Renee Swanepoel / Alixe Etherington with additions
from [Cathy Sheets Tauer]
One of the least understood yet most important pieces of tack in any
rider's possession, must be the bit they are using in their horse's
mouth. Most riders do not understand how the bit they are using works,
or even why they are using it. Riders often try to solve their own
riding and training inadequacies with stronger bit and noseband
combinations, and the poor horse is left confused, sometimes in pain and
always more resistant than ever. Add to that the strange phenomenon seen
at many yards where a piece of tack becomes a 'fashion statement' and it
is not to uncommon to see groups of riders using the same bit (or
gadget!) on a host of different horses and ponies, the riders having no
idea how or why they are using the bit other than that their friends are
using it too. Often a trainer will favor a particular bit and at the
slightest problem emerging, the horse will get put into that new bit,
rather than finding the source of the horse's problem and solving it.
The subject of bits and bitting can be a rather controversial one,
depending on who you are speaking to. Dressage enthusiasts will favor the
purist snaffle group, showjumpers will sing the praises of their newest
gag/hackamore/Pelham/ Kimblewick combination and Western riders may poo-poo
the snaffle group, insisting that without leverage, the horse will not be
able to feel the soft nuances that result in a refined performance. (Not to
mention the naturalists, who will convince you that using a bit in the first
place is cruel, painful and that every horse should be taught to go
without!) All of these groups are right. Well, sort of! Every horse is
different. The use of a particular bit on a horse should be guided firstly
by the horse's oral conformation, schooling and personal preference, then by
the rules of the discipline concerned. Very important to remember also is
that HOW you use a bit is most surely as important – even MORE important as
WHAT bit you use!
[How do you adjust and fit a bit correctly? The width of a bit should
allow a finger width on either side of the horse’s lips. The height of the
bit in the mouth should be where the bit will make a wrinkle - if any in the
corner of the horse’s mouth. The bit should have a chin/lip strap or
cavesson/flash to hold the mouth shut – engaging the bit. The chin/lip strap
should be adjusted so that you can slip one or two fingers under it and the
horse's chin groove. Always undo this strap when removing the bit from the
horse’s mouth so you do not bang the bit against the horse’s teeth and cause
him to rear or pull back. When testing new bits always have your old one
handy and test new bits in a controlled area. To engage a horse mouth – get
him on the bit, at a stop gather up the reins slowly in your hands – walking
your hands up the reins until the horse takes one step back/raises head/or
collects. This is the point where you are on the horses mouth communicating
with him. Remember to check your horses teeth yearly.]
ACTION OF THE BIT:
The bit, along with the noseband work together on the
following parts of the horse's mouth:
Each bit/noseband combination has a different effect on the various parts
of the horse’s anatomy. Each horse will react differently to that pressure,
and it is often easy to see to what type of pressure a horse reacts well to
and pressure that he does not like.
A very important thing to remember is that the bit lies in the horse’s
mouth – that means that you should be paying particular attention to what is
actually going on inside your horse’s mouth, as it will play a major role in
the success of your schooling program and the acceptance of the horse to the
bit. Each horse has a differently shaped mouth – big or small, long or
short, thick or thin lips, high or low palate, thick fleshy tongues or fine
skinned sensitive mouths with flat tongues. All of this will play a role on
the type and size of bit you choose.
It is also very important to have your horse’s teeth checked regularly by
a professional. This will highlight any problems that may be caused by sharp
hooks, lacerations, ulcers, wolf teeth, etc. Your horse’s teeth should be
checked at least once or twice per year, and I always have any horse’s teeth
checked before I embark on any kind of training program with its rider.
There is also a trend to float horse’s teeth to a ‘bit seat’, which means
that the premolars that are in contact with the bit are rounded to make the
bit sit more comfortably in the mouth. (See picture – note bit seat has been
filed in front, none at back. There is also a bad hook on the upper premolar
which would have to be filed down as it would probably cause the horse
discomfort.) There is still much debate as to whether this works or not, but
studies have shown that it is not detrimental to performance, so I think it
is it is worth trying. It seems to be most beneficial when used with a
snaffle. (Remember, a well fitting bit should not be bumping against the
teeth anyway, although it can sometimes happen in extreme situations!)
I cannot stress enough the importance of having your
horse’s mouth checked regularly – I am always shocked at how few
people have this done, and I can say with confidence that I have ever
only seen one horse that was seen by a professional dentist that did
not have a problem! Your horse has his feet seen to regularly – his
teeth should be no different. Riding problems you may notice when
there is a tooth problem include, tipping head to one side, tongue
over bit, dry mouth, pulling, rushing, rearing, bolting, stargazing
and overbending, as well as a host of other problems.
FAMILY OF BITS
Bits are usually divided into groups, depending on their action and
physical appearance. Never let the name of a bit fool you into classifying
it as something it is not. A great example of this is the Tom Thumb Western
Snaffle (pictured). Ignorant riders pick this bit because they assume from
the name that it is a snaffle and want to be kind on their horse's mouths.
This bit is not a snaffle! It is a curb bit and in the wrong hands can be
very harsh indeed! A very common reaction to this bit is, in fact, that the
horse will open his mouth and 'yaw' at the bit whenever a rein aid is
applied. That is because the action of the bit is very harsh in the roof of
the mouth and it has a very severe 'nutcracker' action on the jaw. By using
it incorrectly you may create a problem mouth where there was none to begin
with! [ This bit is a "curb" bit with a snaffle mouth piece]
Before confusing the reader completely, let me attempt
explain the basic types of bits:
Direct action -
Snaffles - [beginning or
bits - Shank bits to include; Curb, Pelham, Kimberwick and Gags
[advanced or correction bits]
specialty and combination type bits, bitless bridles, hackamores and bozals
[specialty disciplines or medical reasons bits]
(Direct Action Bits)
DEFINITION: Bit that transmits pressure directly on
the mouth via the rein. There is no leverage action. Can be made of
rubber, metal, plastics or others and may have more than one mouthpiece
connected to the rings of the bit. When used with a double bridle, it is
called a Bridoon.
group of bits, when used on their own, operates using only the
points of control within the mouth. These are the corners, bars, tongue,
and in some cases the roof. These days the roof is seldom used for
humane reasons. In general there is little flexion of the poll or the
lower jaw, and in most cases the movement results in an upward or
raising of the horse's head back towards the rider's hands. There is a
huge variety of mouthpieces available. Traditionally the snaffle
had a jointed mouth, however in more recent times there has been a
movement towards the linked and multi-linked bits. These give a gentler
corner action and encourage mouthing. There are some unusual members of
the snaffle family. As you will see, a snaffle bit can have
different mouth pieces. It can have a straight bar or Mullen mouth
piece, a three piece or double jointed mouth piece - a Dr. Bristol or
French link for example. , a W - mouth piece, even a Waterford. If
the mouth piece is a joined one, each side should be of equal lengths
when folded in half, in order for it to work correctly. A Bridoon
is this snaffle, but is made lightweight and slim and has small side
rings so that it can be used in a double bridle. What makes a
snaffle a snaffle is that it works on direct pull, the ends may be a
loose ring - (which allows
for more mouthing), an Egg butt, Dee, a full or half cheek and
The snaffle is a very simple bit that allows the rider to communicate
directly with the horse’s mouth. It consists of a basic ring-shaped side
piece connected by one or more straight or jointed mouthpieces. The type of
bar has no bearing on the classification of a bit as a snaffle, as people
often confuse any bit with a jointed mouthpiece as a snaffle, when in fact
it may be a gag or curb bit.
When pressure is applied to the reins, the bit acts directly on the bars
and roof of the mouth and the tongue, to produce lateral flexion in the
throatlatch and neck. The bit also does encourage some vertical flexion in
the neck and poll.
When pressure is applied to one side of the bit, let’s say to the left
rein, the bit slides through the mouth slightly and the action is mainly on
the left bar of the mouth and the tongue, as well as the lip, and the right
ring closes against the face slightly, encouraging the head to turn left.
(or vice-versa for the right rein)
Using the snaffle in conjunction with various nosebands (an article for
another day!) might vary the effect of the bit slightly.
