by Charmayne James with Bonnie Wheatley 

   Charmayne recently added some new products to her Signature Series produced by Professional’s Choice and she felt that it would interest readers to talk more about bits in general as integral tools of the barrel racing trade. 

   Charmayne has worked with Professional’s Choice to offer two Sliding Draw Gag bits and her new Short Shank and Long Shank Leverage Series, each of which have five different mouthpieces to choose from, including: smooth snaffle, twisted wire snaffle, three piece dog bone, medium port pretzel and low port twisted pretzel. The Short Shank Series features 5” mouthpieces set on 7” shanks while the Long Shank Series has the same mouthpiece options on 9” shanks.

   Additionally, her collection now includes a Bumper Spur and a Shank Spur. The new additions to the Charmayne James Collection join the original bits in the series, which are the D-Ring Snaffle Bit (Seadoo), the Chain Bit (Grasshopper), Sliding Gag Bit (Ryan), Short Shank Gag Bit (Chappy) and Short Shank Port Bit (Charlie).


What’s New

I worked with Professional ‘s Choice to create five mouthpiece options on the long shank and five on the short shank series, as well as two draw gag bits. The first five bits of the series that we released last spring were nice and with the bits we’re releasing now I wanted to offer more options. I wanted to put something out there for the futurity people, which is the reason behind the draw gags. Creating a wide variety of bits to suit a broader range of people and give them easy access to an affordable and high quality bit line was the goal. The wide distribution that Professional’s Choice has helped us accomplish it.

   I also added a shank spur that’s really nice looking with a rowel that won’t hurt or cut a horse. We’ve added both a shank spur and a bumper spur that are attractive and effective.

Thoughts On Bits

   When you’re training barrel horses you need a variety of bit options to try and get a message through to the horse. It takes some experimentation with quality bitswhen you’re trying to get that message through in training. It takes evaluating the horse and transitioning through some different bits and eventually you won’t have to train on the horse all the time. Horses will tell you over time what bits they prefer too.

   The reason I added the two draw gag bits is that there’s a place for them. Futurity people and people that are running young horses on a strict timeline need to bring them on fast. If you want to keep good control on a young horse running at competitive speeds then the draw gags have their place. If you want to keep the horse good for a long period of time you might want to ultimately invest in the effort of transitioning to some kind of leverage bit with a curb to get some lift and quicker reaction.

   I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to realize that you must transition from one stage of bit to the next based on your horse’s level of training and responsiveness. You might start a young horse in a D-ring snaffle and a martingale or even a bosal and transition to a bit like the Chappy, which is a short shank port bit released in 2007, and a great bit for introducing the curb.You go through bit transitions gradually in order for the horse to learn to adapt to a curb chain. If there’s no time because of futurity deadlines to transition into curb bits, you can stay in the draw gags as an option and go compete. When you’re running young horses competitively these bits offer a good degree of control.

   There are instances when people don’t understand that switching abruptly from a snaffle to a leverage bit with no transition time is counterproductive. I’ve found that moving a horse out of the D-ring to a bit like the Chappy to introduce curb pressure and spending a lot of time just riding, loping circles, even doing ground work and basics, gives the horse a time period to adjust to the feel of the curb. Transitioning from a snaffle gradually into leverage bits eliminates a lot of training complications later like hitting barrels and shouldering barrelsbecauseyou can communicate quicker and better once you have a good feel established in the leverage bits.

   It’s important to teach horses how to respond to curb pressure and to neck rein. Be conscious in your training of applying that outside rein to the horses neck and getting a response because it’s very important for a barrel horse to learn to neck rein.

