THE NEW ADVANTAGE SHANKS
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!
A NOTE FROM THE TOM BALDING BITS & SPURS FAMILY
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 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 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.
Not in a pinch…
What it means when “non pinching” mouthpieces and bits are termed
We have all heard it….”this bit is non pinching”, “this is a pinch proof design”, “pinchless designs are the only way to go”, etc. What exactly are they saying? Lets look at this from a different angle. What is a pinching bit? A pinching bit is one that allows a horse’s lip or cheek to get between moving parts, creating a “pinch”. This can be very painful and cause negative behaviors in the horse…. can you blame the horse?
A non pinching, pinch proof, or pinchless design would be one that does not allow for the space to get a lip or cheek in. To accomplish this a maker will need well thought out designs and precision execution of the builds. Quality material and craftsmanship should not wallow out, eliminating wear and spacing issues. Can anyone claim to have created a 100% pinch proof bit with moving parts? No. Our designs are non pinching; however, hinging parts that are used incorrectly can fold in on themselves enough to cause discomfort. Think of a hinged door; it is possible to pinch your finger in between the door and door frame when not used correctly. It is important to understand the basic functions of a bit to understand how a pinchless design can eliminate painful behavior forming riding.
Ballhinges, d-rings, egg butts, correctly sized tubes, and solid shanks are all pinchless designs. Did you notice all of Tom’s bits fit in these categories? He is also a master designer and craftsman, with aerospace experience, allowing him to create the highest allowable precision in the equine world. Our bits do not wobble and pinch, but rather glide with smooth balanced movements. We do not have a specifically named “non pinching” design because all of our designs are created with this in mind. It makes you wonder why other makers feel the need to name one design with this title and leave the others without….
Billy Klapper Style
How Billy Klapper has influenced Tom’s bit and spur designs
A little backgound on Billy Klapper: He trained with early spur masters such as Adolph Bayers and has spent his life perfecting the trade. He has over 680 patterns, but accommodates his customers wishes for custom designs. His first designs do not have his makers mark stamped in them. This was a process he started in 1966 by marking each with his name and a serial number. Based in Pampa Texas, he builds each spur from a solid piece of metal using a small coal forge. He is a one man operation and can turn out two hundred pair a year with a waiting list spanning well over a year.
In an attempt to learn early on from the masters; Tom spent time visiting Billy Klappers workshop and discussing the processes he used. Billy Klapper spoke freely and took time to teach different techniques to Tom. The respect Tom has for Billy Klapper can be seen in his applications of the lessons learned. It is most evident in his Texas Style spur heelbands, spur shank 102 and 546, as well as the Klapper bit mouthpiece.
When Tom was visiting Billy Klapper he hired a photographer to capture their time together. During the trip home someone broke into their car and stole the camera equipment, loosing the documentation forever. If anyone has ran across this film it would be a great treasure to Tom if returned.
THE ORIGINAL – downsides to knockoffs
The most obvious downside to purchasing a knock off is compromised quality. But what does that really mean. Let’s break it down….
Our bits and spurs are precision built. Every finished part is within a couple thousandth of the original drawing. Because of this; there is limited wearing, no pinching, and fluid movement for the end user. Bits are perfectly balanced and spurs molded to your perfect fit. When other makers take our designs and knock them, off through an inexpensive process, you lose the commitment to perfection. The knockoff’s are not built to the tolerances and specifications that ours are and therefore begin to wear in places, pinch your horse or boot, and stiffen/wobble when being used. Worst case scenario is a bit breaking while you are using it. With a knockoff, you are walking into the ‘danger zone’ the moment you take it home.
Every design, down to the smallest part, is carefully considered before it is created into a working mock up. Then it is sent to world class trainers and professional riders for testing and feedback. Every comment is evaluated and then the design is changed accordingly. It is tested and retested, until we have something we are comfortable releasing to the general public. Every bit and spur offered comes with the industry leader’s stamp of approval.
When you purchase a bit or spurs from us you are purchasing peace of mind for life. If the material or craftsmanship fail during your ownership, we will fix it or replace it at no cost to you. If the damage is on you (i.e. tie horse to post and it rears, bending the mouthpiece), we will still do our best to fix it for a minimal charge. Your satisfaction is our number one concern.
The age old saying: “You get what you pay for”, is ever valid. Ironically, you can buy one Tom Balding bit for a lifetime or a dozen knockoffs that last a couple years each. Why not get the good stuff the first time around and make your riding experience the best it can be?
Tom has traveled to many of the companies that knock off his designs and asked if they would please stop. It hurts our business in both reputation (people think they have a Balding product but don’t) and in sales (our ability to keep the doors open). A few ethical companies have ceased production when they meet Tom and see he is committed to his quality product and learn how small our shop family really is. Partrade is one of these upstanding companies and Tom has maintained a friendly relationship with them ever since.
