Becoming a college assignment…
A student’s recently devoted assignment to Tom Balding Bits & Spurs
This student visited the shop and received a personal tour from Tom. Their correspondence read: “Last week I had an assignment for my Technology and Operations Management class where I had to talk about certain value disciplines of a company, particularly customer intimacy. I immediately thought about Tom Balding’s Bits & Spurs! I got great feedback from my teacher, and he thought it was a very unique business for me to talk about.”
Choose a company where you are a customer – Briefly explain the product or service they provide you, and assign a value discipline to the firm. Explain why the value discipline you have chosen is appropriate. To support your answer, provide examples and include references from the article to support your claim.
“This summer I took a trip to Sheridan, Wyoming, where I got to explore the local business of a man named Tom Balding, who specializes in making handmade, customized bits and spurs from scratch. Tom Balding Bits & Spurs epitomizes customer intimacy. At Tom Balding Bits & Spurs, customers are able to choose what type of bit or spur they would like, which each have a wide variety of customizable options. For example, for just the spurs alone, customers are able to choose what kind of heel band, shank, rowel, finish, and inscription or design they would like, which have numerous possibilities to choose from for each . Customers also provide their shoe size, and foot measurements in order to ensure a perfect fit. Similarly to the spurs, customers can also choose from a variety of different bits such as shank bits, snaffle bits, baseline bits, and mouthpieces, which each have customizable features and inscription options as well. In his workshop, Tom uses leading technology and innovation in order to provide horseback riders with a durable product that offers easy use, quick response, and better movement compared to competing businesses and products in the industry. Tom sets his business apart from the rest by working directly with world class professional riders and trainers to ensure the needs of riders and to deliver quality, handcrafted products, 100% guaranteed satisfaction. Tom is able to ensure this guaranteed satisfaction by offering his customers to try demo products on their horses before they buy the actual customized product. As a result, Tom has established a long term, loyal customer base by addressing their exact needs and wants, and providing excellent customer service in order to guarantee a perfect product for that individual. Today, Tom receives thousands of orders from horsemen and woman around the world, and always seeks their feedback in order to improve his product and satisfaction, demonstrating superior customer intimacy, and ultimately leading this industry.”
We love hearing from you! If you have an experience with us and would like to share it please email us.
Rebecca Colnar – WYLR – Interview
A fresh viewpoint of Tom’s story
“Tom Balding’s list of customers include famous rodeo names like Larry Mahan and trainer Bob Avila. It’s the Wyoming ranchers, the artisan credits, with the inspiration behind his successful bit and spur business today.
“I grew up in California, and back in the late 1970s, I had a welding business, mainly welding specialty parts for both the aerospace and sailboat industries,” Balding explains. “Where I lived, when I looked out my window, I could see a horse in a pen. One day, I looked at that horse and decided I wanted to ride him. I met the owner, and he gave me permission to ride the horse. I think I was on that horse less than five minutes when he bucked me off, but I was hooked on horses. As a kid, we used to come to Wyoming and camp; I loved it out here. I decided to move to Ucross in 1980 and worked on ranches, moving cattle, stacking hay and building fence—all of those ranch chores.”
Balding was still using his welding skills while he was ranching, primarily welding on trailers. “One day a lady knocked on my door and she had a broken bit, she knew I did welding, and could I fix it. That night I looked around at what scrap sailboat parts I had, and actually made my first bit. When I got this idea of making bits, I called my brother and said I had this great idea, and that making bits would be ‘real easy.’ I really was wrong on that,” he laughs.
He started asking for input from local ranchers about what qualities they liked in a good bit. “So I then started making bits, but wasn’t sure how to go about selling them. I decided to set up a table at a horse show in Gillette and suddenly there were people lined up at my table wanting what I had to sell.”
The entrepreneur moved his business from Ucross to an area outside of Sheridan. “I found an old mobile home that I dragged in as my workshop. I liked the fact there were several separate rooms to use which made it a lot more comfortable than a big open space.”
Balding says first he concentrated on producing spurs. “They’re mechanical and it’s easy to understand their function. Learning to make a good bit was a longer learning process. I started with the basic ranch design, which was primarily influenced by cavalry bits. Those bits were designed to work on many different horses, not just one horse. Even today, ranchers want a bit that’s simple, strong and functional, and can be used on several different horses.”
Today, the workshop/store is located on Riverside Drive in Sheridan where he has been for twelve years. It’s a new building, designed with the multiple small-rooms philosophy in mind. There is a separate room for each step of the bit-making process. Balding employs six people, with all of the bit and spur making done on site. They produce their own mouthpieces, rollers, shanks…everything.
All of the employees vote on bit design. “I’ll work on an idea, and we’ll vote on it. Once one of my designs is accepted, we’ll do all the tooling needed for it. Then we will be able to make that bit forever.”
