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Tom Balding Bits & Spurs

Bits and Pieces from Tom Balding Bits & Spurs

  • Bit Basics

    Understanding the importance of materials in the mouthpiece of your bits is a huge key to how successful you will be at getting the most out of your horse’s performance. There are many options for bits and not all horses like the same mouthpiece. Granted, sometimes it’s not the bit but whose hands the bit is in that can ultimately determine if the horse is responsive or accepting. Generally, a good sign that a horse has accepted its bit is the way he carries his head. A horse that is “soft” or accepting of the bit is flexing at the poll, relaxed at the jaw, and not mouthing the bit. Some common behaviors for not accepting the bit include head-tossing, chewing, or gaping mouth. If one sees their horse displaying such behavior, it’s always a good idea to have your horse’s teeth checked as well as checking to see if there are sharp edges or pinching. Another major sign to look for is if the horse is producing saliva. Increased saliva production will increase sensitivity and allow the bit to properly roll and rotate in the horse’s mouth. Various metals used to make mouthpieces, such as steel (sometimes referred to as sweet iron) and copper, will help increase saliva production in your horse’s mouth. The ideal mouthpiece is made with a combination of both. Sometimes you will see small strips of inlaid copper or a roller.
    What material is in your horse’s mouth? A shiny, silver-colored mouthpiece is more than likely to be stainless steel. Mass produced bit manufactures commonly use stainless steel for their bit mouthpieces. It lacks flavor, so it can dry out a horse’s mouth. A sweet iron with copper mouthpiece generally will turn brown in color over time, which is a positive thing. Most horsemen prefer a sweet iron or copper mouthpiece as horses find these most palatable.
    When selecting a bit, visiting with a professional is always good advice. Be sure the material is smooth without sharp edges, non-pinching, well balanced, and built for strength. A happy horse starts with what’s in its mouth!
    Things to consider when you go shopping for your next bit:
    • Sweet iron and copper are generally best for mouthpieces
    • Stainless where there are moving parts helps extend the life of the Bit
    • Overall strength, especially moving parts
    • Non-pinching
    • Well balanced and symmetrical
    • Smooth, without sharp edges
    • Quality of material
    • Invest in quality; it will last a lifetime



    don't replace it!

    Each bit and spur is hand build through the initial machining down to the hand engraved initials. Through the years Tom has acquired many pieces of equipment to help make the bit and spur building process more efficient - for bending, drilling, and cutting the raw metal. Each piece of equipment has lived a little life before making it to our shop, and is put through rigorous use as it is manned by Tom, Sam, Justin, and Ryan. Here you can see a glimpse of the larger machines in the main fabrication room. This is where the the stock material coming in starts to take shape as a bit or spur.


    There are exceptions - machines that were purchased new. Toms welder, bought in 1973 to start his welding business, was one of those items. It finally broke down and repair is not possible. It was a bittersweet parting for Tom. He bought the helmet the same day, but it still has a lot of miles left on it.


    New equipment is also brought in if the technology is able to add value to you, our customers. An example of this is our updated grinders for rounding the sharp metal edges on your bits and spurs. We are always working on quality; process through finished product. If you come through the shop for a tour chances are very high that you will see one or more of these mechanical work horses being put to use. It is truly a sight to see. We hope to see you soon!



    We love this great list from Pro Equine Grooms and want to share it with you here.

    "-You speak horse.  You understand how their brains work, how to read their body language, and how to influence and train their behavior in positive ways.  Giant, thick books on the topic have been written, you have memorized them all, and you still learn each and every day about how horses communicate by observing and interacting with horses.
    -You also speak human.  All this horse knowledge is useless if you can’t “play nice” with your boss, your co-workers, the barn clients.  You will also recognize your own needs, and the needs of those around you.  Yes, “horses come first” but at some point you need to sit your butt down and eat a sandwich and take care of yourself.  No horse will die if you wait 30 minutes to clean stalls or do some turnouts.


    -Spend time focusing on the basics, the simple things.  The tricks will follow.  This goes for in hand work and under saddle work.  If you have a horse that dances in the cross ties or likes to be a jerk when you are leading him, tackle teaching new behaviors on the most simple level with positive reinforcement.  When he’s still and quiet in the stall with you, reward.  The behaviors transfer to other situations, just keep it simple and positive.


    -Groom for health, not looks.  Sure, one very wonderful side effect of the grooming process is a shiny and clean horse.  (Or, during a very wet winter, a shiny-ish and clean-ish horse…..)  But grooming is the best time to learn about the health of your horse.  What are his vitals - his TPR?  Where is he sore?  Does he have a new cut?  Does his sheath need cleaning?  You get the idea….


