The Tahoe Verona

Are you still looking for the perfect gift for the horseman or woman in your life? The new ‘Tahoe’ shank from Tom Balding finds inspiration in the Vaquero style that is part of California’s history. This beautifully crafted bit features a Tahoe© shank in a stainless finish with antiqued silver engraved plates and dots. This shank measures 8″. The mouthpiece is Balding’s Verona© with roller.

The Verona© mouthpiece with roller.

When you’ve made a decision and are ready to place your order, you may want to consider extras, such as initials or brands to customize your bits. The ultimate, personalized gift! Plus, Tom Balding Bits and Spurs does offer rush delivery. 

Call them at 307-672-8459 or e-mail for more information.

Visit Tom Balding Bits and Spurs online at:

Try a Bit Before You Buy It!

There’s no question – top riders across the globe favour Tom Balding’s handcrafted bits and spurs. With Balding’s meticulous attention to detail, knowledge of the horse and high quality materials used to create his bits and spurs, it’s no wonder Balding’s company is a leader in the field. Fans include the National Reining Horse Association $5 Million Rider Andrea Fappani, National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Famer Phil Rapp, and National Reined Cow Horse Association Million-Dollar Rider Zane Davis, to name a few.

If you’ve ever considered purchasing a high quality bit, Tom Balding Bits & Spurs offers a wide variety of custom bit combinations. No matter what you are looking to attain from your horse’s performance, there’s a bit that will offer customized assistance. Tom Balding Bits & Spurs knows a high quality bit purchase requires the best educated decision possible; as it is an investment that will often last a lifetime. Which is why the company created the Trial Bit Service, offered to those who would like to try a mouthpiece before purchasing – to ensure they are comfortable with the function in relation to their riding style.

Photo by Jenn Webster.

Within the Trial Bit Service, clients are welcome to try up to three bits for two weeks. Additionally, the company tries to offer most combinations; however, because of the large number of possible combinations, clients may have to try a bit with a similar shank to the one requested. The only out of pocket expense you may incur are the shipping costs. For more information about this unique service, check out the Trial Bit website page here.

There are also multiple resources on the Tom Balding Bits & Spurs website available to help you select a mouthpiece and shank combination you might like to try. They include:

•  The Tom Balding blog.
•  The online catalog.
• The bit creator.
Sample buy-it-now-options.


When you are ready to request your trial bits give Tom Balding Bits & Spurs a call or message them with the desired mouthpiece and shank combinations. They look forward to getting you into the right bit for you and your horse. Request your trial bits today!

Give Tom Balding Bits & Spurs a call at 307.672.8459 or visit them online at:


Freeze Frame – Equipped to Work

Travis Rempel runs TR Performance Horses, based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, specializing in working cow horse, reining and cutting horses. He is charging onto the scene, claiming limited open and open victories in all three disciplines across western Canada. When Rempel steps into the show pen, he is there to win and these are the products he relies on to get him to the pay window.

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1.) HAT. “It is an American Hat Company straw. These hats look good, hold their shape well and are durable.”

2.) SHIRT. “This shirt is made by CR Ranchwear out of Texas. They are 100 percent handmade shirts, made in Texas. They have a really nice cut to them and nice patterns – really sharp and crisp.”

3.) CHAPS. “These chaps are made by Diane Olsen of Armstrong, B.C. They are a toast colour with tooled belt pieces. Diane’s chaps are super comfortable and look great.”

4.) BOOTS. “My boots are Tony Lama. They are kangaroo tops, which make them soft, comfortable and I like the look of the lighter bottoms.”

5.) BIT. “The bit in this photo is made by Frank Principe. It is a handmade cow horse bit with lots of tongue relief, balance and feel. Also, Frank does beautiful silver work. Horse really work well and take to this bit.”

6.) HEADSTALL. “By Cowperson Tack, I like their tack because it’s stylish and affordable.”

7.) REINS. “Romels by Steve Guitron. Well-built, affordable and durable for everyday use and showing.”