It’s impressive as one wanders around the shop to see the unique machinery. “I got that on EBay, that at an auction,” Tom says pointing to each piece of equipment. There is one narrow room with ceiling-high shelves holding small yellow bins containing every part imaginable for a bit. There is an area for making bit rollers, a station for engraving, and so on. He even has a photo booth set up to take perfect pictures of his products.
He admits the bits could be made for less money if he “jobbed them out” (such as using a different company to make different bit parts) but he wants to keep the jobs and money in Sheridan. Plus, this way he can guarantee their high quality.
Balding’s hard work and creativity over the past 30 years has paid off. He’s been featured in many publications and his bits are popular with many disciplines, including reining, reined cow horse and cutting. He’s even started a line of bits for polo players. His spurs and bits are shipped to the European market including France, Germany and Italy, and he’s getting requests from Australia and The Netherlands.
His most recent coup was being featured in the series “How It’s Made” being filmed by The Discovery Channel. The segment on Spurs will be airing on the Science Channel in the US on Thursday, June 21st at 9:00pm ET.”
~ Rebecca Colnar WYLR
How to care for your bits and spurs?
Tips to maintain and keep the ‘new’ a little longer on your bits and spurs (steel and stainless)
The most important difference between stainless (satin and high polish) and steel (brown, black, and satin) is that stainless will resist rust. Finishes are a personal preference; there is not one that is more popular than another. Outlined below is a tip list for the general care of your bits and spurs, as well as a more in depth care guide on both stainless and steel.
GENERAL CARE TIPS:
- Remove wet material (mud, etc) from the surface of your spurs or bit before it dries.
- Use a semi soft bristled brush to remove dirt or other dried material from the surface.
- Wipe with a dry towel to remove any residues that might tarnish or rust the metal.
- Jewelry silver polish paste can be used directly on the silver overlays to maintain its shine – product.
- Use 3-in-1 oil to eliminate squeaks or to free up part movement – product.
- To sanitize a bit or spurs soak them in a chlorhexidine solution and gently clean build up with a soft bristled brush – product.
- Store bits in spurs in a cool and dry place.
- If rowels start to wobble look at getting them tightened or replaced before they wear into the shanks.
If you have any tips or suggestions please share them below in the comments section.
STAINLESS (satin and high polish):
With the proper care a stainless steel bit (shanks) and spurs will stay rust free in almost any climate. If it does get rust on the surface it is easily removed with a solvent and nylon brush.
Depending on the amount of use your bit or spurs receive throughout the year will determine how often this process is used.
1) Clean the metal only (remove all leather trimmings) in a water bath of chlorhexidine or similar gentle detergent (do not use bleach or water with high levels of salt). Use a soft bristled brush to remove any build up on the surface.
2) Dry the metal completely before moving to the next step. Use a dry towel to remove as much of the moisture as possible and then blow dry or air dry it the rest of the way.
3) Oil bit surfaces and moving parts with olive oil or another non toxic oil (product). Spurs can be oiled with any gun cleaning oil (product) as they do not make contact with the horses mouth; however olive oil or another non toxic oil will work as well.
4) Buff the surface with a soft cloth to bring out the shine. To further bring out the silver work use a silver polishing compound (product), but avoid the stainless surface.
STEEL (brown, black, and satin):
Over time your steel bits and spurs will develop an oxidized or lightly rusted surface. This is a desired patina and should be maintained, but not removed completely as you are removing part of the spur material. On bits, horses enjoy the rusted surface of the sweet iron mouthpieces and this should not be removed.
Depending on the amount of use your bit or spurs receive throughout the year will determine how often this process is used.
1) Clean the metal only (remove all leather trimmings) with a oiled cloth or fine steel wool. Do not use an abrasive material as it will promote rusting and pit your finish. You can use the same non toxic (bits) or gun cleaning oil (spurs) mentioned in the above stainless section. Wipe the spurs down with a soft cleaning cloth (microfiber, old t-shirt, etc) to remove the clouded oil. Use a dry cloth to remove as much of the oil as possible.
2) If you have a black (gun blue) finish you can touch up the worn spots with a gun bluing touch up product (product). Be sure and follow the products directions.
3) Apply a thin layer of olive oil or another non toxic oil (product) to the surface and moving parts. Spurs can be oiled with any gun cleaning oil (product) as they do not make contact with the horses mouth; however olive oil or another non toxic oil will work as well. Wipe it over the surface with a soft cloth to avoid scratching or marring the finish.
4) To further bring out the silver work use a silver polishing compound (product), but avoid the non silver surfaces.
Which Bit Is Right For Me?
