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Bits to Encourage Hind End Engagement

A little background, I have an 11 year old gelding that I have gotten back into barrel racing after a while off the pattern. He’s soft on the bit and very well behaved. Very nice, smooth pattern and finished in the 2D at a mega show on his 2nd run in nearly a year, he’s only been run five times or so over his life. So, I’m not trying to correct anything and not looking to bit up.

The only thing that needs improvement, aside from just needing more hauling, is getting him more engaged through his hind end in turns.

The only thing I know is a no-go is anything 2-piece. He has a lot of natural bend so I’m not worried about having a bit that will encourage bend, and maybe even the opposite would be good? I’m concerned at the idea of a lifter because it took me quite a while to train the giraffe out of him. I’m sure I could carefully introduce a lifter if that’s what I need though. He rides fine in a snaffle but he’s typically just happier in a curb, although I wouldn’t be opposed to trying a snaffle combo bit if I thought it would be good. If possible, I prefer bits with rollers as he is a busy-minded guy.

Before you say that it’s about training, I am and have been correcting it through training.

That being said, I have been using the same Reinsman 3 piece bit with a copper roller for years on him for everything and he does great in it but I’d like to see if anything else might be better for racing and get some opinions from others. I have a trailer full of bits that are meant to encourage softness and bend, but of course I end up with a super talented guy that needs something different haha.

Can you post a video?

In my opinion, the bit you have in his mouth is not going to influence what his hind end is doing – especially during a real run. Things just happen way too fast.

As you say you have already been doing, it’s your slow work that is going to teach him how to carry his body in the turn. That’s their muscle memory.

If he works well in the Reinsman 3 piece … why change it? Personally, I like 3-piece mouth bits with my horses too. Currently I’m using a 3-piece Jr Cowhorse with a roller center on both my horses, and something very similar on my new guy.


I wouldn’t worry about the bit, I’d worry more about teaching him how to work on his haunches.

One thing is your own seat as well. If you’re sitting “too deep” or too heavy in your seat, it almost blocks any energy coming from his hind end forward. Sitting correctly and “lightly” will help him to engage his back.

Another thing I did with mine was teaching her to “sit” on stops which helped through turns. Start at a walk and ask them to stop. At a walk they should stop immediately, if not quickly ask them to back up until you feel them almost sit down and use their butt then release and tell him good boy. Move up to a trot and at first give him a stride or two wiggle room but eventually he should stop the second you tell him to. If not, ask him to back up quickly until he “sits”. There will be a point where he knows whats coming and will “sit” through a stop and engage his hind end to get a better quality stop.

If he doesn’t know already I’d teach him to collect. That way he will round out through his back and really push with his hind end.

Eventually they learn to carry themselves (you could also teach them on a lunge line to help them learn themselves without any rider interference to begin). Mine now will round out on her own especially through a canter and you can really feel the difference.

And if you really are set on switching bits, I would not recommend an Argentine Snaffle. Some people have trouble with elevator and gag bits as well when it comes to the bits encouraging a raised head.


Hind end engagement comes from behind not the bit so I’m sorry I feel like you are at the wrong end.


Sorry, I didn’t explain this very well. This horse has a ton of natural bend. So much so that a lot of his training has been about teaching him not to overbend and overflex. When you ask him to turn, even just barely picking up a rein, he wants to bend around and almost touch your foot, and I’m not talking about when I ask him to flex. It was a big problem when I first got him but he has come a very, very long way and hardly ever has issues with it except when running.

The lack of engagement is a result of the overbending causing him to be just a tad unbalanced overall. I’m just looking to see what other people think of bits that may be good for horses that want to overbend. The training is fine, I’ve got that part down. It’s just going to take some time for it to really change in runs. I’m not just bound and determined to change bits and in no way do I think a bit is going to be some magic wand and fix everything, or even fix anything. But just like there is a wealth of information about bits that are good for adding bend, I was just curious if there were any bits good for a horse that wants to overbend. I’m thinking a mullen mouth is what I was looking for.

Sorry I didn’t explain it well at first.

If he tends to overbend, then I would put him in something different than a 3-piece for your runs. I like 3-piece mouths because it helps me get that bend and flex with a horse – so if they are already overly noodly, it can tend to make them more noodly.

You might try a hackamore – those can “stiffen” a horse that tends to be over bendy. I like a Little S Hack because they are pretty light.

Or a bit with a solid mouthpiece might work too.