Most horses probably start out their training careers in a simple
straight bar or jointed snaffle, and many of them will continue to work in a
snaffle for the rest of their lives. I would always recommend a snaffle
wherever possible, as it is the best test of your horse’s acceptance of the
bit. Most riders will never perform movements outside of the basics, and
will thus never need a more specialized bit. Many problems that a rider may
experience can be solved within the snaffle group without ever having to go
to the leverage bits.
Types of Snaffle Bits:
When choosing your bit, there are a few basic rules that will help you
decide on whether the bit is softer, stronger and also how it may function.
a) The thinner the mouthpiece, the more pressure will be applied. (Thus a
thick mouthpiece will be softer than a thinner one)
b) A double jointed mouthpiece will exert a less severe pressure on the
roof of the mouth, tongue and bars, depending on the plate or join in the
c) A bigger ring will exert pressure to a greater portion of the face.
d) Rubber is by no means ‘softer’ but it may encourage the horse to chew
the bit more and because it is usually thicker, that would make it softer,
not the fact that it is rubber.
It is very important to remember that in the wrong hands, even the
softest, kindest snaffle can do damage to the mouth, and that if the horse
does not accept the bit in his mouth, there is a schooling problem. If the
rider is experiencing a problem with the horse, it is better to go right
back to the basics, try to determine what is causing the problem, and try to
solve it with the help of a professional.
LOOSE RING ,
EGGBUTT, DEE RING, FULL AND HALF CHEEK SNAFFLES
RING JOINTED SNAFFLE: The loose ring snaffle-to
encourage mouthing, is another very popular and very mild bit - for good
reason. It too has a simple join and the rings are able to move, as they
are fitted into the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is normally thick, but
can be thinner depending on the make. The rings also can vary in size
depending on the make. The loose ring snaffle can be made of stainless
steel, other metal mixtures, rubber inserts on the mouthpiece or a Nathe,
which is a type of bit that has a hard plastic mouthpiece with a cable
running inside so that the bit does not break. Also pictured is the
popular Apple Mouth bit, which is made of an apple scented polyurethane
plastic. The manufacturer claims that this bit encourages the horse to
accept the bit and salivate, and it has become a very popular bit indeed
. Very interesting indeed that one now even gets these bits in different
colours! (A Bradoon – would be a thin bit with small rings suitable for a double bridle)
BAR / MULLEN SNAFFLE: The straight bar snaffle consists
of a straight, solid mouthpiece, usually with a cable inside to prevent
the bit from breaking. The mouthpiece is commonly made of rubber or
plastic, and the ring is often a round one, although I have seen these
with D shaped rings too. I am not a fan of these bits at all, although
many people do use them very successfully to start youngsters. I have
found that especially the thick, black rubber bits especially, tend to
encourage the horse to chew the bit and become very ‘mouthy’, often
accompanied by a tilting of the head. If you look at the mouthpiece
after many months of use, the rubber has often been chewed so badly that
there are holes and uneven parts all over the mouthpiece. Also, the
straight bar means that any action on the bit is much more spread over
the mouthpiece in the mouth and the action becomes almost ‘fuzzy’ when
using it. Any aid you give on one side will be carried to the other too.
If you are interested in anything more than schooling your horse to
walk, trot, canter and halt in a straight line, then this is probably
not the bit for you! This bit can be used on horses that do not like any
‘jiggling noise’ in their mouths when they move their tongues under the
bit, as is often found in the jointed bits.
SNAFFLE: The Eggbutt snaffle
is one of the most basic snaffle bits in the group. The mouthpiece is
a thick one, jointed in the centre and the rings are fixed. This means
that there is a more direct rein action, and the mouthpiece is soft
and encourages horses to accept the bit. It is usually made of
stainless steel, or some other metal alloy. There is a version of this
bit that has a thinner mouthpiece which would obviously make the bit a
little stronger in the mouth, although it remains a very mild bit.
[The development of this bit was to have a smoother edge to the mouth
piece as man manufactures did not manufacture the loose revolving ring
in a manner as so it would not pinch the lips of the horse. The
Eggbutt was developed by the English to solve this problem. The
Americans followed suit with the Dee ring and modified it for both
English and Western disciplines]
holes and also vertical holes for either bridle attachment or to be used as
a gag. (To properly use a bit as a gag you must use two reins, one on the
ring of the bit and the other rein attached to the piece that runs
through the vertical holes of the bit. This will apply poll pressure
lowering the head where as the other will bring back up the head.)
Snaffle - This is an Eggbutt snaffle with small rollers placed in the
mouthpiece. This is another attempt to vary the pressure of the
mouthpiece on the tongue and bars and encourage the horse to play with
the bit. It is claimed to pacify headstrong horses, although I think
the action of this bit is really just to be stronger or different on
the tongue, thereby getting the horse’s attention. If the rider likes
to saw left and right on the bit, this bit can be very harsh on the
D RING SNAFFLE: The D Ring Snaffle is another popular snaffle
and is also often used in the racing industry, where it originated. It
is normally made of either stainless steel or has a rubber or plastic
mouthpiece , or also copper inserts (called a copper roller D ring). The
D rings are very similar in action to the Eggbutt snaffle and they
prevent pinching of the lips and give a slightly more solid feel against
the side of the face. It also prevents the bit being pulled through the
mouth, to some extent. AMERICAN SNAFFLES -Although having an aesthetically different
cheek, this type of snaffle works in much the same way as the all the other
styles. The dee shaped cheek, was developed in America, for the same reasons
as the Eggbutt was introduced in England, to prevent chaffing caused by
badly finished loose rings. The main difference and advantage that this
style of cheek gives, is slight directional assistance, using the face of
the horse, similar to that of the full cheek snaffles. In addition, the size
of the Dee, means that it is not able to be pulled through the horse's
There is also a Myler D Ring that has hooks in the rings so that the rider
can change the position of the bit in the mouth, depending on what action
they would like.
following is the company’s own explanation of how these hooks work:
“Hooks offer leverage with direct action type bits. This feature rolls
the mouthpiece forward and downward into the tongue and bars with rein
pressure, encouraging the horse to break at the poll. Most traditional ring
bits only apply backward pressure into the tongue and bars which can lead a
horse to resist. The bit attaches to the headstall and reins with the rein
or headstall going from the outside of the bit, through the slot and
fastening as shown. It will appear like a traditional ring bit from the
Basically, the bit is rotated in the horse’s mouth, causing it to dig
down into the tongue, causing the horse to drop his nose and ’break’ at the
poll to avoid the pressure. I cannot imagine that this bit is comfortable
for any horse! Once again, I think this is a case of trying to solve a
schooling/rider problem with a stronger bit. What this might do by its action
is relieve some of the pressure placed on the roof of the mouth, although
there are better ways to do this!
[More on Hooks and Holes - Western and English Dees
along with Eggbutt bits with hook holes
and also vertical holes for either bridle attachment or could be used as a Gag.
(To properly use a bit as a gag you must use two reins, one on the ring of
the bit and the other rein attached to the piece that run through the
vertical holes of the bit, this will apply poll pressure lowering the head
where as the other will bring back up the head.)
OR HALF CHEEK - SPOON / SNAFFLE:
The full cheek snaffle has a mouthpiece very much like the snaffles already
discussed (can also be double jointed) but the rings have cheek pieces above
and below the bit. These parts keep the bit steady in the mouth and prevent
it from being pulled through the mouth. In addition, they give a
directional assistance, evoked by the rider’s rein aid, by indicating to the
horse the direction the head should face. This is specifically useful for
young horses or in the re-education of an older one. With the use of
keepers, the full cheek prevents the horse turning the bit over in his mouth
and if tightly fitted can stop a horse evading by crossing the jaw. It also
causes more pressure to the sides of the mouth which can help with novice
horses learning to understand and accept the bit. This bit is
excellent for lungeing, as the bit never
gets pulled through the mouth, it also offers a bit more control of the head
than a normal ring snaffle. To be used correctly, it should really be used
with fulmer keepers (pictured) so that the horse does not turn the bit in
the mouth although I have used this bit without. The keepers also prevent
the cheek pieces from getting stuck in the bridle.
