Hunting for a New Bridle/Bit Combo: Suggestions?

Some friends just acquired a new horse, a 15 y/o QH-type by the name of Rusty. He was sold to them as a beginner friendly trail horse and appeared to be as such the whole first two weeks of ownership. Then we all went out for a trail ride, his 2nd time under saddle his first ride around the neighborhood was flawless, we made it about a half a mile and were pausing to cross the road when he erupted in a crow-hopping fit, unseated his rider in the street, and then waited very patiently while myself and one other rider handled things. He was in an eggbutt snaffle that he’d been in during his first ride as well. It wasn’t a barn sour issue as he walked on just fine from there, but as soon as there was any bit contact he wanted to crow hop and just fought. Was a perfect gentleman on the ride home (under a different rider but same bit). Tried him later on in a borrowed hackamore, that had fairly long shanks, which was better but I think the leverage on it was a bit strong for him and he was still head tossing and fretting. Then tried him in just a halter with reins clipped on the side, to try and emulate a side pull as we were away from the barn and just wanted to see if that was something that might be worth pursuing and he liked the lack of leverage but wasn’t understanding what we were asking so he got frustrated again. Next we tried the halter but with the reins clipped underneath as a more bosal-esque style and he responded pretty well; he took a little adjustment time but understood directions much quicker. But obviously the halter won’t do long term so I’m looking for any and all suggestions of different bits, different hackamores, any experience with bosals and the like. He has excellent ground manners and never tries to push through any set up we’ve had him in, but he gets frustrated in seemingly everything and then just sort of gives up on communicating. He seems like he tries to tell us what is going on and then has this,’ oh forget it, you wouldn’t understand’ moment where he decides to just shut everyone out. Teeth have been checked, had one tiny area of concern, but that has since been addressed and he is in fine form, but the issue persists. We’re going to continue to look into the bitless route but are very open towards other suggestions or affirmations that we’re on the right track.
It may be worth mentioning that he originated from a ranch out in Oklahoma, the barn we got him from purchased him at auction in OK but that’s as much history as we have on him. He responds well off of leg pressure and is very light on all cues. He is exercised daily but not under saddle. He goes for handwalks through the neighborhood (equestrian community w/ bridle paths) and is lunged as well.

Well, now you know why he went to auction.

Do you have a good trainer with problem solving skills on speed dial?

There are a lot of options out there for bit less. There are mechanical hackamores of all length of shaft plus side pills that are like a more stable halter.

Also, though. Horse was owned two weeks. Ridden once in that time. Then went on trail ride down the road. IME horses do better with regular rides and run into problems with only riding once a week.

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I’m currently doing most of the training with him. I don’t train professionally but have trained my own horses and have done extensive studying and work under other trainers. But as I haven’t had experience in every bit I was hoping to get some stories of bit/bitless options that some others have some more experience in or if anyone has come across a similar issue but had success with a certain training style or tack setup. I’ve ridden in bitless styles before and have trained some horses to go bitless but am just looking for any advice to affirm or negate my plan with him.
His 2nd ride out what not his 2nd time out, he’s been handwalked around the neighborhood daily since his purchase and has been lunged as well. That was just his 2nd time out under saddle, forgot to mention that.

It’s not clear why you are convinced that the bit is the cause of the problem.

Do you have an arena to ride him in or is hitting the trail your only option? If you’ve got an arena, or even a round pen, how does he behave in there?

We’ve had his saddle fitted and the vet has cleared him of any other pain that might’ve been causing it, the only time he begins to fret is when his mouth is touched. He’s quiet on the ground and under saddle until any contact is picked up. Even on a loose rein he’ll toss his head (ruled out head shaking syndrome) and gnash at the bit.
Same reactions in arena and on trail.
I’m thinking it is his mouth because even when you take off his halter he gapes like you’ve taken a bit out of his mouth and the vet even noted how sensitive he was just touching his mouth area with no bit involved. He’s not head shy and you can rub all over his head, but as soon as you drop below his cheekbone he becomes reactive. Nothing else appears to be causing it, he’s the same with and without a rider in response to his mouth.

Have you looked for impacted wolf teeth?

Yes, nothing impacted (wolf teeth had been previously removed), nothing was severely overgrown. Teeth are overall in great shape, they were floated anyways about a week ago to completely rule out any malocclusion issues.