Or… ride two handed through the turn. It’s sure not easy but that helps keep them straighter with the support of the outside hand. With my new guy I’m working with right now, he’s pretty bendy too and very soft in the mouth, and he’s doing great when I stay two handed (but dang is it a core workout!). I’m hoping I can get him to run one-handed in the turns (because it’s easier for me, haha) but we’re early in the process of figuring each other out. I haven’t put the hackamore on him yet but I’m tempted.

There are lots of good posts above, and I am not a western bit person nor do I barrel race, so I pretty much have no business offering my opinion. But it’s happy hour on a Friday, so here goes.

Mullen mouth - check out the Myler bits, some of which are pretty straightforward and have a snaffle-like action.

What about stopping and backing in a straight line? Sounds like maybe he anticipates, so NOT turning will put him back on his arse. Then let go and let him relax and stand and chill?

I have one that is 100% absolutely convinced that every time you lope into the center of the ring you are going to do a flying change, so we NEVER school flying changes in the center. I keep going in the same direction in a small circle. I actually have a hard time schooling changes with this horse because he anticipates and starts hopping up and down. Andrea Fappani once said that for every flying change you do, you are supposed to set the horse up and NOT change, just keep going in the same direction, 30 times. Maybe you need to do that with your horse? Kind of set him up but NOT turn?

It does not sound like the OP’s horse is anticipating or starting the turn too early. Sounds like her horse is what we call a “noodly” neck, where they really like to over-bend when you give them a direct rein.

Some horses have a stiffer running style; some are more bendy.

While yes it ultimately comes down to correct training, there are certain pieces of headgear that will work BETTER depending on the running style of the horse.

Yes, for those that do anticipate the turn, it can be very good to purposefully go past the barrel in slow work, or counter-arc them away from the barrel. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here based on what the OP has described.

Some people advocate for stopping a horse before the turn to teach them to get on their butt … I personally do not agree with that. I want my horse to collect their hind end under them… not stop. If you train them to stop, well, that’s what they are going to do!!! Not exactly what you want for a barrel horse. But I digress.

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Leg and seat. Inside leg, inside seat bone.

NB: I’m not a barrel racer.

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Like Beau159 said.
Stopping and backing is not what I would do at all to engage this horse. It will just put it on it’s shoulders and « rounds » him even more.

If the horse is comfortable in a 3 pieces with rollers, keep that, but I would try to find the same mouthpiece on a snaffle.

Maybe this Reinsman : https://goo.gl/images/7W9WdR

I find western bits to be quite thin (12mm). When I work with athletic but wiggly youngsters, I like fatter mouthpieces and D or Eggbutt sides: 16-18mm or even 20mm.

IMO, your horse need « more » contact in the rein to really engage it’s hind. If the bit has too much break, overflexing the neck action, it won’t work. You must use more leg and seat and leave it’s face alone. I’m sure you could ride more from your seat, sitting lighter so he really comes through. The halfhalt comes before the turn, and then you go in. It has to be fluid.

Thank you for reading what I was describing!! I was beginning to think everyone was just going to keep giving training advice, which I was certainly not looking for. “Noodly” neck is a good description! He’s not anticipating in any way. I’ve just always worked with horses that are compact and cowy and need more bend, so that’s what my bit toolbox reflected. I’ve been able to get my hands on a mullen mouth to try so I’ll just see if it makes a difference.

I do have a snaffle with the same mouthpiece, but he’s happier in the curb. I work him in the snaffle at least once a week though.

As far as contact, you are definitely not wrong. We do a lot of work on contact, and he’s actually surprising talented at intro level dressage so I mix those exercises in whenever I can. But when running the barrels, I only have the inside hand so until the habit is fully broken, which is just going to take time, he still loses the engagement around the backside, due to being overbent. I ride him almost completely with my seat and my hands are only suggestions really. He’s fabulous on the entrance to the turn, it’s more that he’s unbalance around it.

That’s why I was specifically asking about bits for horses that overbend, because I can correct it at any slower speed easily and quickly, but was just looking to see if there was anything to assist when running until the habit is completely broken.

Thank you though! In no way bad advice :slight_smile:

I really would not do half halts right before rounding a barrel on a barrel racer, even schooling. That’s like stopping a Jumper right at the base, teach them to anticipate the half halt and back off or stop. You need to fix this with forward not taking back.

