Choosing the Right Bit
Bit Assessing, Fitting & Types
Assess your horse’s mouth conformation when the horse is relaxed and with his mouth shut. Gently part the lips at the side and observe if the tongue is bulging through the teeth. If it does then this indicates that the tongue is large and can cause a lot of discomfort, as the mouth can then not accommodate a lot of mouthpieces.
The outer edge of the tongue is far more sensitive than the centre and these parts of the tongue are going to experience increased pressure with certain bits, especially with single jointed bits. See if you can check the room between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. This should be done initially without the bit, then with the bit. With the bit in look at the mouth at rest, then take up a contact with your reins at the same angle as if you were riding. See how it shifts position and what pressure points it is using.
You should also check if your horse has small or large bars (the gap between the front and back teeth). Check if there are any teeth that could interfere with the bit. e.g. wolf teeth.
Some horses have thin skin on the bars, so a thicker mouthpiece will give a more even weight-bearing surface and will be kinder.
If the tongue is small, but the bars are low extra pressure will be applied to the tongue.
If your horse has large, fleshy lips no matter how well fitted a loose ring may pinch.
This will determine what shape of bit and which port if any are needed.
The most common rule is “The fatter the bit, the kinder it is” This is not always true if your horse has little room in its mouth the thicker the bit, the more discomfort is caused.
When fitting a bit the general guide would be to look for 1 – 1 ½ lip wrinkles at the corner of the mouth but obviously this hinges on how short the horse’s mouth is from the corner of the lip to the muzzle and also how fat the lips are. If the horse’s mouth is short then there may be more lip wrinkles in order for the bit to sit at the correct height although it would not be correct to have the bit forcing the corners of the mouth back.
If a horse is overactive in the mouth and trying to get the tongue over the top position it a little higher to discourage this. When starting babies a bit that is a little lower will generally encourage mouthing.
Types of Bit
There are several different cheek types with several different actions. Here are some of the most popular bits and their actions.
The loose ring has much more movement and play than a fixed ring or one with cheeks. It discourages fixing, blocking and leaning – and encourages mouthing. It allows the mouthpiece more movement so that it may follow the angle of the tongue because the angle of the poll and the horse’s overall outline changes through different work etc.
This is a fixed cheek. Everything remains stiller in the mouth and if a horse is lacking in the confidence to stretch into the contact this may prove extremely beneficial.
This causes poll pressure (dressage legal as a snaffle or as a bradoon used in conjunction with a Weymouth). When a contact is taken up the upper arm is angled forwards causing the mouthpiece to lift, thereby suspending it in the mouth and reducing the pressure across the tongue and bars.
Any extension above the mouthpiece causes poll pressure; this has a head lowing action. If the horse is going forward into a contact and active behind this will encourage a rounding action and help tremendously with the outline.
Full Cheek/Half Cheek
This reinforces the turning aids and providing the mouthpiece is the correct size, will not allow the mouthpiece to slide back and forth across the tongue and bars, or be pulled through the mouth.
These reinforce the turning aids. It is usually used in conjunction with Fulmer keepers attaching the bit cheek to the bridle cheekpieces. This fixes the mouthpiece and gives a little poll pressure.
This would fall under the category of a fixed cheek, it also helps with turning. The racing D cheek is bigger in order to prohibit the bit rings being pulled through the mouth. Fixed cheeks are fitted more-snugly than a loose ring and this reduces friction back and forth across the mouth. The D ring is ideal for children or novice riders who are not always aware of the potential hazard of the full cheek. (Getting caught on jumpers, hay nets etc)
Any extension above the mouthpiece will cause poll pressure (lowering the head), any extension below the mouthpiece will give leverage (head raising). When the two are combined this is generally referred to as a gag action. The gag action is not excessive and even strong horses generally appreciate this and respond as opposed to fighting it.
The cheeks are always attached to the small offset ring at the top, the top ring is angled very cleverly in order to avoid excessive cheek pressure. It gives the action of a loose ring Baucher and mild gag action. Roundings are employed reducing some gag action and allowing the use of one rein or two reins to differentiate. A curb strap is used with the reins at any option but usually in conjunction with one rein on the bottom ring to maximize on the gag and curb action.
English Gag (Cheltenham Style)
The recommendation is to ride on two reins. Its help with brakes and outline and is often used on horses that are strong, or on the forehand, or too deep. It is available with rolled leather cheeks or rope cheeks that slip back and forth through the rings much quicker, giving a faster and more clearly defined aid.
The Pelham can be ridden with two reins or by employing roundings and one rein. The Pelham exerts pressure on the poll, the curb groove and mouth. The curb can be used as a chain or the chain can be put through a curb guard in order to lessen the severity. Or you can use an elasticated curb. The Pelham is available in a variety of mouthpieces. The Pelham should always be employed with two reins for the show ring.
