Question: I’m going to see a horse for sale tomorrow. The trainer is using a shank bit because it makes the horse soft. I’m not familiar using them: I’ve always used french link snaffles or some equivalent. Why do trainers move into harder bits?
Response from April Reeves: When I hear of anyone using a shank to get softness I get a multitude of red flags.
The use of a shank bit is not for softness. Softness comes from correct training that utilizes the mind to create that softness. It does not start at the physical head or the body.
Shank, or what I call, “finishing bits” are the graduated step of an obedient horse. They are for horses that have a high level of responsiveness and are usually at the end of their training, not the beginning or middle.
Let’s go over the difference between “light” and “soft”.
“Light” is a way of training that gets a horse responsive and obedient. Light happens through training methods that create a body that bends and moves correctly with each request you make. Light requires great skill on the riders part. It also takes consistency, patience and time in. If any of those 3 items do not interest you, “light” will never happen.
“Softness” comes from the mental state of the horse. I believe horses either have it or it could be a tough road to acquiring it. Soft comes from the desire within a horse where he/she is willing to do the work. You don’t always connect with softness right away: I am currently training a horse that had some work on it before I got him, and he is beginning to show a very soft side, finally. As a trainer, you can either bring this out, or shut it down forever. Your mannerism and style dictates the end result. This horse appeared to have had work done on him before me, but the work seemed rushed. Once I backed off and started from scratch as if he had never been handled much before, his soft side came out and he’s now learning much faster. However, I was not going to discover this until I got into the work. It was around 30 days, of working slowly twice a day, to where I finally found it.
I have seen many nice horses (body and conformation), but they had hard minds. It doesn’t matter where or how that happened: it could be from genetics or poor starting, but unless the horse is so amazing you can’t pass it up, you had better be willing to double the time needed to get “lightness”.
If you start with a soft horse, and you are consistent, patient and have the skills, you will get light very quickly. Light follows soft.
So if you see a horse in a shank bit to create “soft”, step back and ask where the hole in his/her training is, because harder bits are never used to soften or lighten a horse. Your end result will always come out to be a tougher mouth (mind) than you started with. If you can’t get “lightness” from your training, or you can’t bring out the softness in your horse, no bit will save you.