Barrel Horse News caught up with top professional barrel racers and trainers to ask, “If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only take one bit with you, what would it be?”

Article by Savanna Escobar
Photos courtesy Michelle Darling, DaCota Monk and Tammy Fischer

You can picture it instantly in your mind. The first bit you pull out of your tack room daily. Your go-to on almost any horse. The one that just fits you and your hands. If you were stranded on a deserted island and could take just one bit with you, which one would it be?

Michelle Darling – Dave Elliott Spur Up 02 Shank, Three-Piece Dogbone with Roller

For Michelle Darling, her go-to is made by Dave Elliott — the Spur Up 02 shank with mouthpiece 07. It is a three-piece copper-coated twisted wire mouthpiece with a dogbone and roller. Darling prefers to mount this bit on a browband headstall to ensure the bit sits squarely in the horse’s mouth. She will typically use a leather curb strap with a chain in the middle, with room for two fingers between the strap and her horse’s jaw.

“I want it to be just touching the corners of the mouth, not necessarily a wrinkle, but making contact. They can drop it or pick it up on their own,” Darling shared. “I really like it on one that’s coming out of a junior cowhorse. I will go from a ring bit to a junior cowhorse to this bit. I think it helps get collection and gathers them up in the turn. It has a little bit of rate, but a lot of forgiveness at the same time.”

She recalls purchasing the bit around 2012 after seeing it used by Jordon Briggs on her standout horse National Finals Rodeo horse Frenchmans Jester.

Darling makes her home in Medford, Oklahoma. She has EquiStat earnings of $399,022 and has finished in the top 50 of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association standings five times, as well as winning multiple World Champions Rodeo Alliance Majors.

Michelle Darling’s “deserted island bit” pick: Dave Elliott Spur Up 02 shank, three-piece dogbone with roller

DaCota Monk – L&W Combo – Steel Noseband & Chain Mouthpiece

Renowned futurity trainer DaCota Monk chose the L&W Bits combo with a steel noseband and chain mouthpiece for his tropical deserted island choice. Monk is not picky about the style of headstall for this bit, but he does want the noseband to sit fairly low on the horse’s nose. He also wraps the noseband in electrical tape. 

With the chain mouthpiece, he prefers to have at least one wrinkle in the corners of their mouth for it to work properly. He will use a regular chain for the curb strap, adjusted fairly loosely, just tight enough so that when he lifts with one hand, the curb chain makes some contact.

“I just stumbled onto it. I got it off of a tack trailer at a show,” Monk said. “It looks like a harsh bit, but it’s only as harsh as your hands. The way I ride, I want contact as soon as I touch with my fingers. The horse reacts to it faster so I don’t panic in a run, and the horse stays light all the time. You’d think some horses would be sensitive or not handle it well, but they actually seem to handle it better than some of the longer shanked bits. I feel like a lot of horses like a noseband better than a long shank. That’s how we train them starting with a halter, so they are already used to it.”

Monk likes to use this combo on horses that need to be more snappy in their turns but acknowledges that it can be dual-purpose and also help achieve more bend, depending on where your hand placement is.

Monk is the owner and trainer of Diamond DM Performance Horses in Point, Texas. He is a slot race champion, winner of multiple futurities and is known for training the late industry standout mare Famous Lemon Drop as well as 2023 standout TNR Wannaseemycancan.

DaCota Monk’s “deserted island bit” pick: L&W combo with steel noseband and chain mouthpiece

Tammy Fischer – Dave Elliott Spur Up 09 Shank, Four-Piece Twisted Dogbone Mouthpiece

“My first question is, are we gonna work or are we gonna compete on this island?” Fischer asked. “Everything I have works in one bridle — a square Loomis with a martingale. It’s my go-to, every horse, every day. But running is a whole different ballgame — I like a Dave Elliott short shank with four dogbones across it. It’s weighted just perfect, a little heavier. It’s solid in your hand and feels good. When you pull it, it slides where it should and stays where it should. It never binds and never pinches.”

She prefers browband headstalls to run in and likes the mouthpiece to be only touching, with no wrinkles.

“I have been to Dave Elliott’s bit clinics, and I do break the rules — I don’t use a curb chain,” Fischer admitted. “If you open my tack room, it’s full of Elliott bits, and not one of them has a curb chain on it. But they work for me. It’s simple logic in my head — barrel racing is a speed event; it’s fast. A curb chain is used for stopping. They don’t time you for stopping!”

At Fischer’s house, the four-dogbone bit is referred to as “The Magic Bit,” and she has one with a longer shank as well.

“It’s pretty flexible and has enough give in the mouth that most horses will take it. You can get by with it on most horses, unless something is just super duper strong. I have had it for probably close to 10 years,” Fischer said. “I tell people if you’re going to try a new bit, even in a bit store or something like that, you’re going to pick one that’s pretty similar to one you already have. You’re not going to step outside your box and try something totally different. I tell them, go in your friend’s trailer and pick out the prettiest headstall. Don’t even look at the bit. Just try that, and see what happens. That’s how I got the Dave Elliott; a friend of mine had this kick-ass headstall. Sometimes you’ve got to go outside the box to get what you want.”

Fischer is a seven-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, trainer, clinician and mentor based out of Ledbetter, Texas.

Tammy Fischer’s “deserted island bit” pick: Dave Elliott Spur Up 09 shank, four-piece twisted dogbone mouthpiece

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