Bitting is a difficult subject. There are many opinions, many experiences but comparatively little knowledge. For some riders, a change of bit is promising to solve specific problems. Reality shows that these problems often do not get smaller but the bit collection larger.
A bit is not a problem solver, but rather a medium of communication between rider and horse. Use this tool of communication in a way that the horse understands you better. It must fit the needs of horse and rider. The difficult task is to find a suitable bit for the horse's mouth that will also have the desired effect.
Often advice can help. Specialist equestrian retailers, trainers and experienced riders are good candidates to ask. They have gained experience with different types of bits. But it is not always possible to transfer the own knowledge exactly to other riders and horses. A quick advice for strong horses for example often looks like this: "Try a Pelham, it works for mine too". The effect of Pelhams will be discussed below in detail. Also, for which "strong" horse type their use is not recommended.
The key word in this tip is "try". It can happen that the character and will of the horse decides against the choice of the rider.
The right bit choice can make a big difference to the cooperation between rider and horse. This leads us to the core of this article. It provides an overview of the most common bits for show jumping, eventing and leisure horses.
Depending on the model, Mullen mouth bits can be suitable for sensitive up to very strong horses. The choice is huge and depending on the style, the mode of action can vary enormously. These are the most important variations and basic rules:
The successful use of Mullen mouth bits depends on an even connection to both rider's hands. They tilt when the rein aid is given single-sided. The rider should thus be able to ride the horse through turns with seat and weight aids. Educating flexion or bending is not possible with rigid Mullen mouth bits and only to a limited extent with flexible Mullen mouth bits. So this type of bit is less suitable for horses that are difficult to turn.
A very interesting bit on the way to a stronger impact is the so-called Max-Control bit. It is a double-jointed bit that locks at a certain angle and becomes a bar. This means that the effect with a loose connection is comparable to a normal double jointed bit. If the horse gets strong or if the rider has to exert more force, the effect on the tongue becomes more pronounced. This is similar to a Mullen mouth bit. If the connection gets lighter again, the bit acts like a normal double jointed snaffle.
Such bits are suitable for corrective purposes. Also for horses that sometimes need a little stronger influence. The versatile mouthpiece is also available in combination with various side parts. The range includes e.g. D-ring bit, Full Cheek or a Pelham.
For flexible bars with a straight mouthpiece, the effect is noticeably different. The pressure is also distributed over the entire tongue when the reins are tightened. But it becomes stronger towards the edges of the tongue.
These bits are recommended for horses that occasionally tighten up or show a lack of submissiveness. This can occur during training and jumping. These bits are often well accepted by sensitive horses. Also because they are often made of rather soft materials like plastic, rubber or leather.
Please be aware that there are many things to consider when it comes to selecting materials. It should be UV-resistant, food safe and not contain any plasticizers. A steel core is recommended to prevent the bit from being bitten through or breaking apart.
The following applies to the surface texture. The smoother the surface, the better the suitability for horses that have a sensitive skin. Rubber, for example, has a very dull surface. It can rub and cause injuries in horses that salivate too little. This is often the experience with sensitive mouth corners. Riders actually want to do something good with a soft rubber bit. But the problem is often made worse by the above described eraser effect.
The Flex Control from Sprenger is a combination of robust metal and rubber. The combination of the two materials addresses the tactile sense of the tongue. The soft, rubberized middle part lies on the sensitive middle of the tongue.
In comparison to straight bars, bars with port relieve the middle of the tongue until the reins are tightened. These bits are usually suitable for horses that can get strong and push against the hand. Second for horses with particularly thick and fleshy tongues. Or to correct tongue problems on horses that feel pressure on the tongue as unpleasant and reacts with pulling up or sticking out the tongue.
We also find a large selection of materials and degrees of hardness for these types of bits. Important is that the port has soft transitions and has no edges. These could constrict the tongue and/or exert too much pressure. The port should also be tilted forward to avoid pressing into the sensitive palate.
The main point of action that is addressed in horses via a bit is the tongue. All bits containing a mouthpiece act on the tongue, which consists mainly of muscles. When using a bit with leverage effect, extra points of effect on the horse’s head are addressed. That means that the pressure exerted by a rein aid not only affects the tongue. It is distributed to different influence points.
When using lever-action bits, the rider first affects the tongue and poll. When using a curb chain or chin strap, to limit the pressure on the sensitive poll, the lower jaw is also addressed. For choosing a bit it is important to know and understand 2 points. How do horses react when pressure is applied to the influencing points? And why you want to cause this reaction.
With snaffles, eggbutts, etc., the rider communicates with the horse via the tongue. The tongue consists mainly of muscle tissue. This tissue cushions the pressure the bit exerts onto the lower jaw. The rider tells the horse how to react by using asking and giving rein aids.
If the horse evades the reins by raising its head, the rider can no longer address the "tongue" and loses control. The bit no longer affects the tongue, but moves into the free space towards the molars.
