The mouthpiece on your favorite Western curb bit is rusty and caked with hay. A little soap and water will do the trick, right? Wrong, say the three top custom bitmakers we talked to. Here, they give you several good ways to clean your curb bit, from mouthpiece to shank.
Avoid using soap on your bit's mouthpiece, because if you've had your bit a while, it's acquired a taste your horse likes--and soap will wash that taste away. A rusty sweet-iron (cold-rolled steel) mouthpiece not only tastes good to your horse, but will also keep his mouth moist and salivating, increasing his comfort level. And over time, even non-rusting mouthpieces--such as stainless-steel and copper models--taste good to your horse. If you must clean your bit's mouthpiece, say our experts, just soak it in hot or warm water. To remove any remaining grime, scrub the mouthpiece with a toothbrush or a soap-free steel-wool pad.
"To clean the shanks of an all-stainless-steel bit, simply rub off any dirt with a 3M cloth [Scotch-Brite High Performance Cloth; 877/3M-CLOTH; www.3M.com], found at most grocery stores. To clean engraved, sterling-silver shanks, I just use a terrycloth towel to preserve the shanks' patina (natural wear that gives silver character). On new sterling silver, light refracts from the angle on freshly engraved cuts. As sterling ages, the bottoms of the cuts fill up and turn black, imparting a rich, three-dimensional look. Silver polish removes this look, so I avoid it.
"Silver polish can also strip the dyed-blue background you find on some engraved shanks. If this has happened to your bit, you don't need to send it back to the maker for re-dyeing--just spray on a little WD-40. This will turn the metal a nutmeg brown--a real classy color that resembles traditional California bits."
--Greg Darnall, McKinney, Texas
"To clean engraved, sterling-silver shanks, I use 3M's Tarni-Shield Cleaner [see contact information, above], but most any silver polish will work. Or, just use a toothbrush to work in toothpaste or ammonia, and rinse thoroughly. Use a silver-polishing cloth to bring up the shine. Then apply a thin coat of clear, spray lacquer (from your local hardware store). The lacquer will keep the silver shiny up to a year. All you have to do is wipe off the shanks with a damp cloth! When the lacquer wears thin, remove it with a lacquer remover, and apply a new coat."
-- Dennis Markle, Guthrie, Oklahoma
"To clean engraved, sterling-silver shanks, I like to use Hagerty Silversmith Spray Polish, found at most tack stores. Just spray it on the shanks, and polish with a terrycloth towel. Or, spray the polish on the cloth, and rub it on the shank. This product cleans silver extremely quickly and won't stain your bridle leather."
-- Ray Maheu, Pawling, New York
This article first appeared in the July 2001 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.