When it comes to the horse world there are few things more numerous than bits. There are hundreds of different kinds, variations and styles. Basic ones, every day ones and some that hang on the wall for years never being used, or used once in a while in certain situations.
The number one bit we use on younger horses is the snaffle. A snaffle can also be used on older horses so we can pull on them if needed. The idea with the snaffle is it puts more pressure on the tongue and the lips, generally the least sensitive places on a horse. There is a lot of give here to move around and adjust. Several variations of snaffles can be used along with several variations of mouth pieces. Snaffles are a direct pull, so when you pull 5 lb. They give the horse the feel of an actual 5 lb. The loose ring snaffle is my favorite to use. Some other popular types are the D ring and shank. A shank snaffle applies pressure on the curb area but still affects the tongue and lips of the horse.
Mouth pieces can be very thin for more bite, or very thick and mild in the mouth like the egg snaffle. Sweet Iron with a copper inlay has a sweet taste if you put it in your mouth. I’ve actually done this. It tastes good to them and the copper helps produce saliva, keeping there mouth really moist. Copper, even if you rub it in your hands, will get moist and sticky. The twisted wire or just stainless mouth piece neither hinders nor helps with taste. The twisted wire snaffle has a little more feel, not sharp, just rigid. With a direct pull snaffle there is no leverage and the curb strap never comes in contact with their chin. It is there just to keep the bit from sliding through their mouth. If you pull hard enough on one side it could pull clear through their mouth and pretty soon you’d be sideways with no bit in their mouth. That’s why when showing, you’re required to have a curb strap to keep it from sliding though. So you have control.
With a leverage bit there is a lot of stuff going on. That’s why, when I really have to pull on a horse, I’m hesitant to ride them in something like this because of the curb strap. The curb strap will put pressure on their curb area. The mandibular nerve runs right along this area, which makes it extremely sensitive. When you pull on a leverage bit it engages the more sensitive areas of the mouth. If it is short at the top of the shank and long at the bottom it magnifies the leverage. This magnifies your pull. Depending on the ratio of top to bottom, it determines how much leverage you have, which helps to determine how severe the bit is on your horse. If you pull 5 lbs. with certain bits they will feel 20 lbs. That’s the difference with a leverage bit. With the leverage bit you can have more feel if the horse is broke enough and ready for it, if not, you will do more harm than good.
As with every piece of equipment in the horse industry there are several choices and variations of each style and usually a specific purpose for each. When working with your horse you will figure out what bit is best for your situation. Every horse is different and will respond differently to different pressure points. If you ever question what piece of equipment is right for you and your horse it is always best to communicate with your trainer, or someone that you trust and who has a great amount of experience with different horses and equipment. Making sure that you are using the right equipment can make all the difference in the outcome that you get. But always remember – any bit can be severe with a heavy hand and bad timing and most bits can be mild with soft hands and good timing. All the bits in the world will not train a horse. Its good hands and good timing that get a horse trained and broke.
Monty Bruce is a multi-time Reined Cow Horse and Reining Futurity and Derby champion. Monty, his assistants, and students have won numerous World and Reserve championships and are continuing to succeed in the show pen.
The Monty Bruce Training Center is a full service equine facility that specializes in Reined Cow Horse, Reining, and the Performance Horse. The Center strives to provide superior care and training for all equine needs.
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