Properly fitting tack is crucial. A saddle that’s too big or too small will create painful pressure points. A bit that’s too big or too small will pinch. You want to make training as positive of an experience as possible for the horse. If the horse is in pain while he’s being worked, he will associate work with pain and become resentful and sour towards being handled and ridden. To ensure training remains a positive experience, make sure all your tack fits correctly.
When you’re choosing a bit to start your horse in, you want something plain and simple you can direct rein in. No curbs or tom thumbs allowed. A simple snaffle with a plain mouthpiece is ideal, such as a full cheek, loose ring, eggbutt or d-ring. Look for either a single jointed mouthpiece or a French link. Some horses may prefer a copper or sweet iron mouthpiece or something with rollers. Avoid anything severe or complicated such as twisted wire or anything with shanks. Advanced bits like kimberwicks, wonder bits, gags and curbs have no place in the mouth of a green horse.
Some people prefer to start their horses in sidepulls, either with a rope or rawhide nose, and then move them into a snaffle a little later. A sidepull puts pressure on the horse the same as a halter, but has a little more bite than a halter and the pressure is clearer. Also, it will not slip around on the face the way a halter does. Sidepulls are beneficial because the pressure is very simple and the horse is already accustomed to moving off of pressure on his face.
Avoid mechanical hackamores on green horses. These hackamores are fine for advanced horses already trained to respond to bit pressure that know how to be ridden, but shouldn’t be used on green horses. While these appear to be gentle by putting simple pressure on the face, they are actually not suitable for direct reining. If you try to direct rein in one on a green horse, you will end up putting pressure on the wrong side of the horse’s face, which will confuse and frustrate him. If you pull the rein to the right, the shank on the hackamore will turn in and put pressure on the right side of the horse’s face, pushing him left. When working with a green horse, if you pull the right rein, you want simple pressure applied to the left side of the horse’s face or mouth.
Avoid using unnecessary aids like martingales or spurs on unstarted horses. These aids should only be brought in when needed and only used intermittently, not when you are just getting a horse used to being ridden. Using a crop or dressage whip can be beneficial, though. During first rides, some horses get a case of the “whoas” where all they can do is stand still. They are in a silly state of stubborn shock where they don’t believe they can move with this new, heavy rider on their back. You will not use the whip to beat or hit the horse, but it helps to be able to tap the horse’s haunches asking him to move forward in a way he’s accustomed.
When picking a saddle, proper fit is what is important. You can start your horse in a barrel, roping, reining, dressage, jumping or trail saddle, or even bareback. As long as it fits you and your horse, anything is fine.