Finding the perfect bit for your horse can be a challenge especially if you aren't familiar with the in's and out's of what each bit does and what purpose it was designed for. Today we're going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we get about horse bits on our bit wall.
Why should I use a bit on my horse?
While not 100 % necessary, many disciplines & organizations require a bit for competition purposes.
What does using a bit on my horse do?
Bits are used as a method of communication and control. Using a bit allows a direct flow of communication between your hands and the horse's mouth. At it's most minimal definition, the bit is a method of communication that along with leg and seat aids tells the horse where you want to go and what you would like to do.
Which bit should I use on my horse?
This question is very subjective. Most horses are quite comfortable in a basic single jointed bit. Many factors come into play when making this decision. If you feel your horse needs something stronger than a single jointed bit, it's best to seek professional help in determining what bit might be right for your horse.
How do you measure for a horse bit?
This is easier said than done and can be done a few different ways. The bit sizing tool that we use at the store is basically a straight 'bit' attached to a headstall with a sliding bar. This tool allows the user to bridle the horse and move the sliding bar to measure the size. If you don't have access to this tool, there are other ways to measure provided your horse will cooperate. You can take a piece of string and mark the points on the string at the edge of your horses mouth. Once you have this marked, measure the marks on a ruler, and you will have a general idea of what size bit your horse will need. Size can vary slightly depending on design.
How should the bit fit my horse?
Once bridled, there should be 2-3 wrinkles at the corner of your horses mouth and no more than 1/8"
(using your pinky finger is a good reference for an 1/8" inch) on either side of your horse's mouth between the bit and his lips.
What is a snaffle bit?
Most horses trained in an English discipline will go into a snaffle bit. Most snaffles are single jointed bits which will have a smooth surface in the horses mouth. Some are designed with a curve to be more ergonomically correct for comfort. When engaged properly, the snaffle provides a gentle nutcracker type action on the tongue and bars of the horses mouth. This bit is available in a variety of 'cheeks'. A full cheek offers lateral support and can be helpful for teaching horses to steer. A loose ring is very flexible and soft in a horses mouth, generally good for teaching a horse to carry a bit. D ring bits are very popular as they offer more lateral support than a loose ring, but they are not as flexible as a loose ring. An eggbutt cheek is a combination of both the full cheek and the loose ring. It offers some flexibility while the straight edge on the inside of the bit offers lateral support to help with steering and direct ques.
Snaffles come in many mouth pieces; single jointed, double jointed, roller mouth, multi link and many more options. We will cover these bits and their functions in an upcoming blog post.
There are many different types of bits available for English riders. The most common bits we offer are listed below.
Pelham bits are usually used with two reins that work on a combination of mild leverage, nutcracker action and curb chain. Pelhams are the bit of choice for many Foxhunters & equitation riders. These bits make it easier to frame the horse and help keep the horse from getting heavy on the forehand. The longer the cheek piece, known as a shank, the more leverage is placed on the horses poll & mouth and is more severe.
Kimberwick bits are also common in the hunt field and is used with one rein. Similar to a pelham, these bits come in a variety of mouth pieces. They work on a leverage and curb principle with some mouth action. There are two different kinds of Kimberwicks available, the standard kimberwick and the Uexter. The Uexter offers rein slots for leverage options.
Standard gag bits are used with two reins, one on the snaffle bit and one on the gag strap. These bits combine the traditional actions of a snaffle with a gag action. They are often used on horses who pull or get heavy on the forehand. This bit helps to keep the horse from leaning on the riders hands. The standard gag bit is most often used for training or schooling, but is also found in the jumper ring as well as the cross country course.
European Gags go by many names. They are often used with two reins and offer a two or three ring set up for leverage. They are designed to work on the classic snaffle action as well as leverage at different levels depending on which ring is used. This type of bit is very popular with eventers and jumpers. The leverage in the poll will change in strength depending upon which rings have the reins attached to them.
Hackamores do not contain a bit that goes in the horse's mouth. This 'bit' works on the premise of leverage and pressure. When adjusted correctly, the hackamore puts pressure on the horse's nose and chin allowing for communication to occur without something in the horse's mouth.
Hack a gag bits are combination bits used mostly in the jumper ring for horses who are very strong. These bits combine the use of a traditional gag bit with the use of a hackamore.
How do I clean my horse bit?
Typically after riding a quick bit rinse with the hose will clean off any debris or saliva that may be left on the bit. However if your bit gets really grimey with dried on debris, some a good scrubbing may be in order with some warm water, an old toothbrush and a mild soap. Be sure to rinse the bit well after cleaning.
Bits that show pitting, rusting, chew marks or are no longer have a smooth surface in your horses mouth should be discarded. Using bits with imperfections or damage can harm your horses mouth and produce undesired behavior.
We have covered just the basics of how these bits function. There are many uses for the bits we have covered today, not all of which have been described here. Depending on the horse & desired training goals. You may see some of these bits used with one rein, two reins or even with a conversion strap where by bits normally requiring two reins to function, may be used with one rein. Keep checking out our blogs for a post on mouth pieces.