   The long shank series is designed for the more seasoned barrel horse.The shank gives the rider greater lift and added shoulder and rib cage control. The wide variety of mouthpieces offer options for a lot of different styles of horse and rider. I’m a big fan of the three piece mouthpiece because it fits nicely in a horse’s mouth. The three piece dog bone bit has a copper roller that gives a nervous horse something else to think about and the copper promotes salivation. The twisted snaffle mouthpiece is good on a horse that might be pulling on you or getting strong. This particular mouthpiece can help increase a horse’s sensitivity, but you want to be careful not to overdo that.I’ve got to emphasize too that on a barrel horse if you get them overly responsive,it can defeat the plan of what you want them to do. They are not cutting and reining horses so I recommend not getting too carried away in a twisted wire mouthpiece because it’s possible to get a barrel horse overly sensitive and worried.

   Of course a barrel horse needs the right headset and needs to be broke at the poll so they can engage the hind end correctly to turn a barrel.Your long shanks will help them break at the poll and get that nice headset. One of the main things I want to convey is that bits are tools to help you find your way through the training process. When you bring a horse on gradually you need a variety of tools to help instill the basics and once the horse responds with what you’retraining them to do you can often switch back to less bit. The twisted wire snaffle bit might be one you use once in a while to correct a problem or on a finished horse. Riders will encounter different needs during training than when they’re competing on a high-level, finished, solid barrel horse, so the wide variety of mouthpieces allow for that.

Things To Keep In Mind

   The shank and purchase areas of our bits are the same length, which gives the bit a good degree of balancewhenyou pull and turn. It’s important that a bit be balanced and have good weight without being too heavy. My bits all have a guard that keeps the curb chain buckle from digging into the horse’s skin and all the mouthpieces are designed not to pinch. My equine dentist, Randy Riedinger is so conscious of what happens with a horse’s mouth and we’ve kept that in mind as well with this particular line of bits.

   People talk a lot about bits and see a lot of bits advertised. People see a lot of bits out there but it’s hard to know how and if the bit will work with practical application. I think the key to sorting out the right bit choices is to have some experience with bit transitions and neck reining. It helps tohave the experience of having ridden a lotto know when and why to switch bits and to have the feel to predict how a horse will respond to different ones. People that are learning are not going to have that knowledge under their belt to judge if a product will work or not.

   Unfortunately, if you don’t use bits correctly things just won’t work out that well.

   Take, for instance, a horse that’s running by the first barrel (which, if a horse is going to run by, that’s a common barrel for them to do it on). Many people think that they’ll simply  go find a bigger bit to correct that problem. You can do that, but there are so many other contributing factorsto problems in a run.If you lookonly at the bit rather than evaluating the big picture, the bigger bit is not apt to fix the problem. Consider position and approach to the barrel, when you’re sitting down, posture, the position of your hands and where you’re looking. If you start using a long shank bit because you’re hitting barrels the bit is not necessarily going to solve things. If a rider leans, looks straight at the barrel and shifts their weight all to the inside that’s more important to fix. 

   Constantly evaluate the approach, your timing and balance and the horse’s position and balance. You need good bits as tools to help achieve all this. For instance, strong horses can become more reassured that you’re in control with a long shank bit. Or, a young girl that’s not real strong can benefit from the use of a longer shank because she needs some additional leverage.

   I don’t commonly change bits based upon the ground conditions because by the time I’m competing I’ve come to know the horse and what he likes and I don’t generally like to change that up a lot in competition. I’m afraid to change too much of what the horse is accustomed to in a run. Some horses will run in a lighter bit inside and need more leverage outside. Here’s the thing everyone’s got to remember: be a better rider because there’s nothing that’s set in stone on bits so you need to know the horse and do what works to get the best from them.

   Another example of why and when to change bits is something I did when I was running Scamper. I ran Scamper in a little snaffle when I needed to make the fastest run possible — liketo try and win a round at the Finals. But I knew that in doing that I would give up some control. I was always focused on the average enough that I knew I didn’t want to sacrifice a lot of control to win rounds. Every decision you make comes with a consequence.

For more information on Charmayne James, her books, videos and clinics, visit or reach her via e-mail at [email protected] or [email protected].


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