The Fulmer snaffle (pictured above on the right) is almost
the same as the bits above, but in this case the bit rings are mobile not
fixed. This bit must definitely be used with keepers, as it is very mobile
in the mouth. (very much like the loose ring snaffle)
The Half Spoon: Another alternative to this type of
cheek piece, is the spoon or half spoon snaffle (pictured) The main
difference is that the cheek pieces are smoother and rounder and less likely
to get caught in things. Once again, they need to be used with keepers to
prevent them getting caught in things or turned over in the mouth while the
horse works. Very popular bit for children.
in full or half. Provide a great direct rein aid by pushing contact with the
side of the horse’s face, excellent for starting and training young
pressure snaffles -Within
the snaffle family, the hanging or
hanging cheek) Unlike other cheeks, this bit exerts a degree of poll
pressure to encourage the horse to lower his head. The Baucher cheek gives, in
addition to the usual points of control associated with the snaffle,
an additional element of poll pressure to ask for a lowering of the horse’s
head. The lever action of the new Jumper cheek gives a greater degree of
poll pressure and introduces a lifter action to keep the horse upright and
light in the hand.
I am going to deal with the double jointed snaffle
group in its entirety.
jointed snaffle has what we call a ‘nutcracker action’ when rein pressure is
applied. This means that the bit squeezes down on the lower jaw and bars of
the mouth , lifting the middle part at the joint into the roof of the mouth.
Although this action is never meant to be severe, and a correctly fitted bit
will never ‘poke’ into the roof of the mouth, there are horses that cannot
bear any kind of pressure in the roof of the mouth, or they do not like too
much pressure on the bars of the mouth.
types of double jointed snaffles are similar to the single jointed snaffles,
The Full Cheek Double
Jointed Snaffle-to the left. The Loose Ring French Link Snaffle-
to the right
A very good
solution for these horses is a double jointed snaffle, which is similar to
the single jointed snaffle, except for the fact that there is some form of
plate in the center of the bit, causing the double join. The action of this
bit is milder on the bars of the mouth and on the roof of the mouth, and
depending on the plate used in the middle if the bit, can be mild on the
tongue. It is a very good bit to use on young horses starting their
education, as it encourages acceptance of the bit in a milder manner than
with the single jointed snaffle. The shape of the bit means that it fits the
mouth better. As a general rule, the flatter the plate in the middle lies on
the tongue, the kinder the bit. (bigger surface area = less direct pressure)
There are a
myriad of types of plates in the middle of the bit, all with various
functions and claims, Some of there are pictured below. The most important
difference to remember is that between the French Link (which is allowed in
Dressage competition) and the Dr Bristol (which is not) The plate on the
French link is designed to lie flat on the tongue, whereas the Dr Bristol
lies at a 45 degree angle, making it very strong on the tongue.
French Link which lies flat
Bristol which does not.
SNAFFLE: The Waterford is a bit that is often misunderstood. It is
often referred to as a very harsh bit, although I have actually used it on
many horses and have not found it to be so. This is not a bit for every
horse, but under the right circumstances it can be fantastic. This bit is
basically a series of balls across the mouthpiece. The entire bit fits
snugly around the tongue and that makes it excellent for the horse with a
difficult oral conformation. The balls create an unusual surface and that
encourages the horse to mouth the bit, or at least pay more attention to the
new feel in its mouth. There are variations to that use the Waterford
mouthpiece with, for example, a Dutch gag or cheek pieces, etc.
This bit is fantastic for the horse who hates any form of palate pressure
at all, as there is none. There is not much nutcracker action, and I must
say that riding with this bit really feels almost like there is a continuous
line running from your one hand to the other, which takes a bit of getting
used to. This bit is great with a horse that has learned to lean a little on
the bit, or can be used for a while when your horse feels a little 'dead in
front' as it backs them up a little and they say 'Hey! What's this!'
variations on this bit include: The Waterford
Baucher: This is what Alixe Etherington, rider and author of "A Bit of
Magic" in the UK’s Your Horse Magazine has to say about this bit – I really
couldn’t say it any better! “Since the article in 'Your Horse'
magazine, readers have adopted this bit as "The Bit of Magic" and I would
certainly agree, as it's one of my personal favorites. It is a strong
mouthpiece when activated (pulled), thus giving good brakes, but when being
ridden on a general contact it's exceptionally kind and liked by most
horses. It is multi-linked and flexible, and whilst each link is chunky and
smooth to the feel, it is irregular in shape, so that the style of the
construction presents a variable surface with a likeable feel, to the horse.
This mouthpiece is designed to lie in a curve, thus giving the concept of a
continuous rein, (imagine one rein that goes from the rider's left hand,
through the horse's mouth and back to the right hand). This helps the horse
to have a better perception of the rider's aids. The bit is normally used
slightly oversized, so that it forms a curve when fitted. The Baucher cheeks
give a degree of poll pressure, asking the horse to lower his head. The
overall result is a strong snaffle, with good mouthing qualities, an asset
when riding cross country or hunting.”
SNAFFLE: This bit is a basic snaffle, which can be loose ring,
full cheek, double jointed, or even (I noted to my HORROR) a Dr Bristol with
a twisted mouthpiece (pictured to right). This bit has very small points of
pressure, which means the twists dig into the tongue and bars of the mouth.
It was a very popular bit 10 years or so ago, but I think that if your horse
needs this type of bit, then there are serious attitude, rider or schooling
problems indeed. There are kinder ways of getting your horse’s attention! To
feel its action, simply wrap it around your wrist and have a friend pull on
the reins. You would need very quiet hands indeed not to hurt your horse.
SNAFFLE: This snaffle looks like a loose ring snaffle, but with
two mouthpieces. This bit has a W effect when being used in the mouth, with
two points of palate pressure. This is often used on horses that are strong,
but I would be very wary of putting it into my horse’s mouth. It is very
hard on the bars of the mouth, tongue and the palate and if the horse has a
small or petite mouth, there will simply not be space in the mouth for all
of this bit!
Leverage Action Bits
The Kimberwick Group: [difficult to classify
so I put them here]
The Pelham Group: A bit that transmits pressure on the mouth but
also has a leverage action on the mouth and head. Can be made of rubber,
metal or plastics. A Pelham is a combination Curb and Snaffle bit and
always has a curb chain attached in order to work correctly.
The Curb/Shank Bit Group: A bit that has a leverage action by
virtue of its shanks. It has rings only at the top and bottom of the bit
and has a curb chain (although some do not), which works on the chin
groove. Often used with a Bridoon in Dressage as a double bridle.
Popular in Western Riding as a stand alone bit. Also includes some
Gag Bit Group: A gag bit works by lifting the bit in the
mouth in order to encourage the head to be raised. Often used on strong
horses that like to lower their heads in order to escape the action of
the bit in the mouth and get very strong.
KIMBLEWICK: The Kimblewick group (also sometimes called a
Kimberwick) could be seen as the orphan of the bit groups, as no-one is
ever really sure how to classify them! [Some
call them Kimblewick or Spanish jumping bits and say they perform like a
Pelham but using only one rein) Bit has a 2 position rein
attachment on Dee]. It consists of a mouthpiece, that
can be jointed (single, double) or straight across, (Portmouth, Weymouth
[this mouthpiece is used in double bridles], rubber and so on) a
single ring on the mouthpiece, like a snaffle, and it has a curb chain.
The action of this bit is generally like a snaffle on steroids! There is
not much leverage on this bit, but the addition of the curb chain means
that the action on the tongue, chin groove and bars will be much
amplified. This is a very popular bit for eventers and showjumpers
because it provides the extra control without extra reins for the rider
to have to contend with out in the field. It is a comfortable in-betweener
– not as strong as the Pelham, but it demands a little more respect than
the Snaffle. The Uxeter Kimberwick has slots in the D-shaped bit rings
that allow the rider to pre-determine the amount of lowering action the
bit has. When the rein is attached to the upper slot, the pressure over
the poll is less than if the rein is attached to the lower slot. This
creates less of a lowering effect. Like the Myler bit, it will cause the
bit to rotate over the tongue, changing the pressure and causing the
horse to change his head position to compensate.
