It is important to know that any bit is as hard as the rider’s hands.
The bit and bridle are a vital part in communicating with your horse and you have the choice to whisper or to shout depending on the firmness of your hand.
A firm/constant, but rewarding/soft hand can help to avoid confusion when asking your horse to do something
More often than not it is advised to go softer rather than harder when having bitting problems.
Horses tend to run from pain and so can get worse in stronger bits.
Above all soft hands and schooling are vital for good communication with your horse.
Understanding the pressure points created by the bit and the reaction to the applied pressure can benefit both horse and rider.
Basic 6 families of bits
There are so many different bits on the market today, however they all fit into one of 6 different categories of bits which define the action of the bit, the pressure points it uses and the reaction they get from the horse.
Keep in mind your horse’s conformation, age, where they are in their schooling and your ability to ride.
This is the most popular sort of bit. They have no curb chain or leverage action. It will increase
in severity, if the mouthpiece is very thin or has an uneven surface.
The action works on the lips, bars of the mouth and tongue.
Horses tend to raise their head and necks in reaction to the snaffle bit.
The Curb or Double Bridle
This consists of 2 bits – a bradoon and a curb. Generally used in showing or dressage. The horse and rider combination should be experienced before attempting to use this bit.
The bradoon action works similar to the snaffle, on the lips, bars of the mouth and the tongue. The Weymouth action works on the bars of the mouth, lips, chin groove, poll and tongue whilst the curb chain works on the chin groove.
The horse reacts to the bradoon as he would to the snaffle. The Weymouth encourages the horse to lower and flex his head and neck and together they produce a more advanced head carriage and an increased level of control.
This bit combines both actions of the double bridle into one bit. When ridden with 2 reins they allow definition between the top rein and the lower rein. They are mostly used with rein connectors with one pair of reins for a more general action.
The action is on the lips, bars of the mouth, tongue and poll while the curb chain works on the chin groove. The top rein will bring the horse’s head and neck up while the bottom rein encourages a lower, flexed head.
The pelham bit, like with the double bridle it encourages a more advanced head carriage and improves control.
The Rope Gag
Similar to a snaffle bit, but it has holes in the bit rings through which rope passes. One end attaches to the bridle the other to the reins. A good bit for a strong horse that tends to run with its head to low.
The rope gag bit works on the bars of the mouth, lips, tongue and has a severe upward action on the corners of the mouth and some poll pressure.
The action from the ropes running through the bit rings acts in a strong upward motion to lift the head. It can be used with two sets of reins to minimize severity. Only experienced riders should use this bit.
The Leverage Bit
This gag bit has a ring below the bit ring for a rein which creates leverage. They do not have a curb chain and can coe with a long shank. The initial action lifts the head but this is quickly changed into a downward action on the poll, lips, bars of the mouth and tongue.
When the rein is taken up the mouthpiece rotates in the mouth and results in pressure being applied to the poll and mouth with a downward action which encourages the horse to lower his neck and head.
Not a bit as such as it does not have a mouthpiece, however this is not necessarily a mild option. Care should
be taken to fitting and using this bit and the horse and rider need to take plenty of time to familiarise themselves with this bit.
The hackamore works on the nose, poll and the back of the jaw just above the chin groove.
The pressure on the polls lowers the head while pressure on the nose brings the head in encouraging flexion.
Generally the thinner or more uneven the mouthpiece the stronger the bit.
A single joint creates a squeezing action to the tongue and on the bars of the mouth.
A mouthpiece with a double joint is kinder as the contact is dispersed across the tongue and lightens the
pressure on the tongue. Double joints come in many shapes and sizes and all have different effects on the tongue.
A curved mouthpiece allows more room for the tongue similar to a low port. A high port tilts forward and applies pressure to the palate resulting in it being very strong and not recommended.
The Bit Rings
This kind of ring slides through the mouthpiece. It tends to make the horse relax his jaw and chew the bit. It may pinch the corners of the horse's mouth if the holes in the mouthpiece are large, in which case a bit guard should be used
This mouthpiece does not rotate, and so is more fixed in the horse's mouth. Some horses prefer this kind of bit and it will not pinch the lips.
The rings are in the shape of a "D" which does not allow the bit to rotate and so the bit is more fixed in the horse’s mouth. The sides of the D provide a lateral guiding effect.
Has long, extended arms above and below the mouthpiece on either side of the lips of the horse. The cheeks have a lateral guiding effect, and also prevent the bit from sliding through the horse’s mouth. The full cheek is often used with bit keepers to prevent the cheeks from getting caught on anything, and to keep the bit in the right position inside the horse’s mouth.
Has only an upper or, more commonly, lower cheek, as opposed to both seen in a full cheek snaffle. This bit is often used in racing, as there is less chance of the cheek being caught on the starting gate, or in driving as there is less chance of getting caught on harness straps.
Filet Baucher (hanging cheek)
Has a ring on the side of the mouthpiece, with a smaller ring above to attach the cheek piece of the bridle. Tends to concentrate pressure on the bars. It is very fixed in the mouth.
A full cheek bit with a loose ring attached, so that it not only has the lateral guiding effect, but can also move freely as with the loose ring.
A correctly fitting bit
For a bit to fit the mouth correctly, a straight bar should rest neatly in the corners of the mouth and a jointed bit just high enough to form gentle wrinkles.
There should be a small amount of space between the end of the mouthpiece and the corner of the horse’s mouth. Too much space can cause the bit to slide through the horse’s mouth and make it uncomfortable.
It is important for you to have your horse’s teeth checked regularly by a good equine dentist.