    -Never and always rarely have a place at the barn.  Never and always have a way of closing your ears and closings your mind to new ideas, new information, new science, new solutions.  Horses will always (oops!) prove you wrong, and they will never (oops again!) let you forget it!


    -All parts of the job are awesome to a horseman.  From cleaning the wash rack drains clogged with poop, hair, and dirt to your favorite barn chore - the horseman understands the necessity of each job and does them.  With a smile.  OK, maybe not a smile, but some sort of facial expression will do.


    -Horsemen never stop learning, asking questions, and discussing great ideas.  I have not been in a western saddle for over a decade, but I’m obsessed with learning new training methods and nuances of different disciplines that I can’t stop reading about them.  I want to ask everyone I know about their experiences and knowledge.  Get ready for loads of questions!!

    What makes a person a HORSEPERSON?  Share your ideas!!"


    Please follow the link below to visit Pro Equine Grooms blog post directly.

    Sited from:

  • Anatomy of a spur



    Button: This is the part the slips into the spur straps to hold them on the spur.

    Swing Arm: The swing arm hold the button to the heelband and, if hinged, allows for some movement. Bronc spurs typically have the spur bottom directly on the heelband and do not have a swing arm.

    Heelband: The heelband is the part the slides onto the back of your boot. It is sized to fit the rider and can be made of different weighted material for different preferences. Overlays can be placed on this part of the spur to dress it up. Other terms for this part of the spur are 'Yoke' or 'Branch'.

    Shank: The shank is the contact between the heelband and rowel. It is offered in many different lengths and angles to ensure the rider is able to use their spurs to the best of their ability. Overlays are also often placed on this part of the spurs. This part is also sometimes referred to as the 'Neck' of the spur.

    Rowel Pin: As the name suggests, this is the pin that holds the rowel onto the shank. It can be attached in many ways with the most common being to weld the end of the pin to the outside of the shank.

    Rowel: The rowel is the part of the spur that comes in contact with your horse. Rowels come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. Rowels typically spin on the rowel pin that is attached to the shank.

  • A History of Sheridan WYO Rodeo

    One of the biggest events to hit Sheridan every year is the Sheridan WYO Rodeo! The upcoming dates are July 11th - 17th, 2016.

    A History, by Tom Ringley (sited from

    In 1931, the small town of Sheridan, Wyoming, was so quiet you could “shoot a shotgun down Main Street and have no fear of injuring anyone.” A group of local citizens wanted to do something about the situation and decided to put on a rodeo. They set their sights high and organized a first class professional rodeo on a par with other professional rodeos like the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

    The committee started out from ground zero and had a huge challenge. Not only did the rodeo committee have to organize the rodeo from scratch, they had also to prepare the county fairgrounds facility that lacked the necessary amenities for a large professional rodeo. They sold capital stock to finance construction of additional seating, corrals, pens and bucking chutes among other things. To publicize the event, E. W. Bill Gollings was commissioned to paint a picture for the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo poster. The entire community and downtown merchants helped support the efforts of the rodeo committee to ensure the success of the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.

    The first rodeo was a great success. The $15,000 purse brought professional rodeo contestants from all over the United States. A rodeo parade on Main Street drew thousands of spectators, and a carnival at the fairgrounds and participation of hundreds of Indians in night shows provided even more entertainment. The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo was well established.

    From 1932 to 1941 the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo committee managed to stage a first class professional rodeo. It was not always easy. Frequent financial problems and public apathy often put the show in jeopardy.

    One year, 1933, the night show had to be cancelled for financial reasons. In the latter part of the decade, the committee was forced to find individuals in the community who were willing to underwrite the rodeo. But during this period, the rodeo committee still managed to make many facility improvements including a new grandstand in 1936. Other significant events occurred during this period; for instance, the Crow and Cheyenne Indian tribes smoked a pipe of peace in 1932 as part of the night show and the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Queen was selected in 1936.

    Because of wartime conditions, the rodeo board found it impossible to conduct the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo in 1942 and 1943. But in 1944 the rodeo was reactivated with a number of changes. It was renamed the Bots Sots Stampede to invoke the memory of a series of rodeos in 1914-1916 called the Sheridan Stampede. Bots Sots is the Crow Indian term for “very good” and the term was used to advertise the Sheridan Stampedes of old. While there was still an Indian presence at the rodeo, large Indian pageants were replaced by vaudevillian night shows. The rodeo queen program was also reactivated and the rodeo parade and carnivals remained part of the program. The rodeo changed from professional status and was intended to be a “working cowboy” local rodeo, but contestant’s still entered from outside the local area.