Nathe Kimblewick -right- has the usual hard yet flexible rubber
straight mouthpiece with rubber bit protectors. Ideal for the strong
horse with a sensitive mouth, this bit is supplied with a nylon curb
strap which the manufacturers claim is less severe than a curb chain.
Used with one rein attached either on the D-ring or on the small ring at
the bottom of the D-ring, which will rotate the bit.
PELHAM: The difference between the leverage group and the
snaffle group is that the mouthpiece, by means of the shanks on the
side, multiply the rein aid to the mouth exponentially. The action of
the bit is further multiplied by the use of a curb chain.
A Pelham works on several parts of the horse’s
mouth, including: The Bars of the Mouth: this is applied by the
mouthpiece and is also directly related to the length of the shanks on
the bit. The curb chain creates a 'loop' around the lower jaw which
tightens when a rein aid is applied, thus increasing the pressure placed
on the bars of the mouth.
The Tongue: the mouthpiece,
depending on its type and shape exerts pressure on the tongue, as with
the snaffle - again, the effect is multiplied by the use of the curb
Roof of the Mouth (Hard Palate): a
port on the mouthpiece will have an action on the roof of the mouth,
as will a jointed mouthpiece like with the snaffle group.
The Poll: the leverage group
exerts much more pressure to the poll, depending on the length of the
shanks (the longer the shanks, the more the pressure) and many horses
will respond favorably to this pressure.
The Chin Groove: pressure is
applied to the chin groove by the curb chain, if used. This tightens
the ‘loop’ around the lower jaw.
the Jaws and Face: the rings and shanks exert a pressure on the sides
of the face and lower jaw and may have a psychological effect on the
family of bits attempts to achieve the same results as a double bridle,
but by using only one bit.
(Pelhams attempt to have all of
the attributes of a double bridle set without the aggravation and
bulkiness.) To perform properly, they should always be used with
double reins. This single bit works
on a variety of points of control within the mouth and in addition
exerts pressure on the poll and the curb groove. Whilst not allowed in
many competitions it has achieved wide popularity and some spectacular
results, particularly within the jumping and hunting fields.
(A note on Gag Pelhams: This odd combination may look cool, but is
designed to control a horses head upwards, downwards, back backwards,
sideways and out. Talk about confusion. And to add to this, three
reins must too be used to achieve this – yeah right. So to avoid
undue confusion for the horse and rider, gag pelhams should be avoided.]
Pelham was developed as a combination between the snaffle and curb bit.
It consists of a mouthpiece, shanks with TWO rings per side, a curb
chain and to use it correctly, two reins should always be used. [left
is a Mullen mouth Pelham]
The relation of the shank above and below the mouthpiece will affect the
action and severity of the bit. The longer the shank below the mouthpiece,
the greater the pressure exerted on the tongue, bars and chin groove. The
longer the shank above the mouthpiece, the greater the pressure exerted on
Pictured right is a Portmouth Pelham, referring to the port in the centre
of the mouthpiece. The port will exert pressure on the roof of the mouth
when the bit is used, thus care should be taken that the horse does not
object to palate pressure. Another problem with a port is that it should fit
snugly over the tongue (but rarely does) and if it is too narrow, or wide it
can pinch the sides of the mouth and tongue.
Pelham. This bit looks like a regular Pelham, but the snaffle
ring has been moved so that it actually becomes a loose ring, able to
move. The snaffle action becomes more like a Bridoon. The bit gives the
impression of being part of a Double Bridle setup without using two bits
and is very popular in the Showing Ring.
Mullenmouth Pelham. Nathe bits are made from a strong type of
plastic, and are strong, yet will flex slightly. This bit has nylon bit
connectors and curb strap and was designed with the Showjumper in mind,
so that the rider can have plenty of control but only have one rein to
deal with . (Mullen-mouth refers to the mouthpiece, which is straight, a
Portmouth is a mouthpiece with a port in the centre)
Ultra Sprenger Pelham. KK Conrad Ultra
Bits is a range of bits (includes a wide range of bits, not just this
Pelham) that take advantage of the exceptional sensitivity of the tongue.
According to their website, Sprenger in collaboration with the University of
Hannover researched and analyzed measurements of over70 horses’ heads. Their
results showed the following: 1) The interior volume of the mouth was less
than had been previously thought. 2) The palate was both smaller and very
often flatter than previously imagined. 3) The space available for a bit is
therefore very limited. Sprenger used this information to develop the ULTRA
Range with the aim to improve the bits without increasing severity
- As the palate is narrower than originally assumed the lozenge in the
centre was shortened ( no pressure on the palate ).
- The angle of the link was twisted by 45 degrees. This ensures that
when the reins are applied the rounded link rests fully on the tongue
without squeezing it.
- The tongue's sense of touch is fully utilised and clear instructions
are given through the reins.
The metal alloy (Aurigan) has also been patented, and is said to
encourage salivation and acceptance of the bit. This is a useful Pelham, as
it fits the mouth better than the Mullen or Port mouth bits, depending on
the horse. There is more sensitivity to the rein aid left and right and this
is a bit that I use often and like very much.
/SHANK: A curb bit is a bit that uses
leverage as its main action. There is no direct snaffle action, thus the
bit consists of a mouthpiece (jointed, straight or with a port) with
shanks and a ring only at the end of the shank. There is no ring at the
mouthpiece. There may also be a curb chain, although some Western curbs
do not have these.
The main action of the curb bit (like the Pelham) is as follows:
The curb bit mouthpiece, like the Pelham, controls the pressure on the
tongue, roof of the mouth, and the bars. A Mullenmouth (straight across)
places even pressure on the tongue and bars, and provides room for the
tongue, although the action of this mouthpiece can be very ‘vague’ and if
the bit does not move in the mouth as the horse accepts and plays with it,
the pressure on the tongue can become ‘dead’. A Portmouth (mouthpiece with a
port in the centre) places more pressure on the bars, and is meant to make
space for the tongue. In reality, the port should be well fitting, as it
will pinch the mouth otherwise, and the high port can apply pressure on the
roof of the mouth which the horse may object to. A jointed mouthpiece will
have a stronger action on the bars as it breaks. A Double jointed mouthpiece
is a comfortable option for the horse. When designed for use with a snaffle
bit (bridoon) in a double bridle, this bit is often called a Weymouth.
Riders often use curb bits without curb chains on their horses. The action
of the bit then changes – there is no pressure on the chin groove, and the
pressure on the tongue and bars of the mouth is less. The pressure on the
poll is usually still great. There is one problem that is sometimes seen
with Western Curb used without the curb chain, that has a single jointed
mouthpiece. (Pictured above left) When pressure is placed on the rein, the
bit can often rotate too much in the mouth and this results in the
mouthpiece digging into the roof of the mouth, as well as a pinching of the
tongue and bars, which is very uncomfortable for the horse. Often these
horses will open their mouths, tip their heads and ‘yaw’ at the bit to show
their discomfort. Often the nutcracker action can be very severe with these
bits. (see picture above right) The key to riding with these bits is a kind,
gentle contact and almost no direct pull on the reins at all. (Plenty of
order to obtain finer positioning of the head the use of a curb bit-a
in addition to a snaffle - the bradoon, may be introduced. With this
combination it is possible to obtain a lowering of the head and flexion of
the poll and lower jaw. The snaffle, when used with a curb bit, is called a
bradoon and operates in an identical manner to when it’s used on its own.
A curb bit is designed to exert pressure on the poll and curb groove
whilst lying directly across the bars. It can, depending upon the shape of
the mouth, exert additional pressure on the tongue, and in rare cases,
operate on the roof of the mouth.]
When using a double bridle, the curb bit and bridoon should be
arranged in the mouth so that the horse is comfortable and the bridoon
lies above the curb, allowing both bits to work to their full ability.
