EQUUS

THE INNOVATIVE TOM BASS BIT

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1. No sharp corners at points of pressure on lips or tongue.

2. Upper shanks bent outward to accommodat­e the thickness of the horse’s lips.

3. Mouthpiece slightly thicker than the traditiona­l Weymouth, and the whole bit slightly heavier.

4. Tongue relief rather narrow, so that the bit is carried on top of the tongue and does not drop onto the bars.

5. Port just high enough to brush the roof of the horse’s mouth. Because the connection between shanks and mouthpiece is fixed and does not swivel, when the reins pull the lower shanks backward, the port tips forward to the same degree, brushing the roof of the horse’s mouth. This causes the horse to want to keep his mouth slightly open and prevents him from “taking the bit in his teeth” by clamping his jaws.

6. Mild leverage. I can find no pictures of Tom Bass on horseback—even before he invented this bit—in which the shanks exceed 7 inches in length.

7. The potential severity of a leverage bit is calculated as a ratio of the length of the upper to the lower shank; many modern versions purporting to be “Tom Bass” bits either have the upper shanks too long (creating a gagbit effect), or else the lower shanks too long (creating too much potential severity). The Tom Bass bit with 5-inch shanks has a 1:1.6 ratio (very mild, barely more than a Baucher snaffle). With 7-inch shanks it has a 1:2.3 ratio (moderate). By contrast, the traditiona­l Weymouth with 3” upper shanks but 8 1/2” lower shanks (shown) presents a 1:2.85 ratio (moderately severe), while eleven-inch shanks would be 1:3.66 (severe). Tom Bass did not believe that force was necessary in training horses, and the whole purpose of his invention—as he expressed it to friends and students—was to help the horses perform better by increasing their comfort. People overheard Tom asking his horses “whether they would prefer the five-inch shank, or the seven.”

Tom Bass invented a bit but then refused to patent it. His idea was to benefit horses everywhere, but the problem with this selfless idea is that the inventor’s name may be used with no control over what is manufactur­ed. A search through several recent horse catalogs turned up many “Tom Bass” bits, not one of which includes all the features seen here. Left, a version of the Tom Bass bit which is close to what he may actually have intended.

Tom Bass had nothing whatsoever to do with “Tom Bass’s Magic Liniment,” which purports, in this advertisem­ent, to cure everything from bruises to influenza, windpuffs to founder.

“Made only from formula endorsed by Thos. Bass,” the trademark and the formula actually belonged to Albert N. Doerschuk, a German-born compoundin­g pharmacist and apothecary who had a big establishm­ent during the Prohibitio­n era in downtown Kansas City. Doerschuk had an interest in horses (he donated several volumes of Bruce’s “The American Stud Book” to the Kansas City Library) and undoubtedl­y knew of Tom Bass. But you can bet your bottom buck that Tom Bass was never offered remunerati­on for the use of his name or Belle Beach’s portrait which appear in the ad.

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