How Do You Choose a Bit?

Eli’s job is now in the hunter ring and my bitting choices for competition have dwindled significantly. Pretty much any bit is acceptable in the jumper ring, provided the show officials don’t deem it as cruel or abusive. I never really used all that many bits on Eli anyway–I like him in the Herm Sprenger Dynamic RS D-ring. Or the eggbutt. And sometimes the WH Ultra dee. However, these bits are easy for him to slightly ignore for a few steps, as he demonstrated by running through my hands a few times at the show in March. He still has a SUPER SOFT mouth and I am not about to ruin that with a “harsh” bit (in quotes because I think we will all have different versions of harsh).

But over the years I have used a variety of bits on different horses with different jobs and then of course bits are like precious jewelry so there are a few I’ve been coveting, too.

Ah, the Cheltenham gag. I rode with a trainer for 15 years who threw this bit on a handful of jumpers, including mine. He explained to me the action and the difference in the action when you use either rope gag cheeks or leather gag cheeks, and he also taught me how to use the gag rein on this bit (never without a snaffle rein on my particular horse). It worked out great for my jumper, although it wasn’t the only bit I showed him in. That choice was made the day of, and he went in HS KK Ultra bits, too, and a hackamore for a brief period of time while a lip injury healed up. (One day I will write a proper post about this horse!) The Cheltenham exerts a good bit of poll pressure via the gag rein and I wouldn’t dream of using one of these on Eli.

I used a Dr. Bristol eggbutt snaffle as a junior. My QH went quite well in it. I know that there are two ways you can put the Dr. Bristol–the nice way and the mean way. The plate is angled for a particular type of tongue pressure, and if you put in in your horse’s mouth the mean way, the edge of the plate slices right into his tongue. I used it the nice way, where the plate lies flatter on the tongue.

My first off-track guy, a little chestnut, seemed to go best in a rubber dee. He chewed through a few of them, but he’d only take a feel on the rubber dee and pretty much avoided any other bit by tucking his chin.

My favorite bit for Eli, the Dynamic RS dee. What can I say about it other than it works for Eli? I am a fan because of how anatomical this bit is, and also I like the double jointed bits generally because of the reduced nutcracker action on the tongue and I have also had problems with narrow mouth TBs getting hit in the palate by single jointed bits, which must suck for them!

But let’s not stop there with the Herm Sprenger bits. The hunter ring limits bits — you are pretty much going to see dees, full cheeks, and pelhams. The rules limit bits mostly to these types (eggbutts are okay, too, but NO ONE uses them in the hunter ring). Now, the mouthpiece on those dees … that’s where a little anything goes comes back into play, and many hunters go in custom bits that have mouthpieces tailored to their style in the bridle. But pelhams are okay, too, although not as common–I see them more in Eq. I’d be curious to see how strong Eli would consider getting in a pelham, although I think ultimately it’s too much bit for him. The pelham has both poll and curb action, as strong or light as the rider’s hands, so it’s a bit for educated hands only in my book. Pelham converters drive me up a wall. If you don’t know how to use a curb rein, don’t use a pelham.

And on to another common hunter option–the slow twist dee. The longer I work with horses, the less and less I like this bit. I think it has its place, and I used it on my jumper when he was very young and learning the show ropes in the hunter ring. However, I am not sure all horses react the same to this texture on the mouth bars–I think it panics some horses and actually makes them lean on the bit and take off (I think the same of corkscrews and twisted wire bits).

Now onto the bits I am currently coveting and am so curious about and want to try on Eli. Probably never will, but I can dream. First is a Bombers elliptical lock full cheek. Honestly, I have been wanting to try just about *any* Bombers bit for ages (okay, not all–they make some serious leverage bits and I don’t need that). I like the amount of thought this company puts into their work. Also, the blue sweet iron is SO PRETTY. Not that it lasts after oxidation, but whatevs.

I am also extremely curious about bauchers, and sweet iron, and copper, so why not throw it all together? Mostly just curious to see baucher action for myself on my own horse–the arguments are whether bauchers exert or relieve poll pressure. Maybe what the horse does with his head is a part of determining that? I can think about bit physics for hours.