Bit Mouthpieces And Rings Explained – Common Understanding Of Bit Functions
Have you noticed that you can ask two equine experts the same bit question and get two very different answers? There are many different schools of thought in the equine world. One is not necessarily more right than another, however there are a few common understandings that have emerged. We have compiled the following information to help guide in your unique bit decisions. It is also strongly encouraged to speak with someone that understands your riding style and horse (trainer, fellow rider, etc) for additional personal feedback on your bit needs. Purchasing a high quality bit requires the best educated decision possible; as it is an investment that will often last a lifetime. Our trial bit service is offered to those that would like to try a mouthpiece before purchasing, to ensure they are comfortable with the function in relation to their riding style.
Because information is dynamic, we encourage you to share your experience and thoughts in the comment form below.
House Snaffle Mouthpiece: Noticeable mullen for wraparound pressure on the bars and increased tongue relief.
Balanced Snaffle Mouthpiece: The only snaffle that puts perfectly balanced pressure on both bars without one side being higher than the other. Eliminates the scissoring action of a snaffle.
Slick 50 Mouthpiece: This ingenious design gives the independent lateral control of the Hinged Port, but breaks in the middle (roller) like a balanced snaffle. It causes a horse to bend in the ribs while keeping the shoulder and the head in the correct position. Perfect for younger or light-mouthed horses and is a good transition from a snaffle.
Dr. Tom Mouthpiece: A Bristol type bit, with a three piece mouth that gives wraparound pressure on the bars and spreads pressure across the tongue. A nice transition bit from a snaffle to a shank.
Three ‘N One Mouthpiece: Copper rollers spread across tongue to promote leverage on the bars and tongue pressure. Copper rings are good for nervous horses.
Twisted Witch Mouthpiece: A more severe mouthpiece ideal for tuning or intermittent training. Used alternately it softens the mouth making the horse more responsive to their regular bit.
Billy Allen Mouthpiece: Independent lateral control for great lift and tongue pressure for responsive stops. The limited travel keeps the snaffle from excess pressure on the outside bars. Popular with cutters, reiners, and team penners.
Double Cross Mouthpiece: Many trainers favor this bit over a snaffle for young horses. Unique design restricts the horse from getting its tongue over the mouthpiece. A mild bit that gives remarkable control while keeping the head down. Easily accepted by the majority of horses.
Hinge Port Mouthpiece: Independent lateral control gives improved results in lifting a shoulder and positioning the horse. Endorsed by the worlds top ropers.
Correction Mouthpiece: Good transition from a long shank snaffle to a port. Collection and feel, flex and control.
Pro-Roller Correction Mouthpiece: Unique ballhinge design that’s perfectly balanced. Promotes correct head carriage and super rear end collection. Amazing feel with no dead spot. Designed with, built for, and endorsed by America’s leading trainers.
Equalizer Mouthpiece: Flat concave port with comfortable copper rollers offer a gentle delay before making contact. A bit with a lot of feel and rate. Recommended for use on a finished horse.
Sweetwater Mouthpiece: Allows tongue relief yet maintains pressure for correct head set and body positioning. Easily accepted by most horses.
Medium Port Mouthpiece: Slight port offers tongue relief without interfering with the roof of the mouth. Upright body positioning and moderate control.
High Port Mouthpiece: An old favorite of ropers. Also popular with Western Pleasure for promoting upright body position, collection, and correct head carriage.
Square Port Mouthpiece: Good tongue relief and pressure on the bars. With a roller it is good for fidgety or nervous horse.
D-Ring Snaffle: (Also referred to as the “don Dodge Snaffle”) The perfect bit for fine-tuning intermediate training. Fixed offset rings give light pressure on the bars and lips. A solid choice for developing lateral movement.
Loose Ring Snaffle: The favorite for starting colts. The heavier weight makes horses pick it up and hold it. Loose rings promote movement to increase salivation. Guaranteed not to pinch.
Ball Hinge Ring Snaffle: The unique hinge system and stationary ring offer maximum function and will eliminate severe response from pinching or binding. A well-balanced, all around bit.
Egg Butt Snaffle: Hinges at the butt of the bar with a restrained mouthpiece for lateral stability. This bit is small, lightweight, and perfect for the young horse with a sensitive mouth.
Full Cheek Snaffle: A favorite choice for putting the final polish on a developing horse. It won’t pull through and gives light, easy steering. This stylish bit is a good choice for crossover riders, delivering a traditional “hunter” look.
We look forward to your thoughts!
Custom Spur Creator
Build the spurs of your dreams then share, print, or order them!
From time to time we have all wished we could build our own TBBS spurs and play with different finishes before ordering them. Well now you can! You can build the base spur and apply different overlays and watch in real time as the price reflects the changes. Once you have your perfect set built share them with your friends and family via the social links at the bottom of the page. You can also email or print the spur combination for your own records. If you love the combination and are ready to order, simply add the custom creation to your shopping cart. If you run into questions let us know and we will be happy to guide you or provide any additional information.
