Legal Bits and Training Aides in ETS, CT2V, and ASHA

country tough trail versatility equine competition horsemanship and training Jul 09, 2024
youth riding a horse over an obstacle

Bits can be tricky, and you can find yourself disqualified very quickly if you do not understand the rules about bits and training aides.

Before we talk about bits, let’s discuss training aides.  Tie downs, cavessons, and running martingales are training aides.  They are meant to help in small doses in training, not to become a permanent fixture in your equine’s tack.  If your mule requires a tie down to not look like a T-Rex, then it is time for that equine to go back into training.  If your mule requires a cavesson to not look like it is chewing bubble gum, maybe the bit is not right, maybe the mule has dental issues, or maybe that is just your equine’s personality.

In general, having a bit that is just average is typically a good rule of thumb.  If you are making statements like “my mule won’t stop unless I have a bigger bit” or “he throws his head up unless I have a tie down on”, this is the first problem.  Bigger is not always better, band-aides do not fix underlying problems, and there are no short cuts to good horsemanship. 

Here are a few bits that are typically illegal and why, no matter which association you are competing in. 

  • Mechanical Hackamore (not a bit): Most people think they are being nicer since it does not have a bit, but this bit-less bridle can turn into a torture device quickly since it consists of a metal or hard structure on top of bone that is only covered by thin hide.
  • Tom Thumb: This is a shank bit that many confuse as a snaffle since it is broken.  This bit does not have the ability to warn the equine about a request before it immediately goes into using leverage.
  • Gag Bit: This is a common bit in barrel racing and roping.  A gag bit is designed to increase pressure past the limitations of a standard snaffle.  A lot of people use a tie down in combination with a gag bit.  This is a huge red flag of an equine needing more training.  Other gag bits include the Wonder Bit.

We will start with ETS which stands for Equine Trail Sports.  ETS is an obstacle organization that has options of either riding on the trail with various amounts of miles or in an arena.  ETS is one of the most relaxed associations about tack requirements regarding the bridle.  All that is required are reins to be on both sides and you cannot use any training aides such as tie downs, cavessons, and running martingales.  You can even ride your equine in a halter if you place reins on both sides of the equine.  ETS literally has no bit requirements or limitations.

CT2V, Country Tough Trail Versatility is a new and upcoming association that is a combination of trail riding, obstacles, and a horsemanship pattern.  No martingales, tie downs, or cavessons are allowed.  Cavessons are allowed if rider is using English tack.  In CT2V, no gag bits or mechanical hackamores are allowed; and curbs must be flat chain or flat leather. A crop, whip, or over and undering are permitted if done with slight contact.  Anything deemed as more than light contact will warrant a disqualification.


The ASHA (American Stock Horse Association) has opened its doors in 2018 to all equine, including mules and donkeys.  The ASHA is a versatility competition that includes Stock Pleasure, Stock Trail, Stock Reining, and Working Cow Horse.  Here are the bit requirements:

  • Any age of equine can be shown in a snaffle, bosal, or curb bit.
  • When you use a bit, the mouthpiece must be at least 5/16” and not more than ¾”in diameter measured one inch from the cheek and it must be smooth.
  • Shanks cannot be more than 8 1/2” in length.
  • Ports cannot be any higher than 3 ½”.
  • Split reins are to be used on all bits except for a Romal is acceptable with a curb bit.
  • Closed reins are not allowed except as standard Romal reins or mecate reins which include a tie rope with snaffle bit or bosal.
  • Curb straps are required for curb bits and the curb chains or straps must be at least ½” in width and must lie flat against the horse’s chin.
  • No wire curbs are permitted and absolutely no iron is permitted under the jaw.
  • Other prohibited equipment includes tie downs, cavessons, gag bits, mechanical hackamores, and running martingales.

The big idea is that if you are having an issue with your mule, the answer is not to “bit up”.  The goal is to have an animal that understands what you want and is compliant.  Masking issues rather than putting the time into the training to reach the same goal is not going to result in a safe or enjoyable ride.  If you decide to compete, read your rulebook.  Give the host a call if you have any questions to help make your competition excursion as fun as possible.

Article was written before 2020, please double check with each association.

By Brandy Von Holten 

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