Spade bit (horse)

The spade bit is a historic vaquero design for a type of curb bit with straight, highly decorated shanks and a mouthpiece that includes a straight bar, a narrow port with a cricket, and a "spoon," a flat, partly rounded plate affixed above the port, supported by braces on either side. Considered a highly technical piece of equipment to be used only on a finished horse, the spade bit is a refined tool that experts compare to driving a sports car in its ability to convey precise commands to the horse. Not all horses have the conformation or temperament to become a finished spade bit horse, a process that takes a number of years and is seldom complete until a horse has at least five years of training under saddle.


The spade bit is an elaborate, complex bit that can only be properly used on a highly trained horse handled by a skilled rider. In the vaquero tradition, its use represents the highest level of trust and communication between horse and rider.[1] Experts compare the ride and handling of a horse trained in this manner to that of a Jaguar.[2] The process of training the spade bit horse takes five to seven years to complete.[3] Its emphasis has always been on producing a finely tuned working horse and partner, emphasizing quality rather than on how quickly the goal is reached.[1] [4] The conformation of the horse is also a factor; to become a spade bit horse, the animal must be bred to have a higher neck set and well-carried head.[5]

Traditionally, the vaquero method starts a young horse using a hackamore,[6] which is headgear with no bit that uses a heavy rawhide noseband, called a bosal, to control the horse. Then the horse moves to lighter bosals, and next into a combination of headgear that represents a transitional period in its training; a bridle with a type of curb bit called a "half breed" which is worn in conjunction with a light bosal. The rider carries two sets of reins, one set on the bosal and one on the curb, giving this gear its name, the "two-rein.[1][7] After several years in a two-rein, the horse graduates into the spade bit.[1] A light bosal called a bosalito remains on the horse by tradition, usually without reins attached.


  1. Stewart, Kara L. (December 2004). "The Vaquero Way". Horse Illustrated. Retrieved 2010-07-13.
  2. Varian 2004, 0:45:00.
  3. Varian 2004, 0:45:20.
  4. Clayton, Hoy & Underwood 2001, pp. 180, 186, 208.
  5. Varian, Sheila. "Business Sense (Belongs in the Barn Too)". Varian Arabians. Archived from the original on 2010-01-26. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
  6. Clayton, Hoy & Underwood 2001, p. 31.
  7. Varian 2004, 0:30:45.


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