Choosing a bit depends on your horse, not just your hands

Loose ring single jointed snaffle
This loose ring single jointed snaffle was the only bit I had for my horse, Bogie. Although technically it fit Kroni, he would accept a steady contact in it.

For years I heard “people” say that the bit didn’t matter, it was the rider’s hands that made the difference. Although there is some truth to that (poor riding can make even the mildest bit an instrument of torture), it’s not quite that simple.

Okay, sometimes it is.  I bought one bit for my horse, Bogie — a German silver loose ring snaffle. The old kind with a single joint. I rode him in dressage, xc, and stadium in that bit. I hacked in it and galloped in it. I never had any problems.

Then I bought Kroni, my Trakehner. He had some “training” issues when I bought him  that made him reluctant to take contact with the bit. He had been ridden in draw reins and liked to float behind the bit. I tried single jointed snaffles, double jointed snaffles, mullen mouth snaffles, thick bits (supposedly mild), loose rings, fixed rings, Mikmar bits, Myler bits, you name it and I probably tried it. He was always busy in his mouth.

When you hear people complain about how difficult it is to find a saddle for a particular horse? That’s how I felt about bits for Kroni.

Finally, an equine dentist explained to me that he had a low palate and a thick tongue — there wasn’t much room in his mouth for a bit. Armed with that piece of information, I chose a thinner, mullen mouth style bit. He also vastly preferred fixed ring bits like an egg butt or a baucher, which stayed quieter in his mouth. He did okay in those bits but was never great. When I finally tried a bitless bridle (sidepull) he gave a huge sigh of relief and we never looked back. Of course, that worked for me because I stopped competing and started hunting. In the hunt field no one cares what kind of bit you use as long as you can stop.

My experience with him made me much more curious about how different bits work in a horse’s mouth. Which ones have more tongue pressure, or bar pressure. Why double jointed bits have become the rage. And how certain bits work to address specific issues. Over the next few months I’ll go through my bit box (which has a lot more in it these days than my loose ring snaffle!) and talk about why I bought it and how it worked.

I’d love to hear from all of you about what bits you use and why.

A good place to start understanding bitting, is a series of videos from Dale Myler, of Myler bits. I certainly learned a lot from watching.

Here’s the first in the series.

5 thoughts on “Choosing a bit depends on your horse, not just your hands

  1. Willie’s current bit, and his only one for the past ~5 years, is a double-joined loose-ring snaffle with an oval link in the center.

    Even though he has a fairly petite head (borderline cob-sized), he wears a 5.5″ bit, which admittedly LOOKS a bit too large on him but anything smaller seems to pinch. I think a lot of people overlook the sizing when it comes to bits, too, assuming that the most-common 5″ size is sufficient if they don’t have a pony or draft.

    Our journey to the “magic bit” was fairly short: I started him in a plain, single-jointed full-cheek because that was my standard breaking bit, and moved to a french-link version of the same few months later when I realized that a lot of Standardbreds A) had low palates, and B) preferred a bit of “play” in the bit. The loose-ring came on the suggestion of a dressage trainer (he has a tendency to hang, she thought the rotating sides would discourage that) and we never looked back.

    I did admittedly try a D-ring and eggbutt when a hunter judge told me I should try to get “the look” for those classes… But he HATED them. He’s usually quite soft and steady in the contact and he gnashed his teeth, shook and tossed his head, and made it very clear he did not approve. (FWIW, the same thing happened when I tried to put him back in his full-cheek on a whim.) I decided to hell with it, and just kept the loose-ring, which he happily jumps, gallops, dressages, and hacks in.

    Jabby, on the other hand, sounds a bit more like your Kroni — he tends to hide from the contact and fusses with his mouth. I’m working hard to re-teach him, but he’s a worrier and I do think the right bit immensely helps the process. I tried Willie’s bit first just because I had an extra, and it was just okay, but I think all the movement distracted him. So I tried an eggbutt with the same mouthpiece, and again, just okay. I’m currently trying an eggbutt mullen Happy Mouth, and he’s mostly steadier in it and salivates much more, but occasionally twists his head, which is new. Next we’ll try a loose-ring with the mullen Happy Mouth — I thought maybe the solid mouthpiece and moveable cheeks was a good compromise, but we’ll see when the bit gets here!

    As far as sizing, he’s juuust on the edge of “oversize,” and I’ve been using 5.5″ bits with him, which LOOK like they fit. I wonder if, like Willie, he would be happier if I went a little “too big” and went up to a 6″ ? The one I just ordered happens to be a 5 5/8″, which is probably why it was on sale.

    I would try bitless — and bought a hackamore, but it was too small! — but my goal is to show dressage with him, so I would rather find a bit he likes right from the start.

    1. My mare also took that big sigh of relief when we went bitless. We haven’t looked back! I would guess that it is something about her mouth as well, although three vets who do dental work say it looks relatively normal. While she always listened in a bit, there was a level of anxiety that just vanished without the bit.

  2. My mare goes in a eggbutt snaffle with a small losenge link (similar to a french link but thicker). Shes also goes in a 5 1/4″. She was clearly unhappy in a 5″ but a 5 1/2″ was too big…so i searched high and low and finally found the one manufacturer that makes them in that size…smith & worthington. I personally feel that it is very important to get your horse the correct size bit and dont just assume all horses go in a 5″, because they don’t. Measuring is simple and easy and your horse and riding will benefit greatly from a little effort. She goes so well in the bit that i have the same one on all her bridles regardless of dicipline or current fashion trends.

  3. I watched the whole series. It’s a lazy Sunday morning, so why not have a symposium?

    This was probably the best info I’ve had on bits so far. Mr. Mylar made bits much more understandable to me. Thanks for sharing it! I’m looking forward to your other bit posts as well.

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