For thousands of years, people have used bits when riding to better control their horse, originally and mainly to regulate speed, but also to position and bend the horse or to steer it. Anatomically, the horse’s back is not designed to carry a human. However, to keep a riding horse healthy for a long time, it is important that the horse arch its back under the load of its rider. This is done by “riding the horse to the bit” and having him shift his weight to his hindquarters. This is called collection. But all too often the rider tries to force this collection on his horse with too much force, little patience or ignorance.
In this guide we would like to inform you about the different types of bits. Be sensitive with the choice of the “right bit”, because you can cause not only physical but also psychological wounds to your horse if you use and apply the wrong bit.
Why is the choice of the right bit so important?
You must be aware that a bit, no matter how harmless, can cause pain to your horse due to a rough and insensitive rider’s hand. For this reason, the choice of the right bit is always based on
according to the rider’s level of training
the level of training of the horse
What are the different bits and how do they affect the horse’s mouth?
We have compiled the most common bits for you here:
Single broken water snaffle (western: snaffle bit):
Description: consisting of two legs movably connected with each other.
Effect: Good acceptance by the horse, however, if the reins are too strong, the so-called nutcracker effect can occur, i.e. the tongue is squeezed. Pressure on the loads
Suitable for: Beginners with feeling, horses of any age
Double broken water snaffle: (western: snaffle bit)
Description: constructed like a single broken water snaffle, but the two legs are connected by a third, movable link. Clear advantage to the single broken water snaffle.
Effect: nutcracker effect is prevented here, even pressure distribution, middle piece should not be too thick.
Suitable for: Beginners and advanced riders, standard bit when training young horses.
Olive head snaffle: (western: D-ring snaffle bit)
Description: The mouthpiece is firmly attached to the bit rings. It ends in two transverse “olives” that guide the bit rings. Unlike other types of bits, this prevents the chaps from getting caught in the ring holes. Available in single broken and double broken form.
Effect: Due to the contact of the bit rings on the horse’s head, there is also an easy effect with aids pointing sideways.
Suitable for: Beginners and advanced riders, horses of all ages and training levels.
D-ring snaffle-bit: (western: D-ring snaffle-bit)
Description: Single or double broken water snaffle, mouthpieces are firmly attached to the D-shaped bit rings.
Effect: Unlike other types of bits, the D-rings prevent the bit from “pulling through” when the bit is pulled on one side. Similar to the olive head bit, the D-rings also act as lateral restraints.
Suitable for: Beginners, horses of all ages and training levels
Description: water snaffle with lateral legs of approximately 5 to 8 cm in length.
Effect: Side pieces prevent the bit from “pulling through” the horse’s mouth when the rein is applied from one side. In addition, unlike other types of bit, pressure is exerted on the opposite side at the same time, causing the horse to yield to the aid and turn in the desired direction. The shanks can be additionally fixed with leather eyelets on the cheek pieces.
Suitable for: Horses that like to resist directional or bending or setting rein aids.
Double bridle (western: snaffle bit with shanks):
Description: special bar bit, not broken, with leverage.
Effect: The pull of the bit is not only transmitted to the bit in the mouth, but also to the neck via the cheek pieces. The chin chain reinforces the pull on the bit and at the same time presses against the lower jaw from below. Serves to refine the aids.
Suitable for: experienced riders, horses with a high level of training and good self-carriage.
Bit materials: what flavor does your horse like?
Stainless steel: Consists of different parts chrome, steel and nickel. Stainless steel bits always have a distinct silver shine due to the chrome content.
Argentan (also called German Silver or German Silver): consisting of different parts of copper, nickel and zinc. Depending on the copper content, Argentan bits can range from dark silver to light golden.
Copper: On the one hand it has an antibacterial effect, on the other hand it tastes sweetish when oxidized. This stimulates the salivation of horses, which are thus encouraged to chew more and so basically accept the bit better.
Rubber: For horses that like to chew and produce enough salivation. Some horses that don’t like to run with stainless steel bits like rubber bits better.
Iron (also called sweet iron): Iron oxidizes with saliva, producing the sweet rusty taste that is pleasing to horses.
Here’s how to measure the right bit size for your horse:
The horse must be able to close its mouth completely with the bit. In the past, the rule of thumb was “the thicker the bit, the softer it is for the horse”. However, since horses today tend to have smaller heads and therefore smaller jaws, this rule of thumb is no longer as appropriate. The only thing that helps here is to feel around in the horse’s mouth to see how much space is actually available. If 2 fingers fit loosely over each other between the upper and lower jaws (don’t worry, the horse has no teeth at this point), then you can use all bit thicknesses, if it is only one finger, you should use bits with a maximum thickness of 16 mm.
Always measure the inside dimension of the bit. Take a desired bit and place it in your horse’s mouth. Align the bit so that the bit ring is on one side of the mouth. Now observe how much the bit sticks out on the other side of the mouth. The following rule of thumb applies here: for single-break bits, add 1 cm of clearance; for double-break bits, add 0.5 cm. For bits with fixed rings (e.g. olive head bit), care should be taken to ensure that the rings rest against the side of the horse’s mouth to ensure lateral action. With a well-fitting bit, there should be 1-2 folds in your horse’s mouth. If there are more, the bit is too small and/or the buckle to the snaffle is too short.
In this article we have listed the most common bits for your horse. You now know what effect each bit has on your horse’s sensitive mouth. As mentioned at the beginning, the following criteria are crucial when choosing the right bit:
The rider’s level of training.
Be honest with yourself: How experienced are you as a rider, how steady is your hand? Every little movement of your hand and even your fingers will reach the horse’s mouth. Be fair and get help from a good trainer who has the necessary sense of responsibility.
The level of training of the horse
Expect your horse to do only what he can do. Constantly jerking, pulling and holding the reins will not bring the desired success. Give your horse time to learn new things.
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