    From 1944 to 1951 the rodeo gained momentum in terms of numbers of contestants and events and some of the largest attendance figures for the rodeo occurred during these years. But, the rodeo board still struggled to maintain merchant and community support and the financial condition of the rodeo was usually stretched thin.

    1951 was a watershed year for a number of reasons. One was that the public support seemed apathetic and as a result the rodeo was almost cancelled. A public poll was conducted to find if the community wanted the rodeo to continue. The public voted for continuation and also voted to restore the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo name. However, the rodeo remained a non-professional working cowboy rodeo. Merchants stepped up to the plate to support the effort and the rodeo continued.

    Another significant event in 1951 was that a Crow Indian, Lucy Yellow Mule, was elected rodeo queen by popular applause. This milestone event led to two national human relations award for Sheridan and the establishment of an annual All-American Indian Days, a nationally known Indian Pageant. The queen program was terminated when the last queen reigned in 1980.

    During the period from 1951 to 1967 the rodeo board continued to invest in the upgrade of the county fairgrounds that resulted in running water, proper toilet facilities, arena lighting, additional barns and other upgrades. In the mid 1960’s special entertainment at night became a thing of the past but the rodeo parade and carnival continued to be popular. Organized horse racing, a historic popular feature of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo also ended in the mid 1960’s because it became unsupportable.

    The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo turned professional again in 1967 after the rodeo board determined the rodeo had become too large, too expensive and too long. In their words, they had “five days worth of rodeo and two days worth of audience”. The return to professional rodeo limited the contestants and streamlined the performance. The rodeo remains professional to this day. As in previous periods, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo found itself in precarious financial condition and often a perceived lack of public support was cause for concern. In 1988, the rodeo was effectively cancelled because of reported grandstand safety issues, but was reinstated after temporary last minute repairs were performed on the structure. A new grandstand was constructed and has been in use since 1992.

    In 1975 “surrounding events” begin to appear. Events such as the Kiwanis Duck Race, the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, the Bed Race Along the Bighorns, the Boot Kick Off festivities, concerts at the historic Wyo Theater and downtown street dances have become an ingrained part of the now traditional “rodeo week”.

    In later years, much of the success of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo can be attributed to Sankey Pro Rodeo, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo stock contractor since 1994. Ike and Roberta Sankey the owners, insure that the rodeo has the best livestock available and provide professional performance management that guarantees each Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo performance is top of the line rodeo action.

    After eighty years of evolution, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo is today one of the premier Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and Woman’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) rodeos in America. I The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo prize money to contestants consistently ranks the rodeo in the top tier of over 600 PRCA rodeos that pay out over thirty million dollars each year.

    The future looks bright for the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo. The rodeo continues to draw capacity crowds. In fact, to cope with “ sell out” crowds, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Board of Directors decided to add a fourth night performance beginning in 2010. In addition, in 2010, the Board of Directors elected to join the PRCA Million Dollar Tour which will increase contestant prize money and ensure that the top rodeo contestants continue to perform at the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.

    The key to the success of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo is financial support from sponsors. Major sponsors, M&M’s, Coca-Cola, Dasani, Pedigree and the Gold Buckle Club have joined with many local sponsors (The Posse) to help insure the continued success of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.

    The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Gold Buckle Club was formed in 2005. It is a group of 250 private citizens who have a mutual desire to provide additional financial support. This dedicated group of supporters was responsible for an increase in contestant prize money in 2005 and the installation of air conditioning equipment and additional seating capacity for the Sheridan County Fairgrounds. In 2006, the Gold Buckle Club became an official major sponsor of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.

    There is no doubt that with the unprecedented support of the community, the sponsors and Gold Buckle Club members and the dedicated work of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Board of Directors and the many volunteers, that the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo will remain one of the best rodeos in America and one of the most enduring traditions of the Sheridan, Wyoming community.

    To learn more about this great event please visit them online!

  • A Bit of Advice from Gina Miles

    A Bit of Advice from Gina Miles

    Olympic three-day eventer Gina Miles shares 10 tips for selecting an appropriate bit.

    By Holly Caccamise | December 2013 - This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.

    Selecting the correct bit is one of the most important parts of training your horse and bringing out his best performance. Here, Gina Miles, the 2008 Olympic individual silver medalist in three-day eventing, shares advice to help you navigate the many bits out there.

    Miles uses the following guidelines when deciding on a bit for a particular horse-and-rider combination.

    1. Use the simplest bit for the job.

    "Whenever I have a new horse in the barn or a new student, I first want to see how they go in a very basic double-jointed loose-ring snaffle,” says Miles.