We hope you begin to have a trained eye for quality. Here are some great examples to help sharpen your skills in spotting knockoffs.
2015 customer survey results
What did you have to say about Tom Balding Bits & Spurs?
We have summarized your responses in a per questions style. Also, all questions or directional responses have been answered. We cannot thank each of you enough for participating in this live feedback! Your comments and suggestions are being worked into our daily operations as you are reading this.
Q: Please rank our four core values in importance to you.
A: #1 Attention to craftsmanship, design, and materials. #2 Quality and pride in everything we do. #3 Care and respect for one another and the community. #4 Elite product that sets the standard in our industry.
Q: Do you agree with this statement? “We craft state of the art bit and spur designs backed by industry leading technology and innovation for riders seeking a balanced product that offers ease of use, quick response, better movement, and longer product life. We work directly with world class professional riders and trainers to ensure all your needs are met. We are the best, and thought often copied we are never duplicated.”
A: 97.91% agreed with this statement and 2.09% did not.
Q: How many times have you used our trial bit program to “try before you buy” in the last 24 months?
A: 61.26% said never, 32.46% said ‘What is the trial bit program’, and 6.28% responded they had used trial bits between 1-3 times.
NOTE: We offer a trial bit service for customers to try before they buy. We understand this is an investment and want to ensure you are 100% satisfied with the bit you purchase. Just give us a call or email us with your mouthpiece requests and we will send you the bits to try for up to two weeks.
Q: How often will you purchase the following items for yourself and your tack room this year?
A: Ranked from most often to least often they replies are as follows: Grooming equipment, Bit, Reins, Saddle Blanket, Headstall, Boots, Sterling Silver Items, Hat, Spurs, and Saddle.
Q: How likely is it that you would recommend Tom Balding Bits & Spurs to a friend or colleague?
A: 84% would highly recommend, 10% we moderately likely to recommend, and 6% had a low probability of recommending.
Q: What new products or designs would you like to see from us?
A: Most were very happy with our offering and did not have specific suggestions. Listed below are the suggestions we did receive along with notes from our team.
- Jewelry – We do offer a fair amount of jewelry in our gift shop. However, because of the one of a kind nature of these pieces we are not able to offer them all on our website. They are continually changing and up to the engraver and artist’s whims. In addition to the photos we post on Facebook of these items, we are happy to email pictures of what we have along a particular line for you. We do have a section dedicated to jewelry on our website which you can view here.
- Belts, hat bands, saddles, and other custom leather pieces – While we greatly appreciate the art of leather craft we do not do it in our shop. We carry one of a kind pieces from a local maker, by the name of Wayne Hape, in our gift shop. These items follow the same treatment as our jewelry.
- Reins, headstalls, and other tack items – Though we do not make tack items in our shop we do try to carry a wide selection. You can view these items here. Along these lines it was noted that a particular style or material was requested. We are somewhat limited by our suppliers but will be looking into many of these options in the next year.
- Short shank bits (to transition from a snaffle) – We offer many short shanks as buy it now options on our website as well as the ability to build your bit exactly as you want it (catalog).
- Tablespoon shaped high port mouthpiece, western snaffle, half breed, and spade mouthpieces – We offer many mouthpieces that fit these descriptions. You can view all of our mouthpieces here. If you have questions about any of the mouthpieces please contact us and we will respond within one business day (usually much sooner!).
- Larger/wider mouthed trial bits – With the large number of mouthpieces we offer it would have to be narrowed down to a single selection case by case option. It would not be possible to accommodate all possible, non standard, mouth widths in our trial bit program. It might be a case of roughly mocking up the bit for you to try and then putting the finishes on it for you once you knew it was something you wanted.
- More design overlay options / would like to design my own and have you make it – With our almost unlimited combinations (shanks, mouthpieces, finishes, and custom overlays) we try and make that possible for you. Please visit our catalog for per piece options. With regard to you drawing up something completely unique (i.e. palm tree shanks and guitar shaped mouthpiece bars) and then having us build that for you, it is simply not possible. Because of our high quality standards we spend almost a year refining and testing every shank and mouthpiece before releasing it to the general public. We would be happy to overlay palm trees and guitars on your bit or spur though! Along these same lines we do not copy other makers. We have had several request to copy a favored bit for someone, but we just do not feel right taking someone’s hard work and marketing it under our name.
- Non stainless heart design rowels – We will have these available very soon! Please feel free to place an order at your convenience.
- High quality hackamore bit – At this time Tom is not researching a hackamore bit. If anything on this front changes we would be happy to contact you. Please email us with your contact information and we will touch base with you if he does come out with one down the road. Another great maker that does currently build hackamore bits is Gordy Alderson.