8.) SADDLE. “This saddle is made by Vaquero Saddlery. There aren’t many around here, but it’s a super soft, comfortable saddle and fits this mare great. A lot of feel to the saddle, I can really feel the horse under me when I ride in it.”

9.) CINCH. “By Weaver, it is an affordable wool cinch. I believe wool fleece is best for pads and cinches.”

10.) SHOW PAD. “This pad is made by Yucca Flats. Like all Yuccas, it has a great pattern and they always turn a horse out nicely.”

11.) UNDER PAD. “I use a Diamond Wool Pad Co. under my pad. I think soft wool fleece is the best thing to have on a horse’s back. It is the most comfortable for them and doesn’t burn or rub like rubber or hard felt can.”

12.) HORSE BOOTS. “I use polo wraps by Classic Equine, they are inexpensive and easy to keep white. When they are wrapped properly, they can supply good support for the horse’s legs. Bell boots and skid boots are by Classic Equine, I like their products because they are durable and tough.”

Vaquero Lore – The Spanish Spade


By Rod Honig

Much maligned, misunderstood and sometimes even feared, the spade bit has been in the hands of horsemen in one form or another for centuries. The current versions we are familiar with date back to the vaqueros of Old California. So what makes a spade bit and how was it really intended to work in a horse’s mouth?

Spade bits are made with many different cheek configurations, with varying height to the mouthpiece or spoon. The size of the mouth is a combination of the spoon height and the staple height (the staple being the inverted U-shaped piece rising about the solid bar joining the cheeks.) The spoon can be found in a simple teaspoon or a shape that resembles a violin, sometimes referred to as an alligator mouthpiece. The common parts of a spade bit are the solid cannon bar, the staple with a copper “cricket” roller in the middle, the spoon, and braces arching from the cheek just above the bar to each side of the spoon and wrapped in copper or with copper beads on them. Either slobber chains or a slobber bar join the two cheeks at the bottom and rein chains are attached to stirrups or loops at the bottom of the cheek pieces. Named very traditionally, cheek pieces can be of the Santa Paula, Santa Susanna, Las Cruces or even cavalry styled s-shanks variety. The most traditional and prevalent design is some variation of the Santa Barbra cheek. Bit makers speak of this cheek being the most balanced as the shape itself lends to the bit returning to a neutral position quickly and easily.


Many people question the form and function of the mouth of the spade bit. Before you jump to inhumane conclusions, perhaps consider a few facts. The intention always was and is for the horseman to first train the horse through signal via a hackamore and then transition to an under-bridle ‘bosalita’ in conjunction with a spade bit. It was all about teaching signal only, not the force of pull. To protect the mouth, the horse is able to pick up the bit with the tongue, therefore the solid bar (one that does not collapse like a nutcracker) and braces serve to give it more surface area. The horse could use the braces to hold the bit easily and receive signal clearly. By pure physics, the more surface are that comes in contact with the horses tongue, the more any weight or pressure would be distributed if deployed.

Then there is the physiology of the mouth. A human can fit their entire arm in a horse’s mouth, so at the point where the spoon could touch the palate, the horse’s mouth is quite tall in structure. With a properly adjusted curb strap to curb bit rotation, it is a system designed to protect not harm.

Lastly, an essential part to remember is that the educated bridle horse, at te stage that he is introduced to the spade, has developed a headset that is conductive to carrying the bit in a manner such that through balance, the spade points towards the inside of the mouth, not the roof.

As per the old saying, a bit is only as gentle as the hands using it and the classic spade bit was designed for skilled hands – hands with patience and time to develop a signal.

The Buckaroo Saga


Welcome to our new column on vaquero lore. In the future we’ll examine the impressive and functional gear and trappings of the vaquero and buckaroo, but first, a history lesson. The word “vaquero” conjures all sorts of images in one’s mind. But who were these skilled ropers and handlers of livestock?