    2. Always remember to go back to the basics.

    If you have been using other bits during show season, try going back to the basic double-jointed snaffle during a break from competition or over the winter. "It’s always a good idea to take a step back and see if your training has been effective and produced a more rideable, responsive horse,” says Miles.

    3. Use enough noseband to get the most out of your bit.

    "For a strong horse, try using a stronger noseband if it’s legal for your discipline before upgrading to a stronger bit,” says Miles. "Even a very strong bit won’t help you control your horse if his mouth is open.” Likewise, a very mild bit can be overused and make the horse dull in the mouth because he will open his mouth to escape the action. For dressage, jumpers and eventing, Miles recommends trying a flash, figure-eight or dropped noseband, each of which help keep the mouth closed more than a standard cavesson noseband.

    4. Find several bits you like and then alternate between them.

    A lot of times, a "new” bit works well because it feels different in the horse’s mouth. "The change in type of action can be just as effective as the action itself, so it’s a good idea to find two or three bits that work well for your horse and then change them around,” advises Miles. "It will keep your horse’s mouth ‘fresh’ and give you a little something extra every time you make a change.”

    5. Train in a milder bit than you use for shows.

    When you get to a competition, your horse is likely to be more excited and stronger, especially when jumping. "If you work on making your horse listen to your aids at home when practicing with less bit, you are more likely to have better success in controlling him when you are in a stressful situation,” says Miles.

    6. Compete in a bit that is strong enough to be effective.

    "If you get to the competition and you do not have enough bit to get your horse’s attention, you could end up being counter-productive in your training,” cautions Miles. "Frequently, horses that are under-bitted have riders who pull too much and don’t use enough leg.” This is a safety concern when jumping.

    7. Safety must always be a priority for riders.

    Horses are big, strong and potentially dangerous animals. Jumping cross-country requires that the rider has enough control to be safe. "When in doubt, I always err on the side of a stronger bit during cross-country,” says Miles, who takes care to ensure her students stay confident and in control. "Then they learn to use their leg and seat aids more effectively, which will ultimately reduce their dependence on the stronger bit.” When used correctly, a stronger bit lets you be lighter with your hands.

    8. Consider what type of action you are looking for when selecting a bit.

    The bit’s action is affected by the mouthpiece, ring shape and amount of leverage. Even a basic snaffle has a wide variety of mouthpieces to choose from; the most common are single-jointed and double-jointed. A single-jointed bit has more of a "nutcracker” action, and is therefore stronger than a double-jointed snaffle. For most horses, the double-jointed snaffle is more comfortable.

    "A Waterford mouthpiece can be combined with different types of rings and is good for horses that lock their poll and jaw,” says Miles. "Usually, horses are strong because they get rigid. The Waterford is excellent for suppling these types of horses.” The Waterford is not legal for dressage, however.

    Another strong snaffle mouthpiece (not legal for dressage) that is frequently combined with D-rings or full-cheek rings is the slow twist. Very severe bits, such as the double-twisted wire, should only be used by the most expert, forgiving hands.

    9. Types of bit rings include the eggbutt, loose-ring, full-cheek and D-ring.

    "Loose-ring bits are good for horses that are heavy on the bit or lock in their jaw and/or poll,” says Miles. "You usually need to go up a quarter to a half-inch in size from your regular bit to avoid pinching. You may also choose to use bit guards, although they are not legal for dressage.”

    Miles recommends the sturdy, more fixed rings of an eggbutt bit for horses that easily get pinched by loose rings or tend to chomp or play with the bit too much. Full-cheek bits and D-ring bits are traditional in the hunter ring, and full-cheek bits have the added advantage of giving you extra turning assistance, especially when used with bit keepers.

    10. If your horse is not responding appropriately to any of the snaffles, you can look to the leverage bits.

    "One of the questions you should ask yourself when considering a leverage bit is, ‘Do I want to get my horse’s head up or down?’” says Miles.

    If your horse tends to be high-headed, applying leverage to the poll and chin (via the curb chain) using a kimberwicke or Pelham will help correct this. If your horse dives down with his head too low, an elevator bit (also called a three-ring) will encourage him to raise his head.

    Regardless of which bit you use, remember that any bit can be as strong or severe as the hands it’s in. Also, over-bitting or overusing a bit can create fear and resentment in any horse, which may take professional training to undo. When in doubt, seek the advice of a respected trainer who is sympathetic to the needs of your horse as well as your riding.

    Meet the Trainer
    Gina Miles began riding at the age of 7 in Davis, Calif. A trip to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles at age 10 confirmed to her that three-day eventing was the direction that her riding would take.

