When I was writing about aids I used the famous quote from Richard Shrake who said "One pair of good hands is better than having a thousand different bits" and with thousands of different bits now on the market biting is still the same minefield that it has always been! My earliest recollection of the subject was when I sat in Mary Bowler’s riding stables in Formby, Merseyside and had my first stable management lesson aged 7 years old one rainy Saturday afternoon! I was as passionate about horses then as I still am now and so it was very important for me to absorb every morsel of equestrian knowledge that was proffered in my direction. I still remember the intensity of my concentration as I repeated in my mind time and time again; snaffle, Pelham, Kimblewick, snaffle, Pelham, Kimblewick!!!!
For the sake of this article I am going to concentrate on the best known of bits, the ‘snaffle’, to write about all the bits that are currently available would probably stretch to the length of War and Peace!
Eggbutt snaffle bits are commonly thought of as a good starter bit, providing that they are well fitted to your horse or pony's mouth. They can have a straight or jointed mouthpiece and the rings are attached to the mouthpiece by wide cheek pieces. Generally the thicker the mouth piece the more gentle the bit although some horses with small mouths find thick bits uncomfortable.
To understand the action of a bit (how it works) you must first understand the layout of the horse’s mouth. The horse has twelve incisors at the front of the mouth used primarily in a cutting action whilst grazing then immediately behind these incisors is a space commonly referred to as ‘the bars’. Behind this space are the molars which work in a chewing and grinding action. It is the bars of the mouth where the bit sits. If the width of the mouth piece is greater than the width of the bars then the horse will be very uncomfortable! At this point it is worth saying that like humans, horses need regular dental checks, if they are uncomfortable in their mouth it will be impossible to find them the right bit!
The most common bit in the UK is a derivative of the English snaffle bit. The primary action of this bit is the pull on the bars of the mouth. The shape of the cheeks prevents the bit from pinching the horse’s lips. The jointed mouth piece exerts a nut cracker effect when the bit is working putting pressure on the tongue and roof of the mouth.
In recent years a snaffle derivative has become very popular in the equestrian world, known as the JP it has a shaped mouth piece such that it eliminates the action on the roof of the mouth – this is the one I have chosen for my horses and I love it!