accomplishments as well including winning the head side of the All-Women’s Team Roping at the Patriot Event in February. If these women were not greatly respected, I would not have requests every year to bring them back. Lari also works with horses for a few of the major male team ropers going down the road today, so horsemanship is huge and proper bits are essential.
We went around and looked at the bits many of the horses were packing, then we started comparing notes. Many of the women were riding horses they share with their husbands, and they did indeed have their own set of bridles for the same horses. The majority of them had a little longer shank and a little higher port to their curbs so they didn’t fight their horses and the horses didn’t get too strong. We saw everything from a ported chain with a longer shank to a reining-style spade bit and even a few gag-type snaffles. The overwhelming realization dawned that she was right, a stronger bit it a huge help for a weaker rider.
Whether you ride in a chain, chain port, solid mouth, or any of the other overwhelming styles of bits, you have to find the one which fits the best for you. We have a gelding who perfectly shows the need for a stronger bit with me than with my husband. This horse is fast, strong and quick and he will take advantage of me now and then. I rode him at the same clinic and after a run, had to go back to the trailer and figure out which bit I needed to run. While my husband can ride him in a simple chain port, I had to step him up to a broken spade bit to help him stay in my hand. While the run looks the same, the bit is definitely not. We have another gelding who used to work just fine in a Jr. Cowhorse with a copper roller and has now graduated into a low-ported chain as he has developed his speed and strength.
Team roping is meant to be a fun, competitive team sport and it is hard to have fun when you’re fighting your horse. It never hurts to check out other bits and see if something works better for a lighter weight rider with a little less pull strength. As women, we are genetically less inclined to the upper body strength needed to comfortably control our high-powered equine partners. Besides, who doesn’t like trying to find the right bit fit for their horse and spending time in the tack store?