There are five main types of bits each of these types have variations and they all bring a pressure in a different place. There are seven “points of control” (not all within the mouth): poll (indicates to the horse to lower his head), nose, curb groove (when used in addition to poll pressure this tilts the horse’s nose in towards his chest and more towards the conventional “on the bit” position), corners of the mouth/lips, bars of the mouth, roof of the mouth and the tongue. rein aids create pressure at these points; when the horse responds, pressure should be released.
Snaffle – Mouthpieces can be solid or hollow. A broad-mouthed, loose ringed jointed snaffle is considered to be one of the kindest bits. It brings pressure to bear on the tongue and bars and corners of the mouth (known as the nutcracker action) with the rings allowing play in the mouthpiece. The thinner the diameter of the mouthpiece the more severe the bit becomes. Adding a link, such as the French link, which lies in a curve against the tongue can soften the contact. The Dr Bristol, which lies flat but at an angle acts on the tongue in a more severe way. The mullen mouth snaffle has a gentler action than the jointed mouthpiece. It is even milder if it is made from a flexible, soft material. The mullen mouth spreads pressure across the whole tongue but it’s rigidity may encourage horses to lean on the bit. Eggbut rings allow less play in the mouth but help prevent pinching to the lips. Loose rings encourage mouthing.
To fit a snaffle bit place the fingers on the corners of the bit where the mouthpiece joins the rings. Press down to straighten the bit in the mouth. The mouthpiece should just touch the corners of the mouth and, when released, cause one or two creases in the skin. if the bit is too large, it has a tendency to sit unevenly in the mouth, hanging out of one side – the leverage applied will be much greater on one side. If the bit is badly made and doesn’t hang evenly when folded in half then again leverage is applied unevenly.
Gag – this looks similar to snaffles but gags are, with the exception of a chiffney bit, the most dangerous of bits and can cause terrible injuries. Gags have the same pressure points as a snaffle, but with the addition of the leather attachment can have up to 12 inches of additional leverage. This can impose an extreme force on the poll and the corners of the mouth. Like pelhams the gag is a two rein bit.
To fit a gag fit as for the snaffle above but the tightness of the cheek pieces will have an impact on the severity. The higher the fitting, the more constant pressure there is on the poll. If the fitting is lower and looser then the pressure is quicker and the contact more violent.
Hackamore – A bitless bridle works on the poll and nose pressure. The noseband should fit two fingers’ width below the prominent cheek bones at the side of the face. The under-part is padded and acts above the curb groove. The longer the shanks the more poll pressure there will be. A horse cannot breathe through its mouth so careful use of gentle giving hands is a necessity with a hackamore.
Pelham – the pelham attempts to achieve the same results on its own as a double. This bit is designed to be ridden on two reins, so that the top rein (snaffle rein) operates in much the same way as a snaffle. When necessary the bottom curb rein is used to introduce poll and curb action. the pelham has a wide range of mouthpieces such as mullen mouth and jointed mouth.
To check that a pelham or kimblewick is sitting correctly in the horse’s mouth, press gently on the corners of the bit and then release it. There should be one or two creases in the corners of the mouth.
Double – The snaffle bit of a double is known as a bradoon. In addition to the bradoon a curb bit is introduced. the bradoon operates in the same way as a snaffle on its own. The curb bit is intended to operate on those points of control not already being used by a snaffle bit i.e. the poll and the curb groove. In dressage you are permitted to use a double bridle from Elementary level onwards, but it is not compulsory until you reach Advanced level.
To fit a curb chain place one link over the offside hook, ensure that the links are lying flat and take up the link judged to be the right length. Place this link over the nearside hook. When the shanks are at a 45 degree angle, the curb chain should come into effect.
When selecting a curb chain make sure it has a smooth finish. Take care when adjusting it . If it is fitted too loosely it can rise above the curb groove and damage the lower jaw. If it is fitted too tightly the action will be too severe and excessive pressure can damage the curb groove and bars of the mouth. The lip strap attaches at each side of the bit’s cheeks and passes through the loose link at the lower edge of the centre of the chain. It makes sure that the curb chain sits correctly and that curb bits such as the Banbury cannot rotate too far.
With a double bridle, the curb bit should be the correct size to fit the horse’s mouth and the bradoon should be oversized by quarter of an inch.
Bits are made up of different materials.
Rubber, plastic and vulcanite.
Sweet Iron (better known as wrought iron), these bits rust easily. This type of material makes the horse mouth the bit well but the rust tends to show on the face of the horse. Also difficult to clean.
Stainless Steel , strong and easy to clean, can make the horse dry mouthed.
Copper Alloys, bits such as Kangaroo and Aurigan (manufactured by Sprenger). The horse salivates and accepts the bit. It quickly responds to temperature changes.
Please donate any bits/tack no longer used, especially rubber bits, (also unwanted dog collars & leads) to:
Animal Care in Egypt (ACE), The Veterinary Hospital, Maypole Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 1HL.
Telephone:01732 700710, Fax: 01732 700900 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bits & Bitting Training – what’s available:
BETA Lorinery Retailing – one day course aimed at the saddlery retailer. Contact BETA on 01937 587062.
Cordwainers at Capel Manor College – Certificate in Lorinery – run as one module of the two year saddlery course.
Pony Club Lorinery Achievement Badge – grass roots instruction on bits and bitting. Contact the Pony Club on 02476698300 or email@example.com
Society of Master saddlers Bridle Fitting Course. One day course designed to give the saddlery retailer and working saddler detailed information on bridle and bit measuring. held at warwick College. Contact 01449 711642.