Bits and biting isn’t a small subject. Here are my thoughts on bits, why I have chosen the one I use, and why I don’t use certain other ones.
There are many variations on a bit which changes the action of the bit when pressure is applied to the rein, and many variations in metals and shapes that affects the comfort of the bit for your horse, both when resting in the mouth and when the reins are used. Even just looking at the wide variety of snaffle bits available can be confusing.
My initial preference for a mouth piece is one that has two joints. This is sometimes referred to as double jointed, with a lozenge, double broken, or ‘french link’. I prefer a bit with two joints over a bit with just one joint because it avoids a ‘nut cracker’ action. A bit with just one joint, when pressure is applied to both reins (how most people stop) the two sides get drawn back and closer together, the centre join can then stick up in to the roof of the horses mouth, and the tongue can get pinched in the middle. There is an argument that if you are needing to pull this hard then there is a huge gap in the horses training, or a health issue stopping the horse responding to the rein aid, but even the best of riders grab both reins in certain situations, even if they don’t intend to (eg when your horse spooks), and why risk causing your horse pain by accident???
Two joints also allows each side of the bit to move more independently. As pressure is applied to one rein, the side it is attached to will move and a small amount of movement may transfer to the centre piece, but almost none is transferred to the other side. With a straight bar, if you apply pressure to one side this will directly impact the other side of the mouth piece, and with a single joint a small amount of movement could be transferred (This will depend on the type of join in the bit). (A straight bar can also have a ‘port’ in the middle designed to relieve a little tongue pressure without having to have a joint, ports have also been introduced to jointed bits to further relieve tongue pressure)
Next I look at the rings of the bit. I like a fixed ring so that pressure applied to the bit rings (via the reins) directly affects that side of the mouth piece and nothing is lost through movement of the rings. Loose rings can cause pinching if not used with the rubber ‘bit rings’ to protect the corners of the mouth. Loose rings are said to help stop a horse ‘grabbing hold of the bit’ but this again raises the question of problems in training or a health issue, rather than an issue with what bit you use. Fixed ring can be eggbutt (oval shaped), D-Ring (With a straight side to ‘aid steering’ or ‘stop the bit slipping through the mouth’ – again if this is your reason for choosing a D-Ring there is possibly a gap in training or health issue that needs addressing)
Fixed ring (eggbutt)
The material of the bit used can very much depend on the horse. Some metals used in bits are said to be ‘warmer’ than others, you can get rubber or silicone mouth pieces which are generally thought of as kinder than a hard metal, you can also have hollow or solid mouth pieces which changes how heavy they feel. I have heard of a horse displaying problematic behaviour due to having too much copper in his system, he had a copper bit! When that was changed his behaviour changed dramatically! When I was younger I was told that a fatter mouth piece is kinder as it spreads the pressure over a larger area, however, I now know that isn’t always the case. If your horse has a small mouth, or a very ‘fleshy’ tongue and lips, a fat mouth piece takes up a lot of space and with a closed mouth would be causing a permanent pressure when ever the bit was in.
This is the type of bit I am using with my horse Buddy at the moment. I would prefer not to have the hanging mouth piece as, although very small, there is an element of purchase and poll pressure. With no leverage though this is extremely slight so for now I remain mindful, and continue to seek an alternative that suits him. I have chosen it based on the mouth piece being thinner, which Buddy seems to prefer. At least for now he seems happier with this than with the previous fatter mouth piece I was using.
Once you move away from snaffle bits, you begin to move in to the world of leverage (or combination bits). If anything is reported to give you more ‘stopping power’ it is likely to be a leverage or combination bit.
Leverage – ‘A lever amplifies an input force to provide a greater output force, which is said to provide leverage. The ratio of the output force to the input force is the mechanical advantage of the lever‘ (Definition from Wikipedia). Basically the longer the lever the less effort you have to put in to create the same force at the other end. A shank on a bit is anything that drops below the mouth piece for the reins to attach lower down.
The longer the shank the more pressure can be applied to the horses mouth with lighter pressure from the reins. The ‘Purchase’ will then determine how much the force also transfers to poll pressure. As the end of the lever pulls back, the purchase pulls down, rotating around the mouth piece.
This can be on a gag bit (the most common is a 3 ring gag where you can move the reins to 3 different positions, depending on how much leverage you want). Or a Pelham, which also has a curb chain which applies preesure to the horses chin when the reins are taken up too. Other combination bits may also add nose and chin pressure. Nose and chin pressure bits are often given the term ‘hackamore’.
Western style bit to illustrate lever and purchase
3 ring or ‘dutch gag’
Pelham with curb chain
Example combination bit
An english hackamore (no mouth piece just nose/chin/poll pressure)
Now add to this the options for a flash, drop nose band, grackle nose band, martigales and all sort of other contraptions designed to give you better “control”…. with all these different actions, styles and gadgets what do you use???
I’ve mentioned the type of bit I’m using and why. I feel that if leverage, poll pressure, chin pressure and nose pressure are needed in addition to the pressure in the horses mouth (on the tongue and bars of the mouth) there is likely a training or health issue that needs addressing. I’m not keen on Hackamores as although they remove the pressure from the horses mouth directly they do have a strong ‘squeezing’ action on the horses face. I have however known horses that cannot tolerate a bit in their mouth (despite all training and health issues being looked at) and go very happily in a hackamore without much pressure being applied to the reins. There is almost as many ‘bitless’ options as there are bitted options. (Buddy can also be ridden bitless but I find the contact less precise for schooling, so we tend to use this option more for hacking).
If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it. If you and your horse are happy, then don’t rock the boat.
If you’re reading this blog because you or your horse are not happy, first consider why?
Are you having to use what is considered a ‘strong bit’ and you’d like to have something simpler? Perhaps your horse is fighting rein pressure and you are being advised to get a stronger bit, put a flash or drop nose band on, or to use some other gadget you aren’t comfortable with? If this is the case, first look in to any possible health issue, or tack fit that could be making it worse. A poorly fitted bridle, a poorly fitted saddle, sore teeth, sore back, as well as the sometimes less obvious gut problems or mineral imbalances can all cause problems with stopping or steering. Seek professional advice from your vet or instructor. And then, listen to your own gut instinct and research the bit you are considering using. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer but I do feel the simpler the bit you can use, the better.
Check out this video. It only talks about bits that they make of course, but shows you nicely on a horses skull, how a bit works in the mouth. There are MANY videos out there about bits and biting!!
I hope this article has helped you understand a little more about bits. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, to the best of my ability, so feel free to drop me a message.
Did you know you can now get someone out to try loads of different bits and help you find the right bit for you and your horse? Yes! That’s right! Just like a saddle fitter there are now bit fitters!!! https://www.horsebitfit.com/