Before I show you how to make the bit I like, let me share some logic.
I’ve been thinking about why the bit I favor works and I’ve come to some conclusions. Let’s see if I can walk you through my thought process.
What we’re trying to accomplish by longlining is two-fold. We are educating ourselves and we’re improving the way our horse/pony moves.
Maybe I should say the end result is a multi-benefit. We teach the horse to move correctly. We develop the mouth so we can communicate effectively. We educate our hands so we can automatically adjust ourselves to provide not only what the horse needs but the feedback to allow the horse to do what we want done.
All that’s a bit esoteric, isn’t it. Ignore the deep thinking stuff and I’ll step back to pure mechanics.
Because the outside line goes around the outside hind leg, it causes the bit to move laterally in the mouth every stride. When the outside hind leg comes forward, the bit slides just a little toward the center of the circle. When the outside hind leg goes back, it pulls the outside rein which pulls the bit through the mouth just a little bit toward the outside of the circle.
With me so far?
So, if the bit has a joint or a port in the middle, that joint is being pulled across the tongue every single stride. When that happens, instead of relaxation and swing of the head/nose from side to side (encourages lifting the back and stretching the frame), we get tension, lifting the head or overflexing, wiggling of the head at the poll, gaping of the mouth . . . all negative things.
If you’re using a straight bar bit of any kind (rubber or metal, doesn’t matter) or a mullen without the added arch, you’ve got a different set of problems. Because the path where the bit lays in the mouth is a curve, and the only soft tissue that can give way to accommodate the straight(er) mouthpiece of the bit is the tongue, the bit presses into the tongue and cuts off the circulation. It’s actually worse than that. Instead of resting equally on the tongue and the lower bars, the bit pushes into the tongue and pushes against the top bars and if we want the mouth to stay closed, it gets strapped shut with a dropdown or flash noseband. This style bit results in all of the above negatives of a jointed bit plus the horse trying to suck the tongue out from under the bit to relieve the pressure on tongue and upper bars.
In all the thinking I’ve been doing about why the bit we use works so well, it had escaped me until just lately that the extra curved mullen most closely follows the most easily available path through the mouth. When this bit is pulled through the mouth by the action of the outside hind leg, no or little discomfort results. Because there’s no associated discomfort, relaxation happens faster. The head and neck are wiggled from side to side and any tension in the neck and back get massaged and eliminated. Once the tension leaves, the stride lengthens and the physiology of the movement improves.
Does that make sense?
By now you’re probably saying to yourself “I’ll run the outside line over the horse’s back!” and you’d be missing all the benefit the outside hind leg provides.
I am a huge believer in the Baucher mullen snaffle with a little more arch than is standard for a mullen mouthpiece. The extra arch distributes the weight of the bit and contact better in the mouth. If your goal is to teach your horse to move correctly, carry themselves correctly, if you’re trying to train him to be strong enough for self-carriage, this really is the perfect bit. I drove competitively in this style mouthpiece for years and had a very comfortable horse with a quiet mouth. This mouthpiece alteration works on shanked driving bits as well. I’ve added arch to butterfly bits and driving pelhams. The extra arch mullen mouthpiece and a separate headstall attachment are the keys to comfort.
If you elect to buy a Baucher mullen snaffle or hanging cheek mullen snaffle, buy it ½” wider so you can add extra arch. Adding arch=narrow width and the ½” of additional width gives enough material for the extra arch. The end result is the right width bit with enough arch for a comfortable mouth.
When I first started making my own “hanging mullen snaffle” a la Francoise Baucher, the Baucher mullen snaffle was impossible to find. Years later when I finally managed to find a vendor, this very simple bit was $180 and didn’t come in all sizes. $180 may not seem like a lot of money now, but in the 1990′s, it was a lot of money to me. Even now, given how frugal I tend to be, it’s a lot of money, though you can now find a Baucher mullen snaffle in most sizes at a semi-reasonable price. If you’re in the US you’ll be paying for international shipping as most of the ones I’ve found are sold in Europe.
If you can’t find a Baucher mullen or hanging cheek mullen snaffle in the size you need, here’s how I make them.
Purchase an inexpensive solid stainless English pelham about ½” wider than your horse’s mouth. The extra width is important. You’ll need to buy the version that doesn’t have a sloppy mouthpiece. Your horse’s lips could get pinched if there’s enough slack for the mouthpiece to slide up and down. There are mullen pelhams in 1/4″ increments on the web up to 6½”. Search and you will find what you need.
Remove the chin chain hooks. This is easily done with a pair of screw drivers. Stick on through the bit ring and the other in the loop of the hook fastened to the bi and twist until the ring will slide off the headstall ring.
Use a hacksaw or motorized equivalent and saw the shanks off below the ring. Don’t cut it off too close as some manufacturer’s bits have a pin running down through the center of the shank. If you cut into this it will not affect performance but it will impact appearance.
Use a flat file or grinder to smooth the cut locations. Use emery paper/cloth for final smoothing. If you clamp the bit in a vice use leather or cloth to protect the bit.
Now comes the tough part. You’ve got to put more arch in the mouthpiece. If you lay the bit down on a flat surface with the mullen arched up, you need to add to the arch until you have 1″ of clearance between the center of the mouthpiece and the flat surface. I mean something 1″ thick/tall should be able to slide between the center of the mouthpiece and the flat surface.
There are a couple ways you can add extra arch. The video posted at the bottom shows the easiest way I’ve found. Screw together 2x scraps to make a frame. Set the top side parts far enough apart for the mouthpiece of the bit to hang between the pieces of wood and the cheek pieces and headstall rings and ends of the moutpiece to rest on the wood. Fasten the rein rings down to the wood using fence staples. You can use a piece of 2×2 or something similar as a buffer and hammer on the 2×2 (not the bit itself) but this method is really time consuming. While this is the original method I’ve used, I’ve since developed a faster method. As you’ll see in the video posted below, I now use a piece of round fence post. It has enough heft to do the job, won’t mar the mouthpiece and is the right shape to facilitate a good bend. A couple dozen whacks and the mouthpiece is reshaped. While you’re hammering away, keep checking your progress so you don’t overdo the bend. Don’t hammer just in one place. Move from side to side so the extra arch is evenly distributed across the width of the mouthpiece.
I’ve had my farrier heat the mouthpiece to make it easier to bend. If you have your shoer do it on their anvil expect to have a rough mouthpiece. The goal is to keep the mouthpiece smooth so it won’t offend the horse’s mouth.
And finally, you can make bending easier using heat. I’ve used a torch to heat the mouthpiece. This method is effective but still not as quick as using the length of fence post as your bending tool. There are two drawbacks to using heat. Expect some discoloration of the mouthpiece from the heating. You’ll need to be careful to have even bend across the mouthpiece. If it’s too hot in one spot, that’s the spot that will bend first and fastest.
The last thing you’ll do is make sure the small head stall rings are tipped out enough to provide clearance for the headstall connection. The goal is to provide enough room to prevent pinching of the jaw or such a tight fit hair is rubbed off. These rings are normally straight. Be careful here. Bend the headstall rings out slowly so you don’t snap the ring off.
That’s it. That’s all that’s required. Sounds easy, right? It’s actually pretty easy, it just a couple hours and the right tools.