Let's start off at the very beginning...
What is a bit?
A bit is the piece of our tack that goes in the horses mouth. It is typically made of metal, but can have different materials such as plastic or rubber as the actual mouth piece. Bits range in size from 3 1/2" to 6" (though smaller and larger bits are available), and have many different mouth pieces, weights, and rings.
How to fit a bit?
There are several factor to consider when determining how a bit fits in your horses mouth. The width of the mouth, how tall or shallow the roof of their mouth is, even the thickness of the horses tongue can all effect which bit you will use. That is all getting a little complex, and will really require a vet or equine dentist to assist you, The width, however, is easy to figure out, and is also the most common concern. A properly fitted bit will sit with 1/4" of the actual mouth piece sticking out on each side of the mouth. You measure a bit from the inside of the bars or rings/bars (click the picture below for a larger copy).
Different types of rings?
There are many different types of rings/shanks. The most common types are Snaffles (D Rings, O Ring/Loose Rings pictured above-, Full Cheeks, and Egg butts) and Curb or Leverage Bits (Two or Thee Ring Elevators, Pelhams, Kimberwicks, and Gags). Snaffle bits are more of a directional bit, used for steering and stopping, with no poll pressure when you apply the reins. Curb Bits and Leverage Bits give you the option to move the rein to a higher or lower point, or two use a second rein (known as a curb rein), and are designed for stopping, and, well, gaining leverage on a more advanced horse. They work by increasing and applying the pressure applied by the rider to the horses poll.
Different bit materials?
The mouth piece or the "bars" of the bit are a whole 'nother world, and can be very confusing if you don't know what to look for. Most mouth pieces are made of metal, and various metals can be used. Stainless Steel, Nickle Plated, Copper, and Sweet Iron are most common. Other common materials are rubber and plastic. Stainless steel is most common, and is a strong material that will last a long time. Nickle plated bits are less expensive that steel,but they can flake and rust after time. Copper and Sweet Iron bits are both said to increase the amount of saliva the horse produces, causing them to have a softer mouth. Copper, though, is a softer material, and will wear out over time. Rubber and Plastic are generally thicker than most metal bits, and are thought of to be softer on the horses mouth. Not all horses appreciate the thicker bars though. It is rare to find a bit that has an all plastic or all metal mouth piece. Usually there is a metal piece in the middle. Though rubber and plastic are a softer material that many horses really appreciate, they can wear very quickly.
Types of Mouthpieces?
Now that we've covered every other aspect of the bit design, lets get on tot he fun; and often most confusing; part, the design and shape of the actual bars. To name a few, there are mullen mouths. jointed, French links, rollers, ported, and twisted. There are other types as well, but these are the most common. So, what's the difference?
Single Jointed bits are the most common (pictured above on both D Ring Bits) and apply pressure on the bars of the horses mouth.
Mullen Mouth bits are single bars with a slight curve that sits comfortably in the horses mouth, over their tongue. They are thought to be softer than single jointed snaffles since they don't 'break' in the middle when the reins are applied.
French Link and Dr. Bristol bits are similar, as they both have a peanut shaped, flat, link connecting two bars. The difference is that the link on a dr. Bristol is angled, and slightly longer. Both are considered easier for the horse to carry, however the French link is a fairly soft bit, whereas the Dr. Bristol is considered a fairly harsh bit.
Roller Bits usually come in copper, but are also found in stainless steel. It is said that the copper rollers cause the horse to salivate, thus making him softer and more responsive to the bit. The rollers themselves also give a horse something to play with, and also makes it harder for a horse to hang on the bit.
Ported bits have an upside-down U shape in the center of the bars, and that U is known at the Port. The port can be very high, or very low. Low ports relieve tongue pressure, and the high ports relieve tongue pressure and apply pressure on the horses pallet when the reins are applied. Ports are a nice bit for a more advanced horse, but in strong hands, high ports especially can be very painful and damaging for the horse
Twisted bits range in harshness from a slow twist, to a corkscrew, to a twisted wire. These bits work well for horses that like to hang on the bit, or ignore them all together, but they should only be used by a rider with an educated, soft hand.
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