The Beval cheeks have two settings. The first is to have the cheekpieces on the top ring and the rein on the main ring. This has the action of a loose ring Baucher (poll pressure). The second is to have the cheekpieces on the top ring and the rein on the bottom ring. This has the action of a mild gag. The Beval is particularly popular with the show ponies. It offers control and helps especially the child rider as it promotes outline, head carriage and responsiveness.
Doubles (Weymouth and Bradoon set)
Generally used for showing or dressage (only allowed from elementary onwards). Fixed to the top rein, the bradoon works on a variety of points within the mouth depending upon the design of the mouthpiece. The bottom rein is attached to the Weymouth applying poll pressure (lowering the head) and curb groove pressure, asking for the correct degree of head angle. The double bridle is used when more engagement is required (hind legs further underneath and lighter in front).
This mouthpiece is over 2,000 years old and the most traditional mouthpiece. Many horses are started in this bit and are very happy in it. Some horses dislike it as it has a nutcracker action which can interfere with the palate. It encourages the horse to elevate the head.
Many horses like this mouthpiece. It widens the break over on the bars and tongue. It also reduces the nutcracker action. This mouthpiece is often employed to encourage the horse to take the rein forward and down.
Some lozenges are set on horizontally or at an angle. These bits are good for the sensitive mouth where the contact is inconsistent. The lozenge rests on the tongue, when a contact is taken up the lozenge rolls forward onto the tongue exerting pressure, and releases as the contact is released there for rewarding the horse.
The Waterford has balls across the mouthpiece. This mouthpiece is not rigid in the mouth but fluid, bending in every direction. It therefore suits most mouth conformation. It is used for horses that lean or pull down as it gives specific pressure across the mouth where the balls are thereby creating a head raising action. It also helps with control and prohibits the horse from grabbing the bit.
This is a very popular dressage bit. It can be used as a snaffle or a bradoon. It is a single joint that is curved. It curves slightly away from the lips so not to squash it in, it is curved subtly down towards the bar giving an even weight-bearing surface across the bars, it bends down towards the central joint so that when a contact is taken it forms a long low shape over the tongue offering tongue relief. Due to the shape of the bit, it is rare that palate interference occurs.
The angle joining the lozenge, combined with the shape of the Demi Anky arms give extensive tongue relief it will not force the tongues sensitive outer edges onto the teeth. The arms are slightly proud down towards the bar offering a more comfortable, even weight-bearing surface. The end of the mouthpiece towards the bit ring curves away from the lip prohibiting any chafing or rubbing in that area whilst not lessening the aid for turning. The Starter mouthpiece is designed for comfort, encouraging the baby to seek forward and down into the contact. The central lozenge gently stimulates the-tongue promoting mouthing and salivation whilst the comfort factor deters over activity which may lead to tongue evasions such as drawing the tongue back, getting the tongue over the bit, etc.
This is a slightly curved bar with no joints. Very kind, giving universal mouth pressure, some bar relief and does not cause any pressure between the inner cheeks and the teeth (there is no closure). This type of design is particularly suitable if the horse is very short from the muzzle to the corner of the lip as it will not form a V shape and shoot forward in the mouth, unlike most jointed bits. However, the solid mullen mouth usually gives a very wooden feel through the rein.
Fixed Cheek Weymouth
It is not very often nowadays that we use a sliding cheek Weymouth. Better results are obtained from the fixed cheek as it is stiller in the mouth so the horse is more accepting and the aids through therein more definitive. The play and mouthing is generally obtained by using it in conjunction with a loose ring Bradoon.
High Arched Up-Over Weymouth
Gives tongue relief. Usually sourced for strong horses or where we need to lighten up the forehand. Not generally a first choice when introducing doubles.
Forward Cut Ported Weymouth
Usually proves to be a very comfortable Weymouth, exerting even pressure across the whole of the bars and giving plenty of tongue relief.
Revolving Cheek Weymouth
FEI approved. A relatively new concept, with an extra-low wide port to ensure a dramatic reduction in tongue pressure. This revolutionary design allows poll, curb chain and bar pressure without compromising the tongue, and offers unique independent aids for finite control of the head carriage (head tilts, etc). This design is comfortable and usually eradicates fixing, blocking and leaning. This Weymouth would not be deemed severe but we would not usually use it when introducing the doubles.
Low Wide Up over Ported Weymouth
A very traditional design that is still as popular today. This gives good weight-bearing surface over the bars, tongue relief with a slightly cut away medium height medium-wide ported centre.
Liverpool Driving Bit
The Liverpool has a similar action to the Weymouth acting on the poll, the curb groove and pressure points within the mouth hinging on the design of the mouthpiece. The Liverpool is available in either a two or three slot. The lower down the rein is employed the more emphasized the action is however, many people drive and ride “rough cheek” – this means that the rein is attached to the snaffle ring. Predominantly used for driving in the past but many more people are now sourcing this bit where more control is required for cross country and general faster work under saddle. The Liverpool would be deemed severe when used with the rein in the third slot the mouthpiece.
This is by no means a definitive list of all the bits and mouthpieces available.