Ranch horses are used hard, LOTS of daily miles to make them useful. I expect his present schedule is not even warming him up. Unless he is quite young, he was probably used with a curb bit and worked by neck reining and legs. Lift the reins for a halt, especially just walking quietly along.

Go to a traditional “cowboy” bridle and bit, try him on a slack rein and stay off his mouth. Egg butt snaffle, constant, solid rein pressure, is opposite of how he is used to being ridden.

Not sure why folks want ranch horses when they will never ride them enough to keep them civil. Cowboys have quiet horses because they USE them, get them tired so horse is glad to stop and stand around! Horses love having a job they understand, going and doing things. Few pleasure rider ever put in that kind of time riding a horse. A number of these ranch horses decide they do not like being used, argue and rider gives up on them. So horse does no work and is happy with that!

Same with Amish horses. They get worked hard, look very docile because they are tired! Feed them up, let them rest a week or two and you may have a LOT more horse than you can handle when you go to use him!

I would not go all exotic on this horse with various side pulls and new bits. Go back to cowboy basics, curb bit, med shanks, loose cheeks, small port, slack in reins and see how he goes over several days. Make sure bit is wide enough for his mouth, reaches holding bridle cheeks not hitting teeth above mouthpiece because his skull suddenly widens out. Watch owner ride, see what they are doing to annoy horse during a ride. Tight reins, swinging feet, sitting crooked to grind into his back, shoulder forward with reins, thus twisting body. Horse is probably a good egg, just very confused. As a last resort, get a western trainer in to look things over, see horse ridden and offer suggestions.

Western Ranch riding is NOT English riding with different tack! It is a completely different mindset, training goals, and steps used to get there. Some horses do not transition as easily from a purposeful life to pleasure or trail riding uses as others.

I appreciate the input. The horse had been purchased at auction by a sale barn months before the current owners purchased him. He wasn’t happy in the curb but that was used at his trial, he fought that the hardest which is why we tried a plain snaffle and then the eggbutt. He wanted to please and the potential was there so they decided to move forward with the purchase, as a bit/bridle can be figured out later. He was sold as a beginner safe trail horse, there was no mention of him being a ranch horse. Through research done by the current owners post-purchase (ie reaching out the auction house) it was determined that he did come off a ranch at some point, but that was as much as anybody knew. He’s not being ridden English, he’s being ridden as a western trail horse. But rather than giving up on him I was hoping to get some input on what might be best for him. Seeing as he’s throwing a fit with a bit in his mouth and we are on bridle paths along the street to get to our arenas hand walking and lunging is currently his routine until we get some ideas together to work him out. His workload will increase when he’s not a danger to himself and others. While I can appreciate your passion on the matter, ranch horses will be sold as not ranch horses eventually. Not everyone goes out to purchase a ranch horse to be a trail horse, this was a trail horse purchased to be a trail horse. I will take your advice under advisement and see how he does though.

So, two things from my past experience that might be useful:

I bought a horse that was very sensitive around his mouth. The owners told me not to bother trying to give any kind of paste wormers or other meds and that he had to be tranquilized if you even wanted to look at his teeth. Oddly enough, he was fine with the bit. With the help of a trainer friend, we were able to almost 100% desensitize him to having his mouth touched using approach-and-retreat. In the end I was able to administer paste wormers - it was a process, but I was able to do it without much resistance. So, you might consider working on desensitization for his muzzle and mouth. It may not have any effect on bitting, but you might want to get that done just on general principles.

I had a mule that just hated bits. He never had any kind of violent reaction, just spent the whole ride gnashing his teeth and fussing. I spent quite literally hundreds of dollars on different bits trying to find something that suited. Some were better than others, but he pretty much hated them all. In the end, I gave up and went to a hackamore. I tried sidepulls, but they didn’t give enough control. I tried a Little S hackamore but felt like he could run right through it if he cared to. Finally settled on a short shank mechanical hackamore like this one:

He was happy, I was, well, not happy, but I could live with it. :slight_smile:

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Thank you so much!
We are working on desensitizing his muzzle and he is getting better slowly, so we’ll definitely keep up with that!
Just ordered that hack and hopefully he’ll be happy in it! That shanks aren’t nearly as long as the one that we tried him in originally so hopefully he’ll like that better. Thank you again so much for your input, it’s really appreciated.