Jac review week: Spins-my horse is better one way, when should I move to a shanked bit?

“Stacy-In episodes 24 and 25 you start to teach the spin. I have a horse I rescued in November and I can tell he was started as a reiner. I am kinda stuck because he goes OK to the left and fights the right. I also have had his teeth done twice since they were so horrible. I know I will have to start from the basics, now that I know how to do it, but when should I attempt to place a shank bit in his mouth?  When should I give up the snaffle after he gets better with his spinning.” -Stephanie J.

The key to great training is in a solid foundation. The big question is; When does the training of the spin begin? I would argue that the wandering circles I was doing in episode 18, as well as the spiral in-spiral out exercises and everything I did before episodes 24 & 25 was also key in building a solid foundation.

Most horses have one direction that is better than the other, much like most people are either right or left handed. In some cases this can be a sign of soreness or it can be just as simple as the horse being ‘right’ or ‘left’ handed. If you suspect soreness, watch for signs of soreness across the board; in the pasture when they are turned out, during bending, during groundwork, etc. Also consider having other people evaluate the horse such as a vet or experienced friend.

If you suspect that the cause is more likely from being a natural ‘lefty’ then you can address it through training. I will typically work the horses good direction first and the weaker direction second. With your horse, that would mean working to the left first, then taking a break; after the break, work to the right.  Usually the weaker direction will take longer because there are more issues. As soon as the horse improves either direction, I will give them a break. I also aim to finish my ride with a success in the weak direction. Here is an example of a possible workout illustrating this:

  • 10-15 minutes of warm up reviewing groundwork on lunge line, while saddled with the rope halter on under the bridle, bridle reins tied up. Review walk, trot, inside turns. Lope 4 times each direction. Review turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. Note: watch for signs of imbalance between the left and right directions during this time.
  • 10 minutes of trotting long straight lines (see example Episode 23 at 4:20) Note: again pay attention to any differences between left and right, for example, does the horse drift to the inside when going left and drift to the outside when going right? If so, then the horse is always pulling to the left.
  • 4-5 minutes working wandering circles to the left; end on improvement
  • 4-5 minutes working wandering circles to the right; end on improvement
  • Note: if improvement comes after 2 minutes, take a break. If improvement comes after 8 minutes take a break. If both horse and rider still feel good you could add repetitions by working 2-3 sessions to the left and then 2-3 sessions to the right.
  • dismount and pick rocks for 4-5 minutes; mental break for the horse
  • after rest, work lope if desired
  • work spins to the left; 2-3 repetitions as shown in episode 29
  • work spins to the right; 2-3 repetitions. End on improvement such as the horse beginning the spin willingly or of his own accord as Jac did in several episodes, notably in episode 26

I will often use a routine similar to this one for 5-7 sessions in a row. By using the same routine the horse begins to ‘see’ or anticipate what we are going to end with. This consistency is what lead to Jac ‘thinking’ like he did at the beginning of episode 26.

Episode 26 also discusses changing the bit. I won’t change to a shanked bit until the horse can 1) bend and counter-bend and 2) do a slow spin willingly. The key here is that the horse is performing theses maneuvers because it understands the concept. This is the foundation that makes any bit, or no bit, possible because we are working with the mental part of the horse. I can also tell you that with all of my horses, I have times where I take them back into the snaffle, even after moving to a shanked bit.

Evaluate why you desire to change bits. I change because different bits have clearer signal to a horse. A snaffle is excellent for side to side, or lateral, flexion. A shanked bit has a clearer signal for breaking at the poll, or vertical, flexion. I state this as an observation that comes from listening to the many horses I have worked with. For the spin I prefer the snaffle. For collection at the lope and moving into lead changes many horses find the signal from a shanked bit a more clear cue to round and collect; providing they have the proper foundation. I have even been known to ride part of my ride in a snaffle to work on the spins and the other part in a shanked bit to work on vertical collection.

It sounds like several of the episodes of the Jac videos touch on your experiences. Thank you for having the horses teeth done (episode 19). It is amazing how much of a difference it can make. Many horses have cuts and ulcers in their mouths because their teeth are so sharp and it has nothing to do with a rider or a bridle. It only makes sense that the horse would be more willing if it were not in pain.

It sounds like you have a wonderful and potentially rewarding project ahead of you. If you keep the goals of learning and listening to your horse, observing and learning more in the forefront,  I believe you will both benefit from the journey.


  1. Debbie Mosier on July 3, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Wondering if the being better one way than the other could be a transfer from the rider being right or left handed? Maybe the cues are clearer or more assertive in one direction more so than the other, depending on if the rider is a righty or a lefty.

  2. Nikki B on July 3, 2014 at 8:37 am

    You may have solved the mystery! I’ve just taken a QH on trial who came back from the breakers with some “habits”. One is backing up a lot and also not wanting to go through gateways. I think after watching episode 26 that the backing up could have been a “finishing” exercise and also going to the gate (not through it) was “finishing” also. She isn’t being dangerous, maybe she’s just asking questions. The owners were really frustrated by this weird behaviour, maybe I’ll treat it like you have and see if I can’t break the habit.

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