Bit by bit

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The bit is an aid that passes on requests from the rider to the horse regarding speed and direction. The mouthpiece of a bit is selected to suit a horse’s requirements – what fits their mouth conformation, and what they are comfortable and happy in – and the bit rings, or cheek pieces, help the rider communicate their requirements to the horse.

Experts agree that finding the right bit for your horse should be a blend of seeking obedience through correct schooling, tempered with the rider’s understanding of the horse’s welfare. Dental checks by an equine dental technician or vet are recommended at least once a year, to ensure the horse is comfortable, and to avoid longer-term mouthing and bitting problems.

Bits exert pressure on some or all of the following internal parts of the horse’s mouth:

  • The bars – the ‘gummy’ sections between the incisor and molar teeth
  • The roof of the mouth (palate)
  • The tongue, particularly the sensitive edges
  • The lips and corners of the mouth

Bits also exert pressure on some or all of the following external parts of the horse’s mouth:

  • The poll area beneath the headpiece of the bridle
  • The curb groove (or chin groove) – this is the ‘hollow’ just above the chin
The action of a bit can be aided by the bridle design, for example extra pressure at the chin, cheeks or nose. Bits should always be used sympathetically in order to create a ‘union’ with the horse, and not an argument!

 

Size is everything

The size of bit is imperative, both in terms of its actual dimensions, and also the shape of the bit – much like fitting shoes to people, horses have different mouth conformations, and many horses will naturally suit a certain type of bit. Essentially, snaffle mouthpieces send a directional signal to the horse using pressure.

A thinner bit creates more pressure on the bars, while a wider mouthpiece diminishes pressure. The Horze Rubber Snaffle with a straight mouth, product ID: 13030, size 115-135, has a wide rubber mouthpiece covering a steel wire core. Thus, the mouthpiece produces less pressure and could be described as being kinder than other thinner bits.

Meanwhile, a straight bit exerts more pressure on the horse’s tongue. We like

Horze Straight Bit, product ID: 13000, sizes 105-145. This plain snaffle has no joints in the mouthpiece, and has loose bit rings.

A hinged or jointed bit increases bar pressure. We like the Horze D-Ring Snaffle, product ID: 13075, sizes 105-145, which has a single joint. The D shape of the bit rings helps prevent the corners of the mouth from being pinched between the mouthpiece and the rings, so it is good for riders whose hands are not as still as they should be.

Horze’s Apple Snaffle Bit, Double-Jointed bit, product ID: 13156, sizes 125-145, has a rolling lozenge (eg. a double joint) at the centre and is made of apple-scented, synthetic rubber, so gives more bar pressure.

The bit’s leverage action also comes into play; it is said that if you put five pounds of pressure

on the reins, your horse will feel 15 pounds of pressure in the mouth; although this is of course an average, dependant on the thickness of the bit and the leverage of the cheek!

Shank cheeks increase in leverage the longer they are. Roughly speaking, increased length above the mouthpiece gives greater poll pressure, while more length below the mouthpiece increases the leverage on the lower jaw and / or curb groove. The Horze Show Jumping Bit, product ID: 13020, sizes 95-105, is a type of ‘bubble’ gag with different ring fixings. As its name suggests, it is popular with jumping riders that need extra leverage.

 

Horze have a team of experienced riders, trainers and equestrian journalists who shared their knowledge and expertise through this blog.