By the 1760’s the trail of Spanish Missions on the El Camino Real was being established. That era heralded the booming livestock industry in California. With the establishment of trade based on hides and tallow to be shipped out of California the need arose for round-ups and the large scale tending to herds. The men tasked with this were the vaqueros. Originally, native Indians and the Spanish were of this class but with intermarriage came not only the Anglo influence but also from them, a new desire to learn the ways of the vaquero. The word vaquero was mutated to the English pronunciation of buckaroo, which many consider to be one and the same.

In later years, these cowboys were noted for riding saddles reminiscent of what we call the 3B or Visalia-style stock saddle. This contradicts the belief that the Wade saddle was part of their gear. (The Wade was popularized, although not created, by Ray Hunt at a much later date). Their ropes, fashioned of braided rawhide, were called La Reata, which the Anglos bastardized to the English word, lariat. The vaqueros were adept at swinging a big loop to rope cattle and dallying for leverage on their saddle horns. Even the word dally comes from the Spanish, dar la vuelta, which loosely translates to taking a turn. Horses were ridden using a braided rawhide bosal to establish communication through signal, coupled with a hand-twisted horsehair rein and lead called a mecate, now often called a McCarty.


The training progression was to next take the horse into two-rein, meaning using a thinner under-bridle bosal and a spade bit or half-breed, which resembles a spade without a spoon on the mouthpiece staple. This was a transition stage. The final stage was referred to as straight up in bridle in which the horse was ridden solely in a bridle bit with a set of braided rawhide romal reins. As the bits had mouthpieces that were of great height the key, from the hackamore stage to the straight-up stage, was to use headgear predominantly as signal devices, not for leverage unlike many bits in other systems. The snaffle became an addition to the program for many in later years to speed up the progress of the training, but originally the method was all about time — time to develop finesse and exactness in both rider and horse.

Their gear was handmade by the very men that rode and roped daily. So, it needed to be fashioned of readily available material – rawhide, leather and simple iron for the bits. Today’s master gear makers take many of their cues from the older masters – Ortega, Mardueno, Visalia, Tapia and others. The cheeks pieces on today’s bits still remain very close to the original designs in the form of Santa Barbra, Santa Susanna and Las Cruces, along with other designs


So the next time you see a rider with a flat hat, big loop and rawhide and silver adorning their gear, realize you are not seeing a new trend but homage to an old tradition brought forward to present day.

Gearing Up for the Trails

Published in the August 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.

Allan Johnson of Rocky Mountain Outfitting, Springbank, Alberta, offers this checklist of seven essential items to prepare you for the unexpected on a trail ride.

Horse Trail Riding Tips

1. First Aid Kit including such items as bandages, wraps, disinfectant, scissors, etc.

2. A good quality, multi-purpose knife. Look for one with a variety of built-in tools and always keep your blades sharp and in good repair.

3. Maps and GPS are important for mapping out where you are going. Inform someone back home of your planned route and when you expect to be off the trail. If you get lost, don’t take short cuts – stick to the trail.

4. Cell phone, carry one and be mindful of its range. If you plan to trail ride in isolated areas out of cell range, it may be wise to invest in a satellite phone.

5. Matches/Lighter come in handy if you need to start a fire (where permitted).

6. Saddle bags are essential. They will keep your stuff safe, dry and secure. Ensure to distribute the weight as evenly as possible. Your horse will thank you for it!

7. Rain gear: a ¾ length or longer oil skin slicker will keep you and your saddle dry. A waterproof hat also comes in handy.

Digital Evolution, German Martingales & More

You may have heard already that the May / June Western Horse Review is out! But if you're like me and you can't wait for your printed copy to arrive in the mail, did you know you can now access the digital magazine on your iPhone, iPad touch or iPad?

That's right!

The magazine is available in its entirety, page for page on iTunes. So be sure to check it out!

This month I had the pleasure of helping to put together several pieces. One of which was the article on Mounted Shooting which can be found in our RoundPen section.

Did you know there are in excess of 50 possible patterns for mounted shooting competition? Patterns can be pre-determined or may be drawn out of a hat on the day of the event. A competition typically consists of three to six patterns a day, with each pattern comprised of 10 balloons.

