I frequently get asked what type of bit to use for a horse with “no brakes.” Firstly, it’s important to recognize that a horse not responding to the bit has either a misunderstanding of the bit, or is struggling with the mechanics of the bit- in other words, the bits mechanics are confusing (see my post on the Tom Thumb). If you find your horse needs a different or more severe bit to slow down, maintain control, or collect, very likely the horse is missing the basics.
A bit can be a wonderful tool to communicate, but it can cause pain, discomfort and confusion easily. The same is possible in hackamores, mechanical hackamores, and bit less bridles. I love my snaffle and French link bits because they allow me direct access to the horses’ jaw, where with education, they learn the feel of the bit means to soften and loosen their jaw.
Sometimes people say a horse is soft in one bit but not another. There is quite the difference between a soft response, signifying understanding and lack of tension; and a pain avoidance response. When we go to the bigger bit for control, we are relying directly on pain and discomfort to control the horse. This can work for a time, but eventually, when panic sets in, adrenaline blocks the pain response, and this type of control becomes unreliable. You are, in effect, riding on borrowed time.
A horse can become accustomed to quite a bit of pressure, and learn to lean on a lot of equipment as well. The horses I grew up riding ran through the two bits of a double bridle easily, and required big, muscly men to bring them back under control. Rest assured nobody is having fun here.
When a horse truly understands the meaning of the bit, with a good feeling for the basics, more leverage is not needed. If you’ve come to accept your horse doesn’t have good basics and you need that control for the trail, my question is this – would you take a vehicle for a highway drive without correct wiring? Me either.
So to answer the question, what type of bit would you ride a horse with no brakes in? I would fix the brakes, and ride in a snaffle.