The curb chain attaches to the offside hook and should be twisted
clockwise until the links lie flat, then hooked onto the nearside hook.
A common mistake is to run the curb chain over/on top of the snaffle
bit, which renders it almost useless, interferes with the snaffle and
could pinch the horse badly. The fly link (a loose link in the middle of
the chain) should hang in the middle and the lip strap is threaded
through and buckled together. Again, a common misconception is that the
lip strap is only necessary for keeping the curb chain in place, but its
main function is to stop the cheek of sliding cheek curbs from inverting
and rendering the curb ineffective, or from being dragged into the
horse's mouth. In the picture, there is no lip strap fitted – it is
fitted in the ring you see empty on the curb, through the ring on the
curb chain and to the other side. (the poor model does not look too
BIT: This group has undergone a bit
of a revolution in the last few years! The traditional gag bits as those
of us perhaps older than the cellphone (eeek!) These are the gag bits we
grew up with. There has, however, developed a host of hugely
popular gag bits that do not look like the above pictured bits at all,
but by means of their action, are classified as gag bits. I will deal
with them separately. Traditionally, a gag bit is used on a horse that
lowers his head, takes a hold of the bit and runs off. The bit is raised
in the mouth and poll pressure is applied – a contradiction if you ask
me – which encourages a raising of the head and more control of the
runaway. [bit shown to left is an Eggbutt snaffle gag.]
There are three main types of gags:
Gag Snaffle. This bit looks like any
normal snaffle bit except for the holes in the rings (top and bottom)
through which a thick cord runs. When pressure is applied to the rein, the
bit is lifted in the mouth and poll pressure is applied. The bit also
rotates slightly in the mouth putting more pressure on the tongue and bars.
This is a very popular bit on the Polo field. To be correctly used, it must
be used with two reins - one on the gag rein and one on the bit, only
bringing the gag rein into play when needed, although most people ride on
the gag rein only.
Waterford Gag: The gag action of this bit will be discussed in more
detail with the gag group. Its action is also gentle in the mouth but
there is more poll pressure than the loose ring snaffle, combined with a
slight lifting of the bit in the mouth which is very good for a horse
that likes to put his head down and run on! It is a great bit to use
when the horse tends to get strong, but still has a sensitive or
Dutch Gag. This bit is known by so
many names - The Dutch/Pessoa/Continental/3-Ring/4-Ring Gag Bit – and
became very popular in about 1994/1995 when it was introduced by the
European Showjumpers of the time. This bit is similar to the elevator
bit except that there are not solid shanks, bit rings, above and below
the mouthpiece. (A bit with only one ring above and below the main ring
is often called a Portuguese snaffle, but its action is the same as
having the rein on the first ring of this bit.)
When a rein aid is applied, the upper bit ring moves forwards,
pulling the bit up in the mouth and rotating it onto the tongue. At the
same time, a large amount of poll pressure is applied to the head,
causing the horse to lower its head and ‘break’ at the poll. There is
also a strong nutcracker action. These bits have become some of the most
popular bits seen in the riding world, as they seem to be able to ‘get
any horse down on the bit’! I only have a few problems with
this bit and with those related to it, like the Portuguese snaffle. (Oh
boy – here we go!)
The action of this bit is such that the rider will be able to apply
plenty of rein aid (about 10cm or more) to the bit, which not only means
plenty of pressure to the horse’s mouth, but more importantly, teaches the
rider to use too much hand! Put back into a loose ring snaffle, the rider
will often pull, saw and yank on the horse’s mouth because that is the way
the Dutch Gag rides. A rider with a soft, independent hand will be able to
ride more sympathetically with this bit, and will not have the same problem.
I often see youngsters rushing past with these bits in their horses’ mouths,
their hands already past their hips in an effort to apply the rein aid. The
rider needs to be taught how to use the hands correctly, quietly and
sympathetically, and to ask with seat and leg first, then lastly and most
definitely least, hand.
Another problem with this bit, is because there is so much movement on
the bit and especially the upper ring, very often the skin around the mouth
is rubbed raw. Vaseline can be applied to the raw areas to try to offer some
relief, but in that case, I always loosely attach a ‘make-shift curb strap’
(usually a thick leather spur strap or the flash part of a noseband) that I
fit under the chin. This will change the action of the bit somewhat –
introduce some curb action, but will lessen the action on the bars and
tongue and will lessen the movement of the upper ring and bit in the mouth
in general. With the curb strap added, I find most horses settle very well
in this bit and the gag action is lessened somewhat. In fact, I prefer using
the bit this way.
The bottom line really is that in the wrong hands, this bit can become an
instrument of torture, and can cause more problems than it solves. When used
sympathetically and correctly, it can be a fantastic way of introducing more
poll pressure, more control and better responses out of any working horse.
But too often, a horse giving problems in a snaffle bit is moved on to this
type of gag, without paying any attention to the cause of the problem. It
may make the horse look pretty for a while, but eventually the old problems
will creep back in because the root of the problem has not been sorted out
and the rider has not been taught to give the aids effectively and
I do find this to be a fantastic bit for those horses that get cheeky in
the showjumping ring or on the cross country course and get away from their
riders. Especially those that like to toss up their heads and run on – it
brings them back to attention quickly, and I would rather see this type of
bit in a horse’s mouth than perhaps the old way of curing that habit with a
twisted snaffle! The rider should just pay attention to their hands and
their riding and use the bit gently and sympathetically.
Elevator: The Elevator is not a bit
that is very commonly seen here. It consists of a snaffle mouthpiece with
cheeks or shanks attached to the side. The upper shank has a hole to attach
the cheekpiece, the lower shank has several holes to attach the rein. The
lower the rein is placed on the shank, the more severe the leverage. When
rein pressure is applied, the bit lifts and rotates in the mouth and places
pressure on the poll, as the upper shank moves forward, as well as on the
lips. Because of the extreme length of the upper shanks, there is a lot of
poll pressure exerted on the head. This type of bit is more common with the
These are bits that are used in very specific
situations. [This includes specialty and combination type bits, bitless bridles, hackamores and bozals.]
Obviously, I have covered only the most popular bits in this article,
and there is a host of bits and contraptions out there that the rider
can pick and choose from. If the basic principles are applied to every
piece of bit, the rider will be able to work out what the action is and
how the bit might work. Do not let a sales person fool you into buying a
bit that you do not understand or that goes against what you know will
not work on your horse. If you compare two bits and one has much longer
shanks than another, you know which one is likely to be stronger!
The following are a few bits that the rider may encounter and their
HORSESHOE SHOWING BIT. This bit is
popular in the showing arena and is made of brass. It is mainly used
when showing horses in hand, and really is a straight bar snaffle with
ANTI-REARING BIT. This bit is normally fitted to a halter or
bridle and is used to control stallions, especially those who rear. It
is a common bit in the racing industry. The top bar fits into the mouth
and the lower part circles the jaw on the outside. The lead rein fits
onto the lower ring. There are many variations to this bit, some even
incorporating straight or rubber covered mouthpieces.
RING BIT. This is another popular racing bit. It consists of a
bit that is attached to a second ring that encircles the lower jaw and
acts as a second bit. It is a very strong bit and the nutcracker action
of the snaffle with the second ring over the tongue and around the jaw.
The check pieces pictured here will also exert pressure on the side of
the face, helping the horse to turn.
MILKMAR COMBINATION BIT.
When first faced with this bit, one’s initial
reaction may be shock and confusion, but again, if you break the bit down
into its parts, its action becomes clearer. This bit has become popular with
showjumpers, and has always been popular in the Western riding world.
“The bit operates through both direct action and leverage, with the addition
of nose pressure, when desired. It is to be used with a leather curb strap
or curb chain, and can be used with or without a Cavesson. There are a
variety of options for rein configurations. When attaching a single rein to
the nose rope, and the rider applies pressure (pulls) on the reins, it sends
a signal simultaneously to the nose, mouth (bars and tongue), chin and poll,
instead of to just one focused area. The horse receives pressure to the nose
rope and curb strap, through the cheek pieces, just ahead of the mouthpiece.
