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.