- Flank buckles, bridle buckles, other tack hardware – This is something that we have looked into but would not be able to devote the time needed to produce these on an order by order basis. Our shop manager, Justin Massar, does a fair amount of side work with small custom items for people. He would be a wonderful resource if you have a specific request to be filled. We highly endorse his work ethic and craftsmanship!
- Bit hangers – We currently offer metal bit hangers and are looking into wood hangers for both bits and spurs. To order the metal hangers please contact us as they are not for sale on our website. We will be posting the wood displays as soon as they are available.
- Key chain – We offer many styles of key chains. You can view them here.
- Lower priced options – We offer our baseline as a economy line. You can view them here.
- Traditional Californian mouth and cheek pieces (i.e. c-port mouth) – Tom’s style is not overly ornate and traditional so this is not a direction we will be going. We have been thinking of a straight shank but it would a year or more before this comes about.
- More overlay option (floral patterns etc) – We can cut anything out that you would like on your bits or spurs. Your only limits are the size of the space you have to work with.
- Smaller/larger mouthpieces besides the standard 5 1/8″- We offer custom mouth widths for a small up charge. You pick the width and we will built it for you. For more information on this please visit our blog “a bits perfect fit“.
- Ladies spurs – We offer our spurs in mens, ladies, and youth sizes. When you tell us your boot size we then further customize the bend to fit you perfectly. For more information on sizing please visit our blog post “a spurs perfect fit“.
- Barrel racing, Cowhorse, etc bits – Our bits fall into many disciplines. It is up to you to determine your needs within your specific discipline set. We do try and give you direction through our “is this bit legal” blog post. Other great resources are your disciplines rule books, as they are updated every year.
- Stirrups – We do not carry stirrups and do not have plans at this time to introduce them as this is something typically purchased with a saddle or saddle maker.
- More stainless steel options – All of our bit and spur pieces are offered in stainless. Our mouthpieces however are sweet iron and copper which aids in salivation and acceptance.
- Lightweight bits – We are researching different aluminum bit options for our shop. It may be a couple years before something is released to the general public.
- Trophy bits, spurs, or buckles – We offer all three! You can see examples here.
- Full sized shank bottle opener – We are toying around with this and should have something out by mid to end of this year.
- Knives – We sell a few knives in the gift shop by other makers. We do not have plans to make knives in our shop.
- English bits – We offer several styles of English bits including full cheek snaffles, D-ring snaffles, and Pelhams. We also offer a variety of polo specific bits.
- Stones on the bits – To inlay stone stones on our bits we have to design overlay plates. We have done this for the Sheridan shank which you can view here. If this continues to grow in popularity we will look into other shank overlays that allow for stones.
- Limited edition bits and spurs – We are working on great one of a kind (highest bidders) items for 2016.
- Bit buying/using guide – We try and present a wealth of information on our blog from our experience with trainers and professional riders. However, many opinions vary so greatly, as well as the general difference between different riders and their horses, that it is hard to offer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ bit guide. We will certainly look into a way to offer a one stop guide in the upcoming years.
Q: How often would you like to hear from us?
A: The most common answer (by far) was monthly.
Q: What year was TBBS established?
A: The correct answer is 1984. 83% had the correct answer.
Q: Do you have any other comments, questions, or concerns?
A: We felt the love of so many kind and positive responses! Thank you!!! Below we have listed responses that were seeking replies or additional information that were not already addressed above.
- More information on bit uses and which bit is best for which rider – Because there is such a variety in riders, horses, and learned styles it is very hard to give general suggestions to the public. We do try, through phone conversation and our blog, to offer very general advise. However, we often suggest either the trial bits or working with a trainer for more specific suggestions to each rider and horse.
- More non-Facebook contests – We offer a tab on our website filled with all our contests. This tab is updated continually as contest change throughout the year.
- Information about the team – We love that you want to know about us as individuals! We offer brief profiles of each employee on our ‘Meet the staff’ tab’.
- The ability to order a fully custom bit (whichever mouthpiece and shank) on the website – The ‘Bit Creator’ will hopefully by live this summer. We are sure this will quickly become a favorite page!
- Which bits are show legal to a specific discipline – We combed through rule books a while back and compiled the “Is this bit legal” blog post. This answers many of the major questions regarding different associations. We also offer for you to comment if you are looking for or have found additional associations you would like cited in the post. As always you are welcome to call or email us if you need a little help identifying your disciplines rules and legal bits.
- Can I have a bit made with my brand on the cheek? – You bet! We can put anything you like on the wider shanks or concho snaffles. Your only limitation is the size of the bit surface area.
If your questions were not answered here or you have additional thoughts please share through the comment form below!
Have it your way…
We can put almost anything you want on a pair of spurs
We can put almost ANYTHING on a pair of spurs. All we need is a graphic you would like overlaid on your spurs. As each piece is delicately cut out by hand it is important to remember that small details will be lost in the process. Feel free to order one of the designs shown here or one of you own! We look forward to hearing from you!
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