The nose rope applies downward and backward pressure and the curb strap
applies upward pressure. This encourages vertical flexion. The wide, mild
mouthpiece immediately following, rotates slightly and slowly downward and
back to apply pressure over the tongue and bars. The width of the mouthpiece
gives the horse an advanced signal that there is an incoming request. The
bit also incorporates a copper roller, which stimulates saliva production,
and keeps a nervous or “busy- mouthed” horse pacified. Also, it discourages
the horse from putting the tongue over the bit.” Frank Evans – creator.
When reading up on this bit, though, there was one issue that confused me –
the bit designer, Frank Evans, says that his goal in designing the bit was
to “to be able to protect a horse's mouth” and “a kinder, yet more effective
way to communicate with your horse... it affords the rider the ability to
finesse their ride with superior communication, allowing the horse and rider
to form the perfect combination”. What I understand from his writings, was
that he designed this bit for the rider with poor hands. What my common
sense says is to fix the rider problem first… then use the bit. There are
many rave reviews from top international riders singing the praises of the
Shank/Gag Combination Bit:
This bit has 4 rings, three of which allow for 3 different rein
positions [(Can perform like a snaffle, full cheek,
Baucher with leverage from the purchase -area above the bit). In addition to this feature the bit has a
noseband that aids in additional communication (much like a Cavison or
hackmoore but is attached to the bit).]
A bitless Bridle is one where there is no mouthpiece in
the horse’s mouth, and the rein aid is given by pressure on the nose, face
and chin groove. There is also an aspect of psychological control on the
horse. The bitless bridle can also be combined with a bit in the mouth as a
control aid, especially by showjumpers.
There are a few general types of bitless bridles:
BOSAL. The Bosal is one if the simplest forms of bitless bridle. It
was developed by the Spanish, and brought to the Americas where is
became very popular. This bridle (noseband) works on the nose and chin
groove and slightly on the poll, but the horse is usually ridden by
neck-steering and not much pressure is ever placed on the reins and the
It is also referred to as the Western hackamore. Usually made entirely
out of rawhide, it is an amazing piece of art and craftsmanship. Bosals come
in different thicknesses - you would start a young horse in a thicker bosal
and then progress to a thinner one. The bottom part of the bosal is called
the heel. (where the big knot is). The reins are attached there (see
picture). Bosals reins are usually made of horsehair (macate) and attached
in such a way as to provide reins , and a lead rein. (see the double rein in
the picture on the horses left side? One 'rein' is the lead rein.) Bosal is
adjusted quite loose so when the reins are picked up, the heel knot moves
back and the bosal comes into contact with the horses jaw. Release the reins
and the heel knot drops back into position as in the picture. True
Californian Bridle horses are trained in a simple snaffle, then bosal, then
two-rein (bosal with curb bit) and then finally in the 'bridle' or curb bit.
This is an amazing schooling process which unfortunately seems to be dying
THE HACKAMORE. The Hackamore is the most commonly seen
bitless bridle in the riding world and has been around for many years
indeed. It consists of metal plates next to the cheeks with shanks, thus
the action is multiplied on the nose, poll and chin groove. A curb strap
is also fitted which multiplies the effect even further. The longer the
shanks, the stronger the effects of the rein aid on the face. Great care
should be taken when using this bit, as people can forget how much
pressure it may exert – if incorrectly fitted, it can do plenty of
damage to the horse.
The Whitaker Hackamore (right) is a very popular bit in the
showjumping arena, and is often combined with a bit in the mouth. The
shanks are very long, so the rein aid is multiplied greatly. It can be a
very good option for a horse that has suffered a mouth injury, has tooth
problems or does not go well with a bit in the mouth. Again, it should
be used sympathetically and with expert help. Whatever form of
Hackamore is chosen, care should be taken to fit it correctly and
remember that the longer the shanks, the harder the brakes! Remember
that the horse cannot breathe through his mouth! (To fit : the noseband
should fit about two to three finger’s width below the prominent
cheekbones – somewhere between the fit for a drop and cavesson
SIDE PULL BRIDLE. The sidepull bridle functions much
like a halter with the reins connected to the side rings. The bridle
pulls against the side of the face, depending on the rein aid given.
Most sidepulls have a narrow nylon rope as the over-the-nose piece to
give the rider a way to exert some directional and stopping pressure on
the horse's nose. This bridle could work very well on a well
behaved and schooled horse or pony, but I am unsure what effect it would
have on a horse getting hot and carried away in the showjumping arena…..
This is a possible option for quiet ponies and horses used for
therapeutic riding or lessons, where there is someone leading the horse,
or the horse is working in a confined space like a double lunge arena,
as it saves the mouth from harsh pulls by inexperienced riders.
(although there are some other clever ways to save the horse’s mouth
with a bit in)
Dr Cook’s Bridle. There
has been much talk about this bridle recently. I will quote Dr Cook himself
as to how this bridle works: “Although The Bitless Bridle (BB) is
indisputably a bitless bridle it bears no other resemblance to the
pre-existing and traditional bitless bridles, i.e., the hackamores, bosals,
and sidepulls. In common with all bitted bridles, the traditional bitless
bridles are pain-based in their mechanism. The BB is the only bridle that
ensures a pain-free rein aid. It works on an entirely new and different
concept compared with all previous bridles. The BB provides, as it were,
full service communication, whereas the traditional bitless bridles all have
limitations in their ability to provide for rider/horse communication. The
hackamores and bosals, for example, make some provision for stopping (though
with similar inherent problems to the bit method) but are weak on steering,
whereas the sidepulls provide for steering but are weak on stopping.
Furthermore, whereas the BB is applicable to all disciplines, the
traditional bitless bridles are not.
STEERING - Brief pressure on one rein (yellow arrow) pushes
painlessly but persuasively on the opposite half of the head (red
arrows). Horses respond better to being pushed painlessly (nudged) with
the Bitless Bridle™ (over a large surface area) than being pulled
painfully by a bit (with highly focused pressure on the sensitive
tissues of the mouth). Where the head goes the horse follows. Unlike the
effect of a bit, that tends to twist a horse's head, the head stays
upright and the turn is more natural and physiologically correct. By
comparison with either bits or other bitless bridles (hackamores, bosals
and sidepulls), more effective steering is one of the first benefits
that riders notice. The Bitless Bridle™ 'works' with both direct and
SLOWING AND STOPPING - Brief pressure on both reins or alternate pressure
on each rein applies a gentle squeeze to the whole of the head and triggers
a 'submit' response. Braking is probably attributable to a combination of
the calming effect of a whole-head-hug; to initiation of a balancing reflex
at the poll; to the stimulation of areas of special sensitivity behind the
ears; and to painless pressure across the bridge of the nose. The "brakes"
are more reliable than those provided by the bit. First, bit-induced pain
causes many a horse to bolt rather than brake. Secondly, at no time can the
horse deprive the rider of all means of communication by gripping the bit
between its teeth or under its tongue. Unlike the mechanics of the bit,
hackamore, bosal or sidepull, braking is not dependent on pain across the
bridge of the nose, poll flexion and obstruction of the airway.
advice on steering/stopping, using the nudge/hug approach of the Bitless
Bridle should, ideally, be used simply as a back-up, if required, to the
more important aids provided by body weight, balance and breathing.
There has been mixed reaction to this bridle. Some people have found it
to be super and their horses go well in it. Others have complained that
the point where the reins cross over under the jaw should be better
designed, as the rein closest to the jaw gets ‘trapped’ by the rein
going over it. There is definitely more poll pressure with this bridle
than with the plain sidepull bridle.
I often get asked questions about changing bits, misbehaving ponies and
so on. Many of the people with questions are under the impression that a
change in bit is required to magically change their horses and ponies. How
can you tell if the problem you are facing is a bit-related one? I am going
to attempt to explain this and give some guidance.
