Bowman Bit Spotlight! The “Blue Girls” of Iron Horse Guest Ranch

For the month of April 2024 we are spotlighting Bowman Bits!!

I’m excited as “Bit Talk” is one of my favorite, favorite things. I love to learn more about the different bits and troubleshoot with people what may work for their equine.

To see the Bowman Bits we have on offer you can either head on over to the Bits Page or check out the SALE! page for our special offers this month ONLY.

Onto story time!

When Niki from The Iron Horse Guest Ranch reached out to me she had some questions about bits. She is driving a young pair of beautiful “blue” draft horse mares. She trained these girls herself and they are extremely sensitive and have very light, responsive mouths. Because of this she wanted a bit that would offer a bit more leverage than the regular snaffle bits she had been using, but not be too strong and jarring to her girls. They will respond with just a lift of a pinky and a softly spoken voice command and she didn’t want to muddy that, however she was going to be driving them out in public more and more and needed to know she could really take a hold of them if necessary.

She had the thought that a three piece mouth piece with half cheeks would be nice for them. She uses a bit similar to this when riding them and they do fine. The issue I find with this style of mouthpiece when driving is the length and weight of the driving lines. 

Because our lines are long (especially when driving draft horses!) they are also heavy. Quite a bit heavier than riding reins are. This can cause a lot of drag on the mouthpiece we choose to drive with. Not only that, the three piece mouthpiece can really cause a young horse to chomp and chew that bit because of all the “movement” that occurs in all those parts.

When you fiddle with one side of the lines that side of the bit will be moving and vibrating. IF you have perfectly quiet hands at all times, even when you are nervous, such as driving in a crowded area or driving the bride down the aisle, then great! Maybe that style of mouthpiece will work for you and your equine. But I have found that there aren’t that many people who have perfectly quiet hands at all times. This is where being able to be 100% honest about YOUR tendencies and abilities comes into play. 

As we discussed the nuances of this kind of mouthpiece Niki started to second guess if this was the best option for her girls:

I thought that using a three piece (double joint) bit similar to a mylar bit that I like for riding would have been perfect because in my mind it would isolate instructions where pressure was only on one side of the mouth at a time, reducing overall information and pressure. You said that because of the length and weight of the line that every movement of my hand would be extremely exaggerated making their mouth feel lots of unintended pressure and noise in their mind. I had a really hard time believing that was true so you encouraged me to use that bit and drive them.

It was insane how different they acted. They tossed their heads, they stomped their feet, they didn’t listen to me, where typically they were quiet, responsive to extremely light pressure, and would be happy to stand still. That bit obviously was not the correct one. So, instead of me making a mistake and purchasing it, or even having that one made as a custom bit, you saved me for making an expensive mistake.

After that first experiment we discussed the other bits she had access to. She went out and tried, a Victory mouth Liverpool, and O-Ring snaffle with a single joint, and a mullen mouth Liverpool. She made little videos of her girls with each of these bits, doing the exact same thing in the exact same place. She had them go forward, stop, back up, an easy turn, a sharper turn and swing steps while pulling the forecart. She sent me each little video through text and we discussed their behavior with each bit.

She says: “It was sooooo amazing to watch the differences in my team. Granted, at three years old, they probably gave me a bigger response than an older team would – but for me, it was dramatic. There was no doubt which bit worked the best.

Unfortunately the bit they both liked was too thick in diameter, too wide and had  long liverpool cheeks which she found challenging since they are a young pair and want to “visit” and rub on each other. Those long cheeks were getting tangled and causing issues. (I would like to add – as they drive more, get more hours under their belt and become even more confident they will not do this as much anymore. Maybe only when they are super sweaty. lol. She knows this is not ideal and is always working with them. But since we know this is an issue for her and them and she doesn’t need or want that long cheek we went in a different direction!)

Did you know that Bowman bits are all made by hand? They come in standard mouthpieces and cheeks BUT you can also order custom bits, designed by you or me. **Keep in mind a custom bit will take a little longer for them to complete, but if you really need one it’s 100% worth the wait!

I have already written a blog post talking about the different cheek and mouthpiece options so if you don’t know what is available you can head on over there and read that. No need to re-write it all here! Bowman Bit Blog

After all the testing and trials Niki decided the Victory mouthpiece had the quietest responses. They stood quietly when they had this mouthpiece on their bridles and their responses where quiet and correct instead of abrupt followed by head shaking or foot stomping. (Another common response when a horse isn’t happy with the mouthpiece is chomping or gaping at the mouth.) The bit she had with that mouthpiece had the long liverpool cheeks and she wanted a smaller, shorter cheek that would still offer just a bit of leverage so we chose the Baucher cheek.

**Side note: when you are ordering the victory mouthpiece it is suggested to use the Baucher cheek and NOT the half cheek because it tilts forward toward their teeth. The Baucher cheek will help stabalize that mouthpiece. The half cheek will not.

Her custom order was the Victory mouth, 6 1/2″ wide x 1/2″ diameter with the Baucher cheek. That smaller diameter allows them to get a good lip seal when carrying the bit, something they could not do with the larger diameter bit. AND it will also offer a little more leverage if things get a little spicy during a public drive. When using a smaller diameter bit it is very important to be honest about your line handling skills. They can have a stronger “bite” so you need to be very gentle, smooth and quiet with your hands.

I realize that not everyone will have access to as many different bit options as Niki had, but being able to try different bits is very helpful in narrowing down what is going to work and what is not. Sometimes, this may mean using your riding bit, or a bit that is normally used for riding! Sometimes, this may mean you need to reach out to your horse friends to see what kind of bits they have in their tack shed, what they like and if they will let you borrow one or two to try out.

Trial and error is much less expensive when using borrowed bits rather than ordering different custom bits. At the price point of Bowman Bits, even our standard bits can add up very quickly. 

As always, I am more than happy to trouble shoot with you as well! It took Niki and I about 2-3 weeks to work everything out with her girls. All that testing didn’t happen in a day or two. So, being patient is also key to getting the perfect bit and the perfect fit!

Niki’s full review of her bits and the process:

As a lifetime horse girl, like many of you, I am full of opinions and goals regarding my horses. Acquiring a pair of blue roan Percheron filles and training them to drive, I needed a driving bit that checked all the boxes. Gentle for their soft responsive mouths, quiet underway, and yet strong enough to work commercial with youngsters. Advice came from many sources, however I just couldn’t find a bit that made me feel confident. I had come up with a few ideas, but apparently the exact bit iIimagined wasn’t available on the market. I reached out to Mindy and explained my circumstances. She encouraged me to do a trial with several different bits and the results were extremely eye opening. After drawing several conclusions from the trial, it was very clear to me the best bit – but it wasn’t available in draft size. Mindy was able to walk me thru a custom order form and a few short weeks later I had a pair of custom driving bits. They have been working extremely well for my team for almost a year now. When I’m faced with a new situation, I will no longer feel constrained by what’s on the shelf, but instead comfortable and confident in ordering a custom bit to meet my exact needs! Thanks Bowman, for making my horsemanship dreams come true!”

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