Bit of Advice
© 2006 Cherry Hill ©
bit is your means of completing the communication equation with your horse via
your hands. Along with your weight and leg aids, the bit can give you the means
of balancing your horse left and right as well as from front to rear and of shaping
the energy that comes from his hindquarters. Specifically, a bit is useful for
teaching your horse to bend his neck and throatlatch so that he can be turned
in both directions. It is also useful for teaching your horse to flex vertically
in the lower jaw, at the poll, and at the neck muscles just in front of the withers.
Vertical flexion is necessary for gait and speed control as well as for stopping.
When things "go wrong", the most common
question asked is "What kind of bit should I be using?" Often the problem is not
the bit but that basic training lessons have been skipped. That's why you should
always use the mildest bit possible and perfect your other aids. It is not how
"severe" a bit is, but how skillful the rider's hands are that determines the
smoothness of the performance. The mildest bit can be an instrument of torture
in the wrong hands while a very advanced ("severe") bit can be used with skill,
finesse, and precision in the right hands, creating a picture of harmony and grace.
Dear Cherry Hill,
How do you know the correct bit
to choose, if a horse is easy to lead with rope, but difficult with a bit?
Joe for Fiona
of all, if a horse leads lightly and on a slack lead rope when haltered, he should
lead the same way when wearing a bridle and bit. If you pull on the reins when
leading with a bit, it could cause the horse to balk or pull back. That's because,
depending on the design of the bit, it could become elevated in his mouth and
hit the roof of his mouth or pressure his tongue. You should never pull the bridle
reins when leading. The horse must be taught to lead off your body language and
it comes to bit selection, if you are not experienced, you should work with an
instructor who can advise you which bit is appropriate for your horse. However,
in most cases, I advise to start with the simplest and mildest bit, the snaffle.
Many horses can be ridden their entire lives in a snaffle.
most common snaffle (the jointed O-ring) has four parts: two rings and a mouthpiece
comprised of two arms. Snaffles are mechanically simple bits that are appropriate
for early basic lessons because they allow you to communicate with your horse
in simple terms. A snaffle bit transmits pressure in a direct line from your hands
through the reins to the rings to the mouthpiece to the horse's mouth. On a snaffle,
there are no shanks (the vertical sidepieces of a curb bit to which the reins
attach) that would create leverage action. A snaffle is customarily used with
a browband headstall that has a throatlatch.
DOES A SNAFFLE WORK?
At rest, the
correctly fitted and adjusted snaffle hangs so that it just touches the corners
of the horse's lips. It lies in the interdental space (the area between the incisors
and molars that has no teeth) and rests on the tongue and bars.
you pull one rein out to the side, let's say the right, the bit will slide slightly
through the mouth to the right and the primary pressure will be exerted by the
ring on the left side of the horse's face. This will cause him to bend laterally
and turn right.
When you pull back on
one rein, pressure will be exerted on the right side of your horse's tongue, the
right lower lip, the right corner of the mouth, the right side of the bars and
on the left side of the horse's face. This will tend to cause the horse to bend
laterally and begin to flex vertically so he shifts his weight rearward as he
When you pull backward
on both reins, pressure will be applied to both corners of the mouth and across
the entire tongue and the bit may contact the bars and the lower lips. This causes
a horse to flex vertically, shift his weight rearward, slow down, or stop.
of these principles as you lead your horse with the bridle reins. Treat each rein
individually by separating them with a finger or two and communicate with the
horse via the reins from the ground. Do not clasp the reins together in your fist
and use them as if a lead rope.