There are some instances where a trainer will be able to see right off
the bat that the horse has a bit problem – usually it is a question of too
much brakes, hardly ever too little! Problems in the mouth are usually the
number one cause of a bit problem, which is sorted out by having the mouth
seen to by an expert – not by changing the bit! These would include:
Dry, open mouth
Tilting of the head when working
Leaning on the hands
Tongue over the bit
Extreme sensitivity to the bit – often shows in its most extreme form
as rearing when a rein aid is applied
Head tossing / head shaking
Other problems in the mouth could be because the horse’s oral
conformation is not suited to the bit being used – in which case a change of
bit might work very well. For example – if you are riding an Arab with a
fine, sensitive mouth, you may want to use a snaffle with a thick mouthpiece
to keep the bit soft, but remember there is not much space in that mouth! A
better option would be a Double jointed snaffle that would conform to the
tongue and soften on any hard palate pressure. A thinner mouthpiece could
also then be used which would suit the fine structure and yet not be as
harsh on the bars.
The most common problem you will see with a horse that is ‘over-braked’
is the tongue over the bit. It is often caused by over-bitting the horse at
a young age and the horse learns to put his tongue over the bit to escape
the pressure or the discomfort. This type of horse may respond well to a
Waterford or a bitless bridle for a while, until his confidence in the bit
can slowly be built up again. Be aware of riding with soft hands too, as
this horse will be very sensitive to any communication via the bit. A
grackle noseband is often a good option as a noseband, but by all means,
please stay away from the curbs, pelhams and double bridles – it will
exacerbate the problem! A poor fitting bit will also often cause this
behaviour, and once learnt, it is very difficult to re-school.
My advice would be to stick to the softest bit possible, and school your
horse with the help of a professional – once your horse is ignoring you and
you are already on the strongest combination of bit, there is not much hope
for you! It will take an intensive re-schooling program to get your horse
focused and accepting of the bit again. Also, school your horse in the
softest bit possible at home, and fit your pelham or double bridle a week or
so before your show. This will keep your horse fresh to the bit and will not
cause his mouth to harden up to the bit. If you jump in a Dutch Gag, do the
same – school in your snaffle and jump in your gag – that will keep the
horse listening and fresh and will also give you an idea of how your horse
is accepting the bit and your aids.
Another great tip if your horse has a snaffle mouth but
gets a little ‘dead’ or unresponsive every once in a while, is to simply
change him over in the snaffle group – for example you might school him in a
loose ring snaffle, but he feels a bit dead in front and you are not happy
with his sharpness to your aid. Pop him into a Waterford snaffle or a Copper
D-Ring snaffle for a few days and he will feel the change and it should get
his attention. After a few days, put him back in the loose ring snaffle and
he should feel a little more responsive and lighter in front.
A horse that is battling to salivate and soften his mouth to the bit can
be helped by using a mouthing bit, which I did not mention in the above
text, but which I found to be a fantastic way of loosening up the jaw and
mouth. It is basically a snaffle bit (can have loose rings or check pieces)
that is jointed in the centre with little ‘beads’ or ‘keys’ in the middle.
The keys hang on the tongue and the horse will play with them, thus
loosening a tight, clenched jaw and relaxing the mouth. The only problem
that this bit may cause if used in a young, sensitive horse is that he may
frighten at the keys and pull his tongue back in the mouth, encouraging him
to put his tongue over the bit. However, when used with older, more
experienced horses, it is a super way of softening the mouth again.
Another way of helping your horse to salivate is to apply honey or syrup
mollases to the bit. It can then also be rolled in molasses meal. This is a
rather messy affair, but the horse will immediately start to mouth the bit
and salivate. I always introduce youngsters to the bit like this in the
stable, as they associate the sweet, pleasant taste with the bit in their
mouths and accept the bridle and bit readily.
APPENDIX C: HOW TO CORRECTLY FIT YOUR BIT:
The correct fit of the bit is vital in order for it to function correctly
and for the horse to be comfortable. Many bit problems are caused by
incorrectly fitting bits.
The old saying of fitting a bit so that there are 1 to 2 wrinkles on the
side of the mouth is a bit misleading. Horses have different lengths of
mouth, jaw and lips and all of that can play a role in the fit of the bit.
I have found that the best fit for the snaffle bit is to fit it to the
corner of the lips, then depending on the length of the horse’s face, I drop
it one or two holes, so that there is no wrinkle of the lip. Don’t get me
wrong here, if the bit is banging about on his inscisor teeth, it is too
low! Test the bit by placing it up and down one or two holes until you are
sure the horse is comfortable, or ask an instructor to help you. This puts
the bit in the part of his jaw where there are no teeth (his diastema),
where it will not bang about on any teeth and the horse learns to soften to
it. By wrinkling the lips, the bit is placed too high in the mouth, and the
bit will rub against the premolars, the lips will pinch in the noseband –
especially if you are using a flash – and the horse will often learn to lean
on the bit as a way of relieving his discomfort. Be careful not to place the
bit too low, as it is a more sensitive area of the mouth.
The width of the bit is also important because it will play a role in the
functioning of the bit in the mouth. A bit should fit so that it is just
clear of the lips on the side, and when pulled to one side, there should not
be much movement of the bit left and right. If you can pull the bit across
the mouth and slide more than one finger in between the ring and lip,
chances are your bit may be too big! (And of course, in some cases even one
finger fitted between the bit and the lip is too big! The bit should fit
Also of course, if the bit is barely poking out from under the lips and
rings are pinching the corners of the mouth – the bit is too small!
If you're using a curb bit (a pelham, kimblewick or western curb), again,
it should rest against the corners of the horse's mouth without making a
wrinkle. When fitting a curb chain, always remember to rotate it so that it
lies flat, and remember that it should allow the bit to swivel 45 degrees,
then be tight against the chin. Any tighter, and the bit becomes a vice –
horribly uncomfortable for the horse. Any looser, and the curb flattens out
when used and becomes almost no more than a snaffle in action. Putting two
fingers sideways under the curb chain is a rough estimate of whether the
chain is adjusted properly, but of course that depends on the horse or pony.
A lip strap should always be used with a pelham bit, which keeps the curb
from inverting, or turning over in the mouth, which can be a horrific
experience for the horse.
SOME SPORT TIPS AND DIRECTION:
1. SHOWJUMPING (excerpt from SANEF Showjumping Rules, May 2006): “There is no restriction on bits. However, the Ground Jury has the
right, based on veterinary advice, to forbid the use of a bit that may cause
injury to the horse. Reins must be attached to the bit(s) or directly to the
bridle. Gags and hackamores are allowed. The use of bearing , side and
running or draw reins is forbidden. Sheepskin may be used on each cheek
piece of the bridle providing the sheepskin does not exceed 3 cm in diameter
measured from the horse’s face The use of a tongue-strap is not allowed.”
2. DRESSAGE (excerpt from SANEF Dressage Rules, Aug 2004):
(a) Only those bits illustrated and/or described in Appendix 4 are
(b) Bit guards are NOT permitted.
(c) The minimum diameter of snaffle bits at the bars of the horse's mouth
has been fixed at 10 mm. This is measured either against the outer loose
ring, or at the beginning of the radius on egg-butt and similar snaffles.
(d) Pelhams with connectors are allowed for Children’s Preliminary
classes. (rule change 1/5/2003)
(e) The Bridoon and Curb bits must be made of metal or rigid plastic and
may be covered with rubber (flexible rubber bits are not permitted).
(f) The lever arm of the curb bit is limited to 10cm (length below the
mouthpiece). If the curb has a sliding mouthpiece, the lever arm of the curb
bit below the mouthpiece should not measure more than 10cm when the
mouthpiece is at the uppermost position.
NOSEBANDS (a) Either a dropped noseband or a Cavesson as illustrated in Appendix 3
may be used with a snaffle bridle, but not both. A cavesson noseband,
whether used with a snaffle or double Bridle, may never be so tightly fixed
as to harm the horse. The decision of the President of the Ground Jury shall
be final. (b) A Mexican noseband or Flash noseband as illustrated in Appendix 3 is
also permitted with a snaffle bridle.”
