Equestrian Blog

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Bits, Bitting and Mouthpieces

With such a wide range of bits on the market, choosing the right one for your horse can sometimes be difficult. Having a vague idea of what style mouthpieces your horse would suit and the types of action he might like is the first step in the right direction of finding a bit to suit both you and him. Before you begin choosing a bit it is essential that your horse is up to date with his dentistry. It is recommended that your horse has his teeth checked and rasped by a qualified equine dentist once every 6 months, so if your horse isn’t up to date, address this issue before trying new bits. Even a bit that would ordinarily be perfect for your horse can appear not to be if he is in any discomfort, and the ‘need’ for a bit change due to strong or bad behaviour can be eliminated through having your horse’s teeth checked. Mouthpieces When looking at bits, it helps to know the types of mouthpieces that would suit your horse. To do this you need to assess your horse's mouth conformation and check how fleshy your horse’s tongue is and how much space he has in his mouth. Cobs, Irish Draught Crosses, Dutch Warmbloods and Welsh types have large tongues, making thick mouthpieces uncomfortable for them as they have little space in their mouth anyway, so although thin mouthpieces are usually considered harsher, in the case of fleshy tongued equines they can sometimes be kinder. For soft mouthed horses that have enough space, thicker bits are preferable as they distribute any pressure over a larger area. The next thing to think about in relation to mouthpieces is what type of joint, if any, you need. Single jointed bits act on the bars of the horse’s mouth and the corners of the lips depending on how the horse carries his head, as well as having a ‘nutcracker’ action when pulled as it flexes in the middle and squeezes both sides into the lower jaw. Double jointed bits or French links are milder than the single jointed bit as they lie across the tongue and only act on the bars of the mouth and corners of the lips. This type of mouthpiece has no ‘nutcracker’ action. Straight bar bits have no joint and act predominantly on the tongue and bars of the mouth. If the bit is ported, this can alleviate tongue pressure and put more pressure on the bars of the mouth. Waterford mouth pieces are like a thick snaffle with lots of joints, which wrap around the tongue and can prevent horses from leaning on the bit; however they can also prevent them from taking a contact and working into the bridle, and can be quite harsh. Twisted mouth pieces are harsh and should only be used with light hands as they can damage the mouth if you aren’t careful. For horses with a low roof of mouth, single jointed bits can be painful as they can jab the roof of the mouth when used. It is common for these horses to be ridden in a flash strap to stop them opening their mouth which they do to avoid the discomfort and evade the bits action, however a better solution would be to use a double jointed or French link mouthpiece, or a straight bar bit. Ported bits are good for horses with fleshy tongues who don’t like jointed bits as they allow room for the tongue whilst still having the straight bar action, however straight bar bits can confuse the horse and aren’t very clear due to their lack of flexibility and the lack of ability for both sides to work independently. This doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a try though; some horses appear to like their action. The next thing to consider is the type of material your horse would suit for his mouthpiece. This isn’t something that can be easily determined without testing the different types of materials with your horse. As a vague guideline, horses who salivate normally and aren’t too strong in the mouth can suit most materials, such as stainless steel, rubber and sweet iron. Horses who have especially sensitive mouths or who don’t like the feeling of cold metal being put in their mouth may prefer a warmer metal such as copper or a rubber or happy mouth bit. Strong horses whose mouths are dry and insensitive can be encouraged to salivate and therefore become more sensitive by using metals such as sweet iron and copper, or by having a mouthpiece with rollers on it to encourage them to move it around more and therefore not fix their jaw against you. Overall this stage of bitting is down to experimentation as no one can tell you the sort of metal your horse will like. Types of bits and their action When it comes to what sort of bit and action your horse will suit, it is important to consider how strong your horse is and the situations your horse will use the bit in. For example, you may be fine schooling in a snaffle, but for hacking or jumping your horse may become extremely strong and require something more to aid control. Always use the mildest action that you can get away with in the situation whilst remaining safe and in control.
The snaffle bit is considered the kindest bit as there is no poll or curbs pressure, it just works on the mouth. There are fixed ring snaffles which are considered standard and are very mild. For slightly stronger horses or those who lean on the bit, a loose ring snaffle may help stop this as when they try to take hold of it, the rings move. Hanging cheek snaffles suit some horses as they suspend the bit in their mouth and leave more room for their tongue. Snaffle
D ring snaffles give slightly more cheek pressure and can aid in turning as well as preventing the bit from pulling through the mouth, the same as a full cheek snaffle can. Snaffles are good to school in as they teach the horse to listen to a soft bit and a contact can be taken easily without creating other unwanted pressures.
Pelham If a stronger bit is needed, a Pelham may be the way to go. This bit has 2 actions, it can be used as a snaffle on the top ring and has a second, bottom ring at the end of a shank which acts with poll pressure to bring the head down and curb pressure from a curb chain to stop the horse evading the bit. This can be found with any mouthpiece, and is useful if used with double reins for horses that will listen to a snaffle most of the time but do need a stronger action occasionally. This use is however taken away if roundings are used as the rider can’t decide to use the snaffle or curb rein independently, but both are used all the time. It is also useful for showing and classes where it is correct to use a double bridle or Pelham.
The Kimblewick is quite a strong bit with a square cheek piece, curb chain attachment, and bit rings with slots allowing for different degrees of poll pressure to be used depending on how low you attach your reins, with more pressure being used the lower you attach them. This is a single rein bit meaning you can’t have different degrees of pressure on the bit like you can with a double reined Pelham but are always on the harsh setting. Some horses like its action and if used gently this bit can be highly effective.
Gag bits can be harsh bits if used in the wrong hands, but can be effective when used correctly. The snaffle gag bit is used with double reins, one on the ring and one on the gag pieces running up to the head piece. This bit raises the head when the gag pieces are pulled as the bit lifts in the horse’s mouth. This should be considered carefully before using as it can cause horses to rear. However, if your horse is particularly strong, so long as the snaffle ring is the most predominantly used and the gag reins only used when the undesirable behaviour is displayed, this bit can work well. Gag
The Dutch gag or bubble bit works by applying leverage pressure to the horse’s poll and brings the head down, despite other gag bits working to bring the head up. When used with double reins this can be very effective as the snaffle rein works exactly like a hanging cheek snaffle and is mild, and then when you need the extra control, the bottom rein can give you this. These are most commonly seen being used with a single rein on one of the lower rings, however this puts constant pressure on the horse and there is no release reward as you would get with double reins.
Double A double bridle is most commonly seen in dressage on horses of a level where extra collection and refinement is needed. This consists of two bits, the bradoon acting similarly to the snaffle and the curb bit applying poll pressure and curb pressure. This bit can also be used in the show ring or when jumping for extra control and refinement of aids.
Finally, there is the bitless bridle. This can come in many forms, such as a Hackamore or Scawbrig bitless bridle, which both use facial pressure to control the horse. This can be a good alternative for horses with damaged or super sensitive mouths, or a variation for horses that are strong when bitted as it is uses different pressure areas and has no effect on hard mouths. Overall, it really is up to the rider as to how they think the horse has accepted the bit, but as long as the horse is listening to it and respecting it without too much force from the rider, and he isn’t backing away from it or evading, you’re probably onto a winner. And remember, a bit is only as harsh as the hands on the end of it, a novice rider with rough hands can make the mildest snaffle harsh, the same as a quiet handed rider can make harsh bits seem soft in comparison.

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