Last, we come to the bit I have selected for Eli that I would like to try at our next show, the JP Korsteel copper ball link full cheek. So far, so good the first two times we’ve used it. I hemmed and hawed over quite a few styles–full cheek or dee, waterford or ported barrel … and settled on this. Barely more bit–just a touch more. I will probably jump him in it soon to see how it goes. I had actually tried Eli in a JP Korsteel copper lozenge dee, but the lozenge was too big for Eli and he was pretty fussy in it. I think the copper ball link is a better fit for him.

So tell me … how do you choose which bit for what horse and which discipline?

23 thoughts on “How Do You Choose a Bit?

  1. Bits are so tough.

    I have tried many on my mare, and she seemed to like some sort of poll action for a while…but now hates it. And in just a loose ring sprenger kk, shes a tad to strong.

    I actually have a bomber baucher bit, rode in it a few times but Its just a bit too big I think. I really should try it again. Horse seemed to like it….I think. The blue stuff sure wears off fast though.

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    • Oh, for sure no gags or bauchers in the hunters! The rules say a “hunter gag” is acceptable but judges can count off for it at their discretion — I am not even sure what one looks like, the half cheek gags, maybe? Basically anything that isn’t a dee, full cheek, or pelham a judge is going to think “unconventional” and at best just count off. I like the Bombers you linked to, too. And also their McHardy bits look like they might be worth a try.

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  2. I have a tough time with bits. I started Rio in the Mikmar Cupreon D ring with Lozenge because it was about as mild as they come and at $88 less expensive then the HS bits (like the one you posted). About a month and a half ago my trainer mentioned wanted to try something new- she felt he was leaning on it too much and was getting too heavy. We tried a french link D ring, which he HATED, then a Myler single jointed with a curved bars. That worked pretty well and I used it about a month. We just recently switched to a D ring corkscrew and that has been working fabulously. I think I will switch between the 2 for awhile and see how it goes!

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    • I think we all have a tough time with bits! I have heard good things about the Myler bits for horses that lean or are heavy in the bridle–I thought about picking one up for Eli, more for the tongue pressure relief. Gah, I could think about bits ALL DAY.

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  3. Up until now bitting has been duper easy. My TB goes nicely in a plain ol’ French Link (both Happy Mouth and plain metal). My 3yo OTTB seems happy enough in whatever I put in his mouth, but we haven’t done more than walk and trot so time will tell. My 5yo Warmblood mare is proving to be more difficult. She’s a nut in the French Link. Hasn’t really fully accepted a plain copper mouth snaffle. I’m thinking now of trying the level 1 Myler on her. She stays really busy with her mouth. Annoyingly busy. Maybe it is because I’ve never had a horse be so busy, but it drives me nuts. She works fine in all the bits I’ve tried, but her chompiness tells me she hasn’t loved one yet. Sigh……..

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    • Yeah, when they mouth the bit a little too much, you can’t help but think the horse is trying to get it comfortable in his mouth and can’t. Which generally makes for a super frustrating ride :/ I’ve definitely been there.

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  4. We all know that Francis is not a super sensitive soul. We spent last season in a plain single-joint full-cheek snaffle which he was quite happy in- and happy to lean on my hand and be heavy forever. It wasn’t a problem at that height so we didn’t worry about it. We still school in that at home, but at our last show we switched to a slow twist full cheek- I felt like it let me be softer and quieter with my hands to get the adjustability we needed for the bigger (to us) tracks. My trainer has ridden him in an elevator and LOVED him in that, so once I get some strength back I’m going to give that a try. He’s not really bothered by much and we don’t need brakes, just some adjustability with a softer “ask.”

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  5. I think bits might be one of my favorite training type subjects because there are just so many options that do so many things and work a little differently for each horse. It’s turning out that in Val’s case, less is more, and what he’s happiest in at the moment is a hard rubber loose ring. I think he’d like a smaller rubber piece, but is otherwise FINALLY feeling like this bit feels “safe” to him if that makes sense.

