Whole Bit Better Part IVby Lisa Ferguson Equines by Design
If we haven’t got your interest yet in how using the right bit can improve your partnership with and enjoyment of your mule, then we’ll come at it from another angle...
You may be thinking that all this stuff about the importance of the bit and how your animal responds to it really only applies to show mules. Wrong! It’s a big factor for any type of mule (riding or driving)--because if the mule is comfortable and happy and controllable, then you are going to enjoy your mule a lot more than if your mule is ill-tempered, throws his head up in the air and runs away with you!
Trail Riding MulesTrail riding mules, speed event mules, roping mules, driving mules--all of these mules need to be in the right bit to give you the best performance they can!
Let’s give an example for you trailriders. You’re out on a big Saturday ride on a beautiful day with friends. The group rides down into a draw and scare up a deer! The deer jumps up and leaves just as fast as he can, crashing through the trees and brush. Your mule jumps up and leaves just as fast as he can in the other direction, crashing through the trees and brush. After knocking horses and riders out of the trail, you get the mule stopped several hundred feet later, you’ve lost your hat, sunglasses and low tree limbs have slapped scratches across your face and arms. If you’re lucky, you’re still mule-back, and worse yet, the horse riders are thinking “there’s a typical mule for you...”
If you could have bent the mule’s head, disengaged his hindquarters and had some control over his shoulder, you could have got him stopped. After you got him stopped, you could have asked your excited mule to drop his head to calm it down. So the proper training and bit might be important to you trailriders too!
Remember, when mules get scared or want to evade, they stick their nose out or run out through their shoulder--you have no chance of stopping them. Unless they’re taught to disengage and you have a bit where you can control the shoulder of the mule. (For you folks that are not too clear on what we mean by isolating or lifting the shoulder, we’re going to have some good photos demonstrating exactly what it looks like next month.)
I got a good chance to visit with Dale Myler at the All Star Futurity and Mule Show in Columbia, Missouri in August since his booth was right next to the WESTERN MULE MAGAZINE booth. He spent time with a lot of interested people there at the booth about how bits work; But more importantly, he went out into the arena to work with people and their animals on getting them in a bit that would improve their performance. Myler Bit Co.’s latest interest has been in driving bits--Dale worked outside with Jerry and Rex King on a driving bit for their nice jack “Dagwood”.
I asked Dale what he thought was the most important part of the mule’s mouth in so far as how the bit feels (comfortable or uncomfortable) and affects the communication through the bridle. Was it the lips, chin pressure (curb strap), tongue or palate?
His answer is not what I would have guessed. I would have said the palate (the roof of the mouth). Because everyone thinks the snaffle is the most gentle bit (no palate pressure), and a cathedral or spade that hits the palate is the most severe.
He said the tongue. Because the tongue is the most sensitive of all the parts of the mule’s mouth.
When Ben Tennison first got excited about the theories in A Whole Bit Better, he said “...we’d turn a few heads by telling them that a snaffle is not the least severe...”
But why is the snaffle not the least severe bit?
Because the snaffle can restrict the tongue and even poke down into the tongue.
You’d want to use the least severe bit possible in starting a colt--because you don’t want to hurt and scare them before they even know what you’re asking. And if the tongue is the most sensitive part of the mule’s mouth, you’d especially want to use a bit that stayed away from that. But almost everyone starts colts in a snaffle. Maybe we ought to think about some things, using our own common sense, thinking about how these bits work in a mule’s mouth. If you’re having trouble figuring it out, visit with the Myler’s or study up on it in their book--it’s easy to read and has some good diagrams.
Ten years ago I never would have thought of using the Myler bit I’m using now to start colts with--I’ll show you the bit next month and tell you why I think it’s been working really well on the mules here