This happens to be one of my favorite topics, and one that I believe isn’t talked about enough. There are so many different types, how can one possibly choose? This comes down to finding the mouthpiece that your horse likes, and the shank and purchase that fits your hands and your style.
First let’s talk about mouthpieces. There are two piece, three piece, mullen, and chain options. The more breaks in a mouthpiece the more bend you will be getting from your horse and vice versa. The less breaks, the less bend. For example, if you have a horse that is really stiff you might want to try a chain mouthpiece. Chain mouthpieces are also great to try on a horse that just doesn’t seem to like any other bits you’ve tried. Another go to for a picky horse are tongue relief bits, but we won’t get into that just yet. If you have a horse who is overly bendy you might want to try something with less breaks, or no breaks like a mullen.
Moving on to the purchase and shank. The purchase is the portion of the bit from the mouthpiece and up. The part that attaches to your headstall. The longer the purchase the more lift you get. The shank is the portion of the bit from the mouthpiece and down. The part that attaches to your reins. The longer the shank the more stop you have.
Gag bits. Any bit where the mouthpiece is not fixed is considered a gag. Think of this like a delayed reaction. The bigger the gag, the more delay you have. When a bit is fixed you have a more immediate response from your horse.
Tongue relief bits are sometimes the key to a horse who just doesn’t seem to like anything else you’ve tried. Sometimes horses need a little extra room for their tongue to move to swallow saliva. Some horses with a busier mouth may also prefer to have a roller.
Hackamores come in several different styles depending on how much pressure you want on the horse’s nose. Even though it may seem as if these are completely harmless, they can also be harsh if used inappropriately. It is important to stay light even with a hackamore.
One question that I see come up a lot is what do you start a horse in? Or when to transition a horse from what they started in, to a more advanced bit. Both have a lot to do with personal preference. Some trainers start their horses in a halter, some in a bosal or hackamore, and some in a plain O-ring snaffle. All are great options. Transitioning a horse is also a lot of personal preference. Some will wait until the horse can do everything they are asked without resistance before transitioning, and some may only wait a few months. It really comes down to each individual horse and how often the horse is getting rode. It’s always a good idea to ride your horse in different bits, see what they work well in or don’t work well in, and at the very least it allows your horse to get used to change. You don’t want to be in a position where your bridle breaks and your next to go, someone hands you theirs to borrow and you panic because your horse only likes one bit. You should be confident that your horse can still go make a solid run with just about anything.
Remember, if your horse is having problems, it probably isn’t just the bit. Sometimes it’s their teeth, lameness, or holes in the foundation of their training, but that’ a topic for another time. Happy riding and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for the next topic..
T Minus Performance Horses