Hes not really overbent if hes a noodle neck though. He’s all neck and no follow through in the body. That will not give you the turn you need or quick depart when you straighten for the next one or the timers.

Having several friends who barrel race successfully, Im not ignorant of training them up and correcting flaws but think your best advice will be found in books/ DVDs or searching Youtube for Training and troubleshooting Barrel Racers. I know several past Champs have published material, IIRC Martha Josey started introducing basic Dressage in containing and shaping the turns maybe 25-30+ years ago. Check Amazon and see if you can get to a BR clinic to at least audit if it’s too far to ship. Yes there are such things and you are not going to be the only one with this problem, not even close.

Offhand, think you need to work on going straight without turning, like ride out of a ring. He doesnt really know how to follow through with his body as nobody has taught him. Nobody has realized they are riding the neck not the body and it’s costing them time on the pattern. . Just because he gets around doesn’t mean it’s as good or quick as he can do. Ride out, go straight as much as possible, he’s going to need to build some muscle and balance on both sides. My friends did trot sets on dirt roads or shoulders along roads. That works both sides equally. You can post or stand in the stirrups holding the horn but you need to move right along and keep going building up to a couple of miles. That automatically works both side and lets the horse come from behind all by himself.

Then you can go to really big circles preferably NOT in an arena or along a fence, out where he can learn to steer following through with his body, not his neck. And don’t drill your patterns. Horse knows where they are going when they see one. Work on what he doesn’t know, using the other 80% of his body.

Headgear? IME, you can’t control a horses neck with a direct rein very well in a hackamore, you need use your weight and seat and more outside rein to control the whole body. PERFECT for what you need to work on. Bag the multi piece bits that encourage the noodle neck. And get out of the ring and goooo to build the back end strength and balance.

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With horses that come extra noodley, open mouth and look at the size of the tongue and upper palate.

If that horse has a fat tongue and low upper palate, many bits out there may have taught that horse very painfully that any time a rein is engaged, he is going to hurt, so they are more than happy to give any time they even think you are going to take a hold of a rein, to avoid that poking around in it’s mouth.
Many horses are so obedient, they will work for you in pain, with little complaining, how sad is that.
It is up to the riders to be aware of all they do to and use on a horse to avoid that pain.
Our riding instructor always insisted that horse’s mouths are sacred, it is your communication with the horse, just as speech is between humans.
You don’t want to continuously yell at others and hear others yell at you for every little thing?
Neither do horses when we talk to them thru reins.

Riders that are clueless and less than polite and get horses to be noodley tend to also be those that rarely got past the new bending to death trick beginner wannabe trainers do, many followers of CA.

Because really educated hands are hard to find, many times, when someone complains about the horse and bits, a hackamore of some kind, bosal or mechanical one, is suggested and can be a good choice.
Those tend to help take the bit out of the picture and educate rider’s hands to a lighter and more precise use of the reins AND the horse to the rest of your body’s aids.
With a hackamore, you can’t pull a horse’s head around as handily as with a bit in it’s mouth.
You have to train the horse first to respond to you and that helps later when you reintroduce the bit.
The rider then doesn’t has to go back to depending on the bit so much, the horse knows now more what is expected of it, everyone’s horizons are expanded.

One of the most important skills any rider should develop is an independent seat, that is balance to go with the horse without using the oh so handy reins us handsy humans tend to hang on for our own balance.
Hanging on the reins interferes with the purpose of reins, that is communicating with horses.

Hope the OP will find some that helps in what all have commented and suggested.

Let me add that by hackamore I do NOT mean a bosal or side pull. You can pull their heads around and encourage a noodle neck with those and the bosal can sore the nose and under the jaw and back them off with a " handsy" rider. Just a shanked mechanical hackamore, don’t go overboard on the shank length though or he’ll drop behind on that too.

I had a horse that would overbend the neck and not follow through behind. He had a ton of natural rate and great brakes. I switched him to a rope nose hack similar to a little S, slow worked him in that for a couple weeks and then used an exercise li learned from Janet Stover where you put one barrel in the arena and you work that barrel from different angles different, approaches, and at different gaits. Couple that with the increasing and decreasing circle size at a trot and lope as well as trotting and loping squares instead of just circles and I had my horse using his hind end much better.

Ohhh, I LIKE that suggestion and the single barrel exercise. Keeps them guessing and not anticipation the pattern and/ or getting pattern sour. Mix it in with days never ask for a tight turn and he never sees a barrel.