By: Rhett Russell
There are many types of bits out there. When I go to a tack store and look at bits, it’s like walking down the spice aisle at the grocery store — I see a lot of things that I have no idea what to do with. There are a lot of fancy bits made by people who prey on others inability to train their horses successfully. Many people believe that if their horse is not responding, they should get a stronger bit — WRONG! A harsh bit in the wrong hands can do serious damage to your horse and set your training program way back. If we could only have one bit for any horse it would definitely be a snaffle of some type. Young and inexperienced horses need to be able to bend to varying degrees so the use of a direct reining device such as a snaffle is very important.
We are interested in the using bits appropriate for the level of training for both the horse and rider. The type of bit that you initially use will have a huge impact on your success. There are many books on bits, we aren÷t going to talk about all of different types and their uses. We will focus on bits for training. Whether you÷re training a western of english horse, the principles of bitting for starting the young horse are the same. For the most part, a snaffle bit is the tool of choice for the knowledgeable horseman. As with everything, there are many types of snaffle bits. These snaffle bits are differentiated by the rings that connect to the mouthpiece:
The loose ring snaffle is a jointed or broken snaffle bit on which the rings are free sliding. The loose ring prevents the horse from grabbing hold of the bit. If the horse attempts to grab the bit, it rotates, which makes it difficult to get hold of.
The eggbutt snaffle is similar to the loose ring, but the rings are fixed on a hinge which does not allow freedom of movement in the bit. The eggbutt was designed because of the tendency of the loose ring to pinch or cut the horse÷s mouth.
The D-ring snaffle is similar in design to the eggbutt, the largest difference between the two bits is that the ring connection is even further away from the horse÷s lips ¿ making it even safer for the horse.
Do not use twisted wire snaffles, leverage bits, or mechanical hackamores when starting a horse. Actually, we can÷t think of any reason you should ever use a twisted wire snaffle, mechanical hackamore, gag bit, or leverage bit with long shanks. Only when you and your horse progress to a higher level, should you be working with other types of bits.
There was an excellent post on the rec.equestrian newsgroup based on Dr. Deb Bennett÷s July 1993 EQUUS article on bit fitting and severity. This page has been sourced from REC.EQUESTRIAN, the body of the text has been unaltered as far as possible. The information is for use at your own risk.
Using a bit incorrectly or using the wrong type of bit can create problems. Some of the most common are:
Avoidance of the bit
Running through the bit
Carriage behind the bit
Dryness of mouth
Overactive mouthing/chewing of the bit
For training the green horse we use a sweet iron bit with copper inlays which has 3 inch D rings. We recommend starting with D-ring snaffle bits as opposed to loose ring snaffles because the loose ring snaffles may pinch or cut the mouth of a young horse. We want to make sure that everything we do when handling a young horse is set up for a positive experience. These bits also have enough room in the D ring for the slobber straps and headstall. Sweet iron rusts which causes the horse to salivate, the copper causes salivation too. For some reason, horses really like the taste of the rust. You may see this as ugly rust, but the horse will love it. The snaffle bit is broken or jointed in the middle, which means that it is intended to be used with both hands on the reins as opposed to a curb bit which can be used in one hand.
A snaffle is a mild bit which, in good hands should be held with very light pressure. If you have to pull hard on the reins and bit to get the horse to react, you÷re doing something wrong. Pressure from the rein is not how you collect your horse. You may be able to get the head in the right position (this is called head setting) but the horse’s back will be hollow and their movement will not be correct. The next time you go to a horse show, see if you can tell how many horses carry themselves with collection and how many just have their head in the right spot. You’ll be surprised.
Contact with the bit through the rein should be light, remember that you want to end up with a light horse so don’t start out by yanking on the bit or taking too much rein. Offer the “good deal” to the horse first ¿ light pressure or contact. If the horse leans on the bit, do not pull back on both reins, this actually teaches the horse to push it÷s nose out and lean on the bit even more. If you have a problem with the horse running through the bit, use a light pull on one rein. You may even have to tug a few times to get the horse’s attention. Avoid constant pressure with the rein, you just want to make it uncomfortable for the horse so that they listen to you.
You also have to understand the dynamics of movement with the horse. With each step forward, the horse÷s head and body move differently. If you maintain a static position with your hands and body, you will pull on the horse÷s mouth. You need to be an “active” rider. What we mean by this is your body, arms, and hands have to move with the motion of the horse. This keeps the pressure on the bit the same throughout the range of motion of the horse.
We start the bridling experience by teaching the horse about things in their mouth. We use the lead rope to simulate a bit and ask for them to accept the rope in their mouth the same as if it were a bit. Ask for a bend at the poll and work the rope into the horses mouth as if it were a bit. The horse will get used to something in its mouth and it won’t be a cold hard piece of metal the first time. The indians used a piece of leather as a bit in their ponies mouths — be creative with the lead rope. We practice with the rope until the horse is accepting and soft with this exercise.
We don÷t bridle a horse until they are proficient riding with the rope halter. You save time and can teach a lot to your horse before you ever get a bit in their mouth. When the time comes to put a bridle on, we will put it on over the rope halter and ride in the rope halter. In order to do this, you have to double up the reins over the horse’s head so that they hang out of the way on the horse÷s neck. It will look like your horse is wearing a lot of hardware. We put the headstall on the horse so that he can get used to the feel, weight, and bit in their mouth before we start using it as the primary training aid.
Once we have the horse comfortable with the rope halter and headstall combination, we remove the rope halter and do our training in the snaffle. We still use the rope halter for riding, especially when someone who doesn÷t have very good hands rides one of our horses.