    Back in my working student days, I worked with a trainer who had a custom bit guy, and he had all kinds of crazy contraptions. Which was great, because I had a horse that was a bit of a runaway, but was too reactive in something that was just sharp, but kind of needed poll action, and it took us forever to find something that he respected but didn’t bounce off of too much. We finally settled on a hackabit with a single twisted wire and a wrapped chain under the chin, but a thin hard hackamore nose piece with the seam pointed down on his nose. It was a really severe bit, so it wasn’t a permanent solution, but it really helped him to practice good habits, and he respected it enough that I never had to do more than use my core and the lightest touch of hand to slow him in it. Eventually he practiced being good enough that we transitioned out of it into a weird ported pellham with copper rollers that worked really well and wasn’t nearly as harsh. Kinda like this thing. https://www.thierrycompany.com/products/hanoverian-copper-roller-pelham-horse-bit

    I’m all for rotating through bits until you find a sweet spot with control but also a happy horse, and while I love to keep things gentle when possible, my philosophy is that a fight isn’t pleasant for anyone, so I’d rather bit enough to prevent the conflict altogether, than have a horse and rider constantly fighting against each other. That being said, I also think we have to be careful to consider the education of the rider who will be riding in that bit, since for example a heavy hand in the hackabit could have just hand my old jumper developing a rearing problem.

    They aren’t as common as dees and full cheeks, and based on your choices I suspect Eli’s not a fan of the movement, but loose rings are a-ok in the hunter ring too, and a lot of greenies show in them.

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    • It’s true — Eli DOES NOT like loose rings, lol. And personally, I don’t like using a loose ring without bit guards, and those are for sure not okay in the hunter ring.

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      • I’m usually the same with bit guards, although our rubber one is so fat there’s no chance of pinching. If I was showing Val in our KK loose ring, I’d just pull the bit guards for our classes and then put them back. A real hassle, but whatever makes them happy right? haha.

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  6. I tried a bunch of bits on Murray in search of something that he would be happier to move into for dressage. Not to fix everything with an expensive bit and no schooling, but the right bit would obviously help.

    I rode him in an eggbutt French link with a bean to jump for a long time. Murray started to lean a bit too much, so I switched to a single jointed loop gag. The nice thing about that one was they I could easily switch away from the gag action by moving the reins. Once Murray got the idea and stopped leaning and tuning me out, I switched back to the eggbutt French link and it’s all been dreamy since.

    The same eggbutt French link was ok for dressage but my trainer said it looked too heavy for Murray. Like he was struggling to keep his mouth closed with that bit. She suggested I go to something lighter, so I tried a hollow French link. But with the fat hollow bits Murray can really, really tune me out, and I can’t rebalance him for shit. So I went back to looking for something a little thinner, and he’s been pretty happy in a thin, flat linked, loose ring French link for dressage for a while now.

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  7. Cosmo currently goes in a rubber hot dog D ring. It’s all rubber, mullen mouth, and it’s nothing, which is good for us trying to get the forward. It allows me to actually pull on him to compress without shutting him down. For shows, or extra feisty days, we have The Stubben EZ Control loose ring–just a bit more for when we need it.
    I don’t know if you know, but Mary’s offer a bit trial program. You can try MOST bits for 2 weeks for $10 (plus purchase price) and if it doesn’t work out, you can send them back for a refund (minus the $10).

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  8. I ride dressage, so my bits are fairly limited. I am also a believer in no bit being magical.
    My OTTB goes in an eggbutt similar to your D-ring. I like more than the single joint to avoid the nutcracker action. When I first got Mort off-the-track he hid from my hands no matter what, but now he’s really good about pushing into contact. He does sometimes go through my hands when he’s nervous or resisting, but I’d rather have that than a bit he still hides from. I imagine I’ll keep him in this until we want to start playing with a double (no time soon).

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  9. Well I would spout of my theories but they aren’t very educated so I’ll bit my tongue and go read up. I have both lease mare and Ries in a NS Verbindend. I think my trainer’s “go-to” is a three piece snaffle. I’m toying with the idea of starting baby horse in a rubber three piece next year but not sure if that will make him hate metal bits? Clearly I need more research. Growing up my horse and all horses just went in a copper roller snaffle D. I don’t hate them now but it definitely isn’t my first choice anymore.

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