To regain control in such situations, pressure can be applied to the neck by lever-action bits. The poll of a horse is very sensitive. To avoid this pressure horses start to lower their head. This enables the rider to act on the tongue again and regain control. The rider should be careful not to exert pressure to the poll too much or too long. He or she should release the pressure as soon as the horse lowers its head.
For the use of lever bits, the rider should have a balanced and independent seat and should also be able to give differentiated and sensitive rein aids.
These bit forms are counterproductive for horses that basically have a too low head position or pull down. They are not recommended as they further intensify this problem.
Due to the different rein options they offer, 3-ring bits are very versatile to use. The mouthpiece can slide in the ring. This allows the poll pressure to be increased to a larger extent than the pressure on the tongue. This is an advantage for keen or strong horses that react sensible to higher tongue pressure. They start tossing or rising their heads and get really strong. The rider needs to take particular action to achieve a better control over the horse.
3-ring bits have a big advantage. They offer several possibilities of attaching the reins. This can be used to change the intensity of the leverage effect. If you buckle the reins in the larger ring there is no poll pressure at all and the effect is similar to a normal snaffle. If you attach the rein to the lowest ring you get the highest degree of poll pressure. By attaching the reins to different rings the rider has the possibility to adjust the leverage. Pressure is thus exerted onto the poll.
The strength of the poll pressure also depends on the length of the lever arm of the side part. In this point the available models differ from each other a lot.
Since on Multiring bits the smaller rings are integrated in the normal bit ring. They have the shortest distance between the upper and lower ring. So the effect of leverage is lower.
Cheekpiece in the normal ring, reins in the lower ring = strong impact on the tongue, no poll pressure.
Cheekpiece in the upper ring, reins in the lower ring = impact on tongue and poll.
Cheekpiece in the upper ring, reins in the normal ring = effect of a normal snaffle, impact on the tongue.
The poll pressure is relatively low due to the short lever arm of this bit. It is ideal for horses that sometimes need more control, but are also sensitive and in principle respond to the rein aids.
Universal- and 3-Ring bits follow the same principle. The Universal-bits have a slightly lower leverage effect than the regular 3-Ring bits.
Here too, there are a variety of rein options for adjusting the leverage. In general, the deeper the reins are buckled, the more pressure is exerted on the poll. The longer the leverage arm, the slower the bit reacts to the rider's hand.
Reins in the middle ring = impact on the tongue only, like a normal snaffle.
Bit converter in the middle and lower ring, reins in the bit converter = medium leverage effect, easy use for the rider.
One pair of reins each in the middle and the lower ring = the leverage can be varied in a targeted manner by taking and giving the lower rein. This option theoretically gives a rider the best possibility to react to the horse. In practice it is only recommended for experienced and sensitive rider hands.
One pair of reins in the lower ring = largest leverage.
A chinstrap can be used additionally to limit the leverage. This is especially useful when the reins are attached in the lowest ring. The chin strap is buckled in the upper rings and has two functions. On the one hand it limits the poll pressure, but it also acts on the lower jaw to counteract a "diving down". This prevents the horse from rolling in too much and thus losing the overview in jumping, for example.
The mouthpiece of a Pelham is firmly attached to the cheekpiece. As a result, the bit acts relatively direct on the tongue and has a calm position in the horse's mouth. Ideally, the cheekpieces should lie closely to the corner of the mouth. This provides a lateral support and prevents slipping. The curb chain should be attached in such a way that an angle of approx. 30 to 45 degrees is allowed between the mouth gap and the lower cheek. The curb chain limits the pressure on the poll and counteracts the horse lowering the head too much. The lower jaw in the chin groove is very sensitive and the bones are only covered with a very thin layer of skin. A curb chain guard should thus be used as a cushion.
The length of the lower cheeks plays a big role in the effect of a Pelham. Short cheeks, react faster than longer ones. Longer cheeks allow applying more pressure to the poll.
Reaction time is very important in jumping. So Sprenger most of all produces Pelhams with short cheeks. The rider can react quicker and, most importantly, release the pressure faster. Shortly before the jump or in the jump phase, pressure on the tongue and neck can have a negative effect on the scope. This may lead to mistakes.
The Pelham also has different rein options. In most cases one pair of reins is buckled into a bit converter. But, it is also possible to use only one or two pairs of reins.
Gag bits act on the poll, the tongue and the corners of the mouth. Unlike 3-ring bits and Pelhams, this type of bit is very well suited for horses that lean on the bit or pull downwards.
The gag cheekpiece is guided through the bit ring and attached directly to the reins. When taking the reins, the pressure on the poll increases. The mouthpiece moves towards the corners of the mouth. This ensures the horse to elevate and prevents it from pushing down against the hand. The use of two pairs of reins is ideal, because this allows the rider to act in a targeted and effective manner.
In conclusion, we can say that the choice of the right bit depends on many factors. Basic knowledge of the different bit types should be present. A healthy self-assessment of the rider's own ability to evaluate himself and his horse is helpful to make finding the right bit much easier and mistakes less likely.