I had a friend call me the other day to ask me what bit I would suggest she transition her horse into after the snaffle bit. She also was curious when I felt a horse was ready to be moved into a shanked bit. When you are working with a young horse and trying to get them ready for a three-year-old futurity, you have a very specific time frame to work with.
If it's a cutting or reining horse, then it has to be one-handed, so it must neck rein effectively. But most people don't have to work with this rigid timeline, so then the answer becomes "move them up when they are ready and not any sooner."
So what does it look like, then, for a horse to be ready to progress from a snaffle to a shank, for instance? To me, they are ready to transition when they can operate in a snaffle bit, carrying a soft feel at all gaits and at all times if asked to. I have a rule that my horses do not get to push on me, be it my hands or my legs or on the ground either. I want them to carry themselves with softness. I want them to bridle up and get soft with me doing no more than picking up on my reins and taking the slack up. I also expect the same response to my legs when cued.
I go into this in great length in some of my YouTube videos, picking up a soft feel. So if I can ride my horse in a snaffle using two hands, which is what it is designed for and also using it one-handed and neck reins horse I start thinking it's time to move them up to a shanked bit.
My choice of shanked bits to use next would be a correction bit. I have used this bit on countless horses with good results. I generally start by cooling my horse out in one. What I mean by that is that I would work my horse in a snaffle, then towards the end of the session, when I'm riding the horse around cooling them out, I would put this new bit on them and move them around in a really slow and easy manner.
This gives the horse time to get used to the new feel of the bit is giving them. The correction bit is a shanked bit which makes it a lever bit. Not all shanked bits are true lever bits, but a correction bit is a true lever bit. What I mean by that is that when I apply pressure to the bit by picking up on the reins, more pressure is felt by the horse than I am applying throught the reins. In contrast with a snaffle, if you apply one pound of pressure to your reins, the horse will feel one pound of pressure. A snaffle works on a one-to-one ratio (1X1). Because a correction bit is a lever you might be applying one pound, but your horse could be feeling five pounds of pressure.
If you have done a good job with your snaffle bit, your horse will understand the pressure and release as it relates to a bit, and it won't take them very long to become comfortable in this new bit. The real key to success with this transition is getting your horse real soft and handy in a snaffle. You have to remember that moving them up to a shanked bit isn't about putting in a bit on them that has more bite, its moving them up to a bit that is more so designed to be used one-handed, neck reigning the horse and applying less pressure.
The main thing i told my friend was don’t get in a panic to get them into a shanked bit, doing a real good job in getting them real handy in a snaffle is way more important than getting them into a shanked bit. I know some real nice older horses that are still in a snaffle and doing everything that you would want a nice ranch horse to be doing. Take your time and do it right. Remember the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”