    In 1999, Thom Schultz and Laura Coates imported the 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse McKinlaigh for Miles to ride. In 2007, the pair earned a team gold medal and individual bronze at the Pan American Games in Brazil. In 2008, they won individual silver at the Beijing Olympic Games.



    Have you bits or spurs by this weekend!

    We try to keep a moderate stock that is ready to ship out today! If you are looking for a particular combination we might have it already built up. The stock in our gift shop is always changing with purchases and new builds.

    To see if we have what you want in stock please call 307-672-8459 or email Thanks!


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    After being hounded for a heavier shank, Tom came up the long and short Advantage shank. Tom used a heavy 3/8" stainless material for the shanks, adding considerable weight resulting in a better feel and faster response without changing our legendary balance. Any of the Advantage combinations are offered at $175. They are offered in two shank lengths; long 8 1/4" and short 7" with a satin finished stainless. If you would like a black, brown, or dots finish the price would be $275.


    Please contact us with ANY questions you might have!

    View this new line on our website!



    Being part of the Tom Balding Bits & Spurs team is being part of a family. You feel loved and valued from the moment you walk in the door and are greeted with smiles, to the moment you are sent off for the day with well wishes for a good evening. Personal hardships are surrounded with support and personal accomplishments are celebrated.

    Each member of the team shares Tom's passion for the outdoors, family, community, and personal growth. The office and shop are not open over holidays or weekends, but instead the time is encouraged towards exploring the world, growing personal hobbies, and being with family and friends. We invite you to learn more about each team member on our 'meet the staff' page.

    As a customer you are highly valued and always treated with the utmost kindness, respect, and quality craftsmanship. Without you each of us would not be able to be a part of the Tom Balding Bits & Spurs family. We are all very grateful for the continued support as we look ahead to 2016!

    From our families to yours, we genuinely wish you a Holiday season filled with the ones you love.

    The Tom Balding Bits & Spurs Team


    What we're made of

    Understanding the materials used in your horse's bits


    When we put something in our mouth it has a distinctive flavor and creates a reaction in us. We might spit it out, find it somewhat bland, or savor the flavor as long as possible. Your horse's mouth also reacts to a mouthpiece's different materials. Below is a quick and dirty list of materials used in bit mouthpieces and how they effect your horse. Please keep in mind that these are statements based on the majority and do not always apply to all horses. Just like you have (or are) that strange friend who likes to eat a lemon like an apple.... your horse could have unique tastes. Our mouthpieces are made of sweet iron and copper, as these two materials are easily accepted by most horses.

     Sweet Iron:

    Sweet iron is a mild steel that tends to rust over time. Rust on a mouthpiece is a good thing as it tends to increase a horse's salivation; much a like a piece of candy would in your mouth.  


    Copper offers a sweet taste that horses enjoy. It is better at increasing salivation than sweet iron; allowing an ease in acceptance. Copper is often formed into rollers that are attached to the port or bars of a mouthpiece. Rollers in the center of a mouthpiece give the horse something to play with and keep busy. Rollers on the bars will make a bit less sever as it offers ease in movement.

    Stainless Steel:

    Stainless steel will not rust; but is seldom used to form mouthpieces, because it does not have positive attributes in this application. Stainless is used in moving parts that need to have the endurance, such as internal rotating pins in the correction port. It is most commonly used on bit shanks rather then mouthpieces. Quality stainless steel should outlast you and your horse.


    Aluminum is the lightest metal material you will see used in mouthpieces. It has a short life as it tends to wear and pit over time. Horses do not accept it as well because of it's bitter taste and tenancy to dry out a horses mouth. 


    Rubber is a soft material that allows flexibility and comfort. Because of its soft nature a center support is usually used in rubber mouthpieces that can damage a horses teeth and mouth if not checked regularly. It has a relatively short life span, but is a good option for horses with very sensitive mouths. 


    Nylon is slightly more durable than rubber and offers some of the same attributes. It is a strong material that can stand on its own; without the use of a center support. It is not as durable as a metal mouthpiece and will not withstand a horse that likes to chew on its bits. 

    If you are having trouble with a horse accepting a bit it might pay off to look at the material it is made of and try something different. Typically you cannot go wrong with sweet iron or copper.

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Look for the "Tom Balding" stamp on every bit and spur, and be confident it's the mark of an original. All looks, designs, names, and website content TM and © by Tom Balding Bits and Spurs. All Rights Reserved. The Balding looks, names and designs are protected under US Trademark law, US Copyright law and/or International Treaty. Reproduction or imitation is prohibited by law.