Within this same article, I also had the opportunity to interview “Outlaw Annie” – a World Champion Cowgirl in the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) and an Overall World Champion in the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). With a tenacity for the sport and a passion for Quarter Horses, flashy wardrobes and Colt firearms, Bianco Ellett was a perfect addition to this editorial.

Photo courtesy of Annie Bianco-Ellett.

Next up on my list was a piece with Al Dunning. With 37 World or Reserve World titles to his credit and expertise in reining, working cow horse and cutting, Dunning is one of the industry’s leading professionals. In the May / June issue, the Arizona trainer tells us why his signature German Martingale is one of the first pieces of equipment he reaches for in the tack room.

Photo by Cappy Jackson.

There are safety considerations to keep in mind when using a German martingale. For instance, when the horse raises its head above the desired point, the aid adds leverage to the bit in the horse’s mouth. If used improperly, adjusted too short for the individual, or the reins are pulled too tight, the force exerted on the mouth can be jarring. Hence, proper timing and softness of the rider’s hands is imperative. Even so, the German martingale can be an extremely useful tool in the right hands. Here is a little bit more why Dunning likes it so much:

 1. Made from Hermann Oak harness leather, this training aid features a neck strap that holds the martingale that is secured through the horse’s front legs and clipped to the cinch.

2. This martingale only allows for as much lateral movement as set by the rider via a clip on the reins – the degree of head position can be altered by attaching the ends up further along the rings on the reins. Dunning’s martingale allows for three different positions of varying head sets.

3.  A split fork formation is created with the cord line that comes up from the horse’s chest, then runs through the rings of the bit and attaches to rings on the reins.

4. This martingale can be used with split reins or a single rein style.

5. “This training aid is my favorite because it has a lot of ‘take’ when needed and a lot of ‘give’ as soon as the horse performs correctly.” – Al Dunning

Pic by Jenn Webster.

This issue also features top tips from barn and supply professionals for building your ultimate stable! Considerations like hay storage, natural lighting versus artificial lights and permit acquirement are all covered in this feature.

In the piece, I had a chance to speak with Robbie McKay, the owner of a unique Rona store in Black Diamond, AB. As an avid cow horse enthusiast and an acreage owner himself, McKay is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to planning and choosing supplies to build your next barn.

“When people come to us about horse keeping, I like to ask them questions like 'Where will you put your paddocks?' 'Where will you put your hay?' and 'How much time do you plan on spending in your barn?'” McKay says.

“The answers to these questions determine a lot about how a person should proceed with building a barn. I try to give people as much information as I can, ask them lots of questions and get them thinking about how they would visualize a barn on their ranch or acreage,” he states.

Pic by Jenn Webster.

In the health section, Dr. Chris Berezowski of Moore Equine South weighs in on Stage Three Labour in the mare. In this in-depth piece, Dr. Berezowski discusses meconium passage, placental care and routine post-foaling care. He also shares a great picture of a hippomane with us, which is completely normal to find after foaling and is thought to be an accumulation of minerals and proteins.

Be sure to check out the newest issue of Western Horse Review! With our unveiling of the Top 25 Youth in today's horse industry, an honest conversion with trainer's wife Elyse Thomson, and a close up look at equine myofascial release, this is another not-to-be-missed edition!

March is Out!

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Q & A – Mecate Explained

Published in the August 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.Mecate

Question: I have been away from horses and western riding for quite some time, now I am seeing more and more what appears to be a separate rope attached to the bridle (perhaps the noseband or bosal) and looped to one side of the front of the saddle (it does not appear to be a tie-down). Is there any other purpose for this additional rope, other than being useful if out on a trail ride and needing to tie up the horse for a while? Or is there some safety factor as an additional feature for stopping a young horse for example?

Answer: This is called a Mecate. It is attached to a hackamore or a bosal with the long end going back to the rider or saddle. If it is not attached solid to a bosal it may be a get down rope which acts as a lead as well. Many horsemen loop this lead through their belt loop,

so as to have both hands free when needed.

Stuart Derochie has been in the ranching and horse business all of his life. 30 years ago he opened the Frontier Western Shop in Claresholm, Alberta.