3. EVENTING (Excerpt from SANEF Eventing rules May, 2003):
See National Rules for Dressage Events. For the purposes of conforming
with the National Dressage Rules governing Saddlery, Eventing Dressage Tests
shall be classified as follows:
Children’s Novice & Intermediate Tests - Novice
Children’s Open Tests - Elementary
All Novice Tests - Novice
Intermediate Tests 1 - 4 - Novice
Intermediate Tests 5 & 6 - Elementary
All Open Tests - Elementary
All Championship Tests – ElementaryThe rule in respect of “Exercising and/or
Warming Up at an Event”
(Dressage Rule 33.5.0) will apply from the start of the day of the
competitor’s dressage test until the test is completed.At multi discipline
shows (e.g. Children’s and Junior’s Championships) this rule will only to
competitors on the day of their Dressage Test until their Test is completed.
CROSS COUNTRY AND ENDURANCE
"English" type saddles are compulsory. The saddle may not have excessive
blocking material or padding situated behind the rider’s leg with the
apparent intention of retaining or supporting the rider in the saddle.
Blinkers and hoods of any kind are prohibited.
Bridles must be worn and must include at least one complete rein which
must only be attached to the bit(s).
Gags, hackamores and bitless bridles are allowed provided that the reins
are attached in the normal manner.
The following are forbidden:
Any form of side, running, bearing or balancing reins;
Tongue straps and/or tying the horse's tongue;
Any other restriction;
Any bit or other item of saddlery likely to wound a horse.
Stirrup leathers and/or irons may not be attached to the girth neither may
the foot be attached to the stirrup in any way.
Only unrestricted running martingales are allowed.
These rules apply equally to the warm up and practice jump areas.
It is strongly recommended that surcingles be worn.
The Technical Delegate and/or Cross-Country Judge shall have absolute
authority in deciding whether a bridle and/or saddle complies with these
4. SHOWING (Excerpt from SANEF Showing Rules):
”SADDLERY FOR SHOWING COMPETITIONS
Show Hack/Pony, Show Riding Horse/Pony and Show Hunter/Pony competitions.
a) No competitor is permitted to change any tack during the judging of a
competition, except in the case of an emergency and provided the judge’s
consent has been obtained.
b) No horse competing in a Showing competition may wear a bitless bridle,
martingale, auxiliary reins, bandages, gags, flash, grackle, crank, dropped
nose bands, breast plates, Hackamores, gag action bits or gadgets.
c) All bits must have smooth mouthpieces.
d) Snaffles or bridoons must only have one ring on each side and one
mouthpiece which may not be square, serrated, of wire, chain or have rollers
of any kind.
e) The sides of jointed mouthpieces must be of equal length.
f) No tongue checks of any kind are permitted.
g) Pelham or curb bits may only have a moderate port or simple joint in
h) Only cavesson nosebands are allowed.
i) Pelham or snaffles for all Showing Competitions. A simple double
bridle may be used in all but Novice or young children’s competitions.
j) Juniors or adults may not use couplers or rein connectors.
SADDLERY FOR WORKING SHOWING COMPETITIONS
Working Riding and Working Hunter competitions
a) No horse competing in Working competitions may wear auxiliary reins,
bandages or bitless bridles.
b) Reins must be attached to bit(s) or directly to the bridle.
c) Martingales must be correctly fitted.
d) The use of string, wire, twine, cord or anything similar in the
horse’s mouth is prohibited. Tongue guards are not allowed.
e) Blinkers or earmuffs are not allowed.
BRIDLES FOR CHILDREN'S SHOWING COMPETITIONS
a) Plain snaffle bridle
b) Pelham with or without couplers.
c) Simple double bridles but may not be used on First ponies.
d) Simple double bridle or pelham are preferable in Open competitions.
e) Only a cavesson noseband may be worn.”
5. EQUITATION (Excerpt from SANEF Equitation Rules):
81.3.1 All bits/bridles and equipment as per current Showjumping
regulations are permissible, except as per 81.3.5
81.3.2 Bearing, side and running reins are prohibited in all
competitions, including in the practice arena.
81.3.3 Only whips not longer than 75 cm, including a compulsory flap, may
81.3.4 No saddlery changes are allowed during a competition except when
authorised by the senior judge.
81.3.5 No sheepskin saddle covers are allowed.
6. VAULTING (Excerpt from SANEF Vaulting Rules, May 2005):
“COMPULSORY EQUIPMENT FOR THE VAULTING HORSE
71.11.1 Snaffle bridle, with smooth bit, no more than two joints. Rubber
bit guards are permitted.
71.11.2 Side reins with or without rubber rings or elastic inserts,
adjusted appropriately for the gait (see Guidelines for Judges), even if
this entails adjusting their length between canter compulsory and walk
71.11.3 Vaulting surcingle with under pad and preferably wither and girth
padding. No more than two grips. No more than one Cossack strap/loop on each
side below the grip. No hand or foothold may be attached to the back, wither
or girth pad. Gel pads are allowed. The surcingle may have one loop between
grips. See Appendix C.”
*(I have not discussed the driving bits in this discussion – my apologies
to all driving enthusiasts! For more info please contact your local Sporting
Body, like THS, etc or check the sane website
8. POLOCROSSE (Excerpt from the International Polocrosse Rules):
“CORRECT DRESS AND GEAR
(a) Players must be properly dressed in registered National Association
colours, riding boots and approved headgear, breeches or jodhpurs.
(b) The Umpire shall be properly dressed in recognized and distinctive
(c) No player shall wear spurs with sharp rowels.
(d) The Umpire shall have the right to determine the safety of all bits.
Bits with protruding sidebars shall not be permitted.
(e) All gear must be sound and in good order.
(f) Polo or lightweight Poley saddles are recommended which shall be
equipped with girth, surcingle and breastplate or combination girth,
surcingle and with breastplate.
(g) Roping saddles or saddles equipped with a horn shall not be used.
(h) The Polocrosse stick may be of any length but the head shall have an
internal stringing area no greater than 216 mm in length by 184 mm and shall
have no metal reinforcements or any protrusions.
(i) Players must be correctly numbered with clearly visible numbers not
less than 230 mm high on their backs and a second number of no less than 115
mm which shall be clearly visible on either the front or the arm.
"Attack" players shall be numbered 1
"Centre" players shall be numbered 2
"Defence" players shall be numbered 3
In local competition numbers on the back only are acceptable
(j) Horses will play with protective bandages/boots and coronet boots on
all four legs.
(k) All whips to have a flapper on the end at least 12.5 mm wide and 50
mm long. A professionally manufactured crop is required
(l) No split or running reins shall be allowed. A running rein is defined
as any attachment from hand through bit to saddle, girth, breastplate etc.,
or anything, which may be construed as a second rein. A professionally
manufactured Market Harborough is accepted provided a single rein is used.
(m) A list specifying the use of spurs/whips and any other equipment
usually used on the horse whilst playing polocrosse be supplied and the
owner to supply the bit with the horse in which it is to be ridden in at all
9. POLO (Excerpt from the International Polo Rules):
“B.2 EQUIPMENT FOR PONIES
(a) Protection of ponies by boots or bandages on all 4 legs is
(b) Blinkers or any form of noseband or other equipment which obstructs
the vision of the pony, are not allowed.
(c) A calkin or stud must only be fitted on the last inch (2.5 cms) of
the hind shoes.
(d) Shoes with an outer rim, toe grab, screws, studs with hard centres or
frost nails are not allowed.
(e) Certain rules regarding the equipment for ponies may vary from
country to country. These rules must be obeyed when playing in that country.
B.3 WELFARE OF PONIES
(a) Players must take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of their
(b) Any pony showing blood, whether from the mouth, flanks or any other
part, shall be removed from the game.
(c) After the fall of a pony, it shall be trotted up sound and fit to
play before the player remounts.
(d) Any pony that is lame shall be removed from the game.
(e) The umpires have the authority to order the removal of any pony from
(f) Certain rules regarding the welfare of ponies may vary from country
to country and such rules must be obeyed when playing in that country.”
I have tried to cover as many aspects of the types of bits as possible,
and hope it has helped the rider to understand the basic principles of
bitting and bits.
Renee Swanepoel / Alixe Etherington with additions
from [Cathy Sheets Tauer]