A few weeks ago we went over the form and style of a number of bits. We learned about the different types of rings and shanks, different mouth pieces, and where certain bits apply pressure. Now it's time to learn about bit function, and how to choose the right bit for your horse and/or your current riding situation. Please note, this is simply a basic guide, and I do not recommend switching your bit, or any tack for that matter, without first discussing it with your trainer. If you are showing, it is also very important that you check the rule book for your association, and make sure your bit falls within the guidelines they have set up. Lastly, I want to point out that a stronger bit is not always the answer. Often times there is a block missing in the training foundation that is misread as a bitting problem, only to find a few months down the road the rider has to switch to an even stronger bit to fix the same problem. Make sure you are making an honest assessment of what your horse is telling you, and how you, as the rider, may be helping or hindering the specific issue. I also can not stress enough that it doesn't matter how mild or severe a bit is when its hanging on the wall at your local tack shop, its how mild or severe the rider makes it. I would never, ever put a knife edge snaffle or a gag bit of any kind into uneducated hands. You always want to get the job done with the softest bit possible. When I use a stronger bit in certain situations, note that I also only use that bit for 1-3 rides and then I switch back to a plain, ported, or rubber snaffle. OK, now on to the information!
Assessing the situation
This is probably the most complicated part of choosing a bit. There are so many factors that go into deciding what is the right choice. Sometimes there are several options, and you're stuck ruling out pros and cons of each. Let's try and help you narrow it down.
What do you want the bit to do?
If you looking for something that is going to help your horse turn and stop, you would typically look at snaffles as they are directional bits. If you are looking for a bit that will help your horse break at the poll, you would look more into a leverage bit. Either a curb bit, or something with a port. If you are looking for something that will offer more stopping power on a strong horse, as well as leverage, you may consider a gag, or a 3 ring snaffle as well, as they offer even more leverage than most pelhams and kimberwicks. If you have a horse that likes to hang on the bit, you may switch to a loose ring, a slow twist, or in more extreme cases, a Waterford or a knife edge. I will also use a slow twist or a knife edge on a horse with a very hard mouth. Again, note that this is typically only for a few rides, then back into a much milder bit.
Where is your horse in his training?
If a horse is green, you always want to start with the softest option possible. Usually a plain D snaffle, or a full cheek snaffle. I like a full cheek as it can help the horse figure out to turn his head when pressure is applied to the rein. As you come into issues with his training, and you have ruled out that it is due to skipping steps along the line, you may switch to a different bit for a few rides (based off of the issues posted above). Once your horse is soft and accepting of the bit, understands stopping, turning, and stays soft on a bit, you may want to switch to a leverage bit of sorts to extend the horses training. Some horses can go their whole lives in a plain D snaffle, or a ported bit, so make sure you talk to your trainer or other trusted professional before making the switch.
The shape of your horses mouth can also be a deciding factor in what bit you use. When you get your horses teeth floated (which should be done annually), ask the dentist to do an assessment of the shape of your horses mouth, and where exactly the bit sits in his mouth. a thicker tongue or lower roof can drastically change how a bit fits, thus changing its function.
Bit Care and other information
Bits are easy to care for, and should be cleaned after every use. You wouldn't eat off of dirty silverware would you? Everyone has their own method of cleaning bits. I simply let mine soak in a bucket of water while I clean the rest of my tack, and wipe them down with a clean rag afterwards. There are also several companies that make bit wipes that you can use right after riding that work well too. Some are even flavored.
Certain bits require additional pieces of equipment.
Full cheek snaffles use "bit keepers" which are little leather pieces you attatch to the cheek piece, and around the top of your full cheek.
Loose ring snaffles can pinch, and be pulled through a horses mouth in extreme situations, so more often than not you will see them used with bit guards. Bit guards are flat rubber donuts that go on the ends of the mouth pieces. Yes, that's OVER the big rounds rings. I suggest letting them sit in the sun for a while, or in a bucket of very warm water before you try pulling them on.
As always, I hope you have enjoyed this weeks 'lesson' and that you can walk away more equipped to tackle the equine world! If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them as a comment!
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