We invite you to check it out, build a set of spurs, and let us know what you think! We love receiving feedback from our wonderful customers!
A bits perfect fit
How to fit a bit to your horses mouth
The way a bit fits in your horses mouth can effect even the best trained horse. A bit should have a 1/8 to a 1/4 inch gap on both sides of the horses mouth, allowing for controlled movement and to avoiding pinching. Our standard mouthpiece width is 5 1/8″. You can get the measurements of your horses mouth a number of different ways. Some of the most common are listed below.
1) Measure the mouthpieces of a bit you know fits your horses mouth.
2) Place a clean measuring device directly in your horses mouth and note the width from corner to corner.
3) Place a clean mark-able object, that is not very large in diameter, directly in your horses mouth and mark the width from corner to corner directly on the object.
Then measure the width between markings with a measuring device.
The measurement obtained is the size of your horses mouth and can be used when ordering bits from all makers. Remember to leave between 1/8 and 1/4 inch on both sides of the horses mouth.
Please leave a comment below if you have suggestions for additional ways of getting an accurate measurement of a horses mouth. We appreciate all feedback and interaction from all of our wonderful customers!
A PICTURE IS WORTH 1000 WORDS – MAKING A PALHAM BIT
We hope you enjoy our take on visual story telling! This story features the intricate process of crafting a Palham Bit, beginning to end.
Holly Spagnola Silverwork
Anytime we share photos of Holly’s work we receive overwhelming positive feedback. Her eye for the spectacular and attention to detail lend to mind blowing designs. She crafts many different items including jewelry and buckles using precious metal and stones. We often have people contact us wanting to order the spurs we’ve shared photos of; however we provide Holly with the spurs and she handles the design and transaction directly with the customer. If you are interested in having Holly design a set of spurs for you or would just like to visit with her about possible projects please contact her at: Phone: 203-219-8457 or contact form. To see more of Holly’s design work please visit her webpage.
A spurs perfect fit
The way a spur hugs your heel can make or break your day. We bend each heel band to its wearer for a firm hold that does not pinch or rub your foot. We ask for a specific measurement to ensure this fit is correct. Below is step by step instruction on getting this measurement with your current pair of spurs or your boot.
Measuring your fit from a current set of spurs
If you have a pair of spurs that you love the fit on, you can get that same feel by measuring them as per below.
1) trace the inside of your current spur as close to the heel band as possible
2) measure the width of the opening
3) draw a line where the measurement was taken and note the width
4) put your name and the date on the top of the drawing and fax/email/post it to us
Measuring your fit from your boot
If there is a pair of boots you love or if you don’t have another set of spurs to measure from, please use the following method to ensure the perfect fit.
1) get a piece of stiff wire and wear the boot that you want to measure from
2) wrap the wire around your heel where the spur will ride (molding the shape)
3) make sure the wire is holding its shape and can be slid on and off your boot
4) trace the inside of the wire shape as close to the wire as possible
5) measure the width of the opening
6) draw a line where the measurement was taken and note the width
7) put your name and the date on the top of the drawing and fax/email/post it to us
If you have any questions about this process please contact us and we will get your on the right path. We look forward to making your spurs and your day perfect!
Filming – How It’s Made
Tom’s reputation for superior craftsmanship has spread worldwide. In 2011 the film crew for Discovery Channels How It’s Made documented the elaborate process of hand-crafting a belt buckle, bit and spurs. Three segments were captured on film and have been aired within the United States. The segments are slowly being released worldwide in a multitude of translations. The segments are currently up on You Tube and can be viewed on our Video Tour page.
After we received confirmation the film crew from Discover Channel would be visiting us, we drew up some designs and started creating ‘step’ pieces. Since the film crew would only be with us a short time, these pieces would be used to show each step of the process as quickly as possible.
They arrived in a small white van, that was deceivingly spacious, and unloaded a large about of expertly packed equipment. The crew was efficient and extremely professional as they captured each process in HD. Every detail from lighting to angle was skillfully adjusted to perfection. The work spaces were tight so we all became friends fairly quickly. They even humored us taking photos of them during the whole process!
We catered a large meal and get together in honor of the opportunity and the hard work of the crews. It was set at Tom’s home and was a beautiful ending to the filming phase.
In the following months we worked with the editing crew to finalize footage and dialog for each of the three segments. This was a extensive phase of the process, but was crucial to the accuracy of the show. We were asked specific tool names and reasoning for each process so the segment would be as educational as possible. We had to be careful not to be to technical or industry specific as the audience is large and diverse.
We had fun during the process and hope you enjoy the segments created. If you are ever in the Sheridan Wyoming area please stop in the shop for a personal tour from Tom and see the process first hand!