A Whole Bit Better Part III
Opposite of the proven facts
What do you think makes a bit mild? Little or no port?
What do you think makes a bit severe? A high port?
Actually, a medium to higher mouthpiece allows the animal some tongue relief, thereby affecting the animal in a less severe way!
Jerry Franklin Pearland, TX has a 4 year old out of a Gay Bar King mare, they use him to run barrels, keyhole, roping, kids can come up stand here all day long because mules are smarter and don’t spook. Flee instincts in a horse takes over, mules stop and look, they are not going to put themselves in danger.
“A Whole Bit Better”
“The mule as a Willing Partner” implies a respectful, non-abusive line of communication between man and animal. What’s in our head and heart is most important, how we use our body to relay these ideas to the mule follows from that. But it takes something else to facilitate the communication between these two very different types of animals, human and equine. The most important piece of equipment that we use is the BIT. I realize that a few people out there have worked on the partnership with their mule to where they can ride with just a halter and lead-rope (ala’ Pat Parelli style) and I aspire to one day be able to use the hackamore well, in the tradition of the vaqueros--but for the most part, we all hang a bit on our mule so that we have a way to tell them what we want when we ride him
So the bit is really important...important because how it fits and works in the mule’s mouth will make all the difference in how comfortable he is and whether our signals communicate our intended request. An uncomfortable bit will discourage the mule from doing what we want him to--causing behavioral problems such dropping a shoulder, sticking their nose out, running through the bridle, etc.
Just as we all learned some ideas of training and riding that turned out to only cause intimidated, aggravated horses and mules, we were probably also taught some untrue things about bits, how they work and which ones are mild and which ones are severe. I’m not very good at figuring things out for myself--but I am good at associating with respected knowledgeable horsemen--in this case, Ron and Dale Myler of Myler Bit Company, Marshfield, Missouri. For quite a few years now I have been thankful to have benefit of their knowledge to improve my mulemanship. But when Ben Tennison, editor of WESTERN MULE MAGAZINE called and said he been to a “kitchen table” bit seminar put on by Dale Myler, he declared that the Myler bitting philosophy “will turn people on their ear”. He was excited about what their innovative ideas and thought that we should share this information for the benefit of mules and muleriders everywhere!
The Myler’s have recently published “A Whole Bit Better” which is a simple understandable 105 page book on bits and how they work, with good illustrations of bit examples, conformation of the mouth, etc.. You can get the book and read that for yourself. My articles are going to cover the information that Dale and Ron have personally shared with me. I’ve already heard nice things about Ron helping several mule-owners at the recent show in Illinois and think he plans on attending Bishop Mule Days again this year so I know he has a sincere interest in helping people get their mules properly bitted. I’ve been around Ron Myler the most of the three brothers because we see him at shows and he’s been out to the house...so I’m going to tell you a little bit about his background because it’s interesting and let’s you see he’s been out there and knows what he’s talking about. As a young man, he started colts, trained horses for rodeo events, rode some mules and found his way out to the west coast. In California, he “used a mule to gather wild cattle out in the Tehachapis...” and trained cutting horses for some people in the movie business. He had an opportunity to do some lucrative stunt-work in Hollywood, but inevitably shucked those commitments for the chance to rodeo! That’s been almost 40 years ago--not so wild now--quiet spoken, well-dressed--but still a cowboy and a gentleman.
At the Houston Livesetock a few years ago, we brought Ron over to show him a mule that wasn’t working very well in the snaffle we were trying to show him in. The mule was putting his tongue over the bit and rooting against the bit. This expensive snaffle from a respected bit maker was rolled out so that the bars of the snaffle gave the mule some tongue relief (I’ll show you an example of rolled out on some curb bits next month). Ron took a look at the bit and showed us why the mule was really unhappy in this bit--he’s a big mule with a fairly big mouth--the bit was just a little too narrow and the way this bars of the snaffle were shaped, the joint was poking down on his tongue when the bit was just hanging in his mouth, even without pressure from the reins!
This snafflebit would lay in a narrow mouth, correctly, with some tongue relief .
But when the bit needs to fit a 5” or a little larger mouth, the rings stretch the mouthpiece out to the point that the joint pokes down, into the tongue. When Ron pointed it out, it was as plain as day, but before that I just assumed that since it was a “well-made” custom bit, that the shape of the mouthpiece would be right for all animals. Wrong!The bit was a little bit too narrow and when you combine that with way the bars were shaped, he only got relief when THERE WAS PRESSURE ON THE REINS--not a good thing--it was teaching him to pull!
Ron and Dale have showed me a lot of interesting things about the way bits work, I’ll try to relay some of this information to you in the next few issues. But don’t forget, there is not a bit that is a cure-all, don’t expect to go find a miracle bit hanging on your tacks store wall. From their book A Whole Bit Better:
“Bits are meant to be an aid to the communication between horse and rider. They are intended to be an extension of the riders hands...the horse, relaxed and willing, accepts this communication and reacts with the trained response.”
So communication and training is foremost, but the right bit will enhance this communication and training.