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The bit is the key to the horse

The bit truly is the key to the horse. A good functional relationship between the rider and the horse requires careful analysis of any problems without a knee jerk reaction to trying to fix them. Horses are personalities in their own right and how you successfully control them, whether in horse racing, show jumping or just a sunday afternoon ride is not just about the bit. It is how you, your horse and the bit work together. Don't forget it might be you that is the problem and not the horse. In this article we will investigate the ins and outs of what different horse bits bring to this relationship, plus how you and the horse need to work in synergy .

For a working relationship between the rider and the horse the bit is essential to the success of that relationship , and finding the correct type of bit can be a challenge and often achieved more through luck than judgement .

By associating specific behaviour traits in the horse with features available in the variety of horse bits , one can become more sure about the bit you choose, however perfectly categorising horse bits and their specific function is difficult.  Many of the features of horse bits are often mixed together to form new varieties, however for our purposes in this article we will create some broad definitions that will form the basis of future discussion.

What follows is a brief overview of horse bit types.

Snaffles are what are called direct pressure bits. When the rider pulls back on the rein, that force is applied directly to the bit. This style of bit is particularly useful when training a new horse but it can be used at anytime.

Curbs bits are different to snaffles and rely on leverage . The physical construction of the bit is designed to generate leverage amplifying the force applied by the rider . The longer the bit shank or cheek length the more force will be generated . Compared to Snaffles, Curb bits are more severe so  best used in the hands of a more experienced rider whom has developed a controlled touch.

"Combo Bits" .  The snaffle and curb effect can be found in one bit with some bits such as Pelhams and Gags.

To complement these basic principles of horse control there are a wide variety of bit attributes giving great flexibility to the knowledgeable rider looking to address particular issues with their horse.  As an example the swales 3-in-1 bit offers a number of combinations of features.  The swales is popular with riders with strong horses.  This controlling force is applied through a curbing action and can be varied by choosing a specific shank length.

One can also choose different materials for the bit, for example copper tends to cause the horse to salivate and can lead the horse to being more responsive to the bits action. On the other hand a rubber bit is a gentler bit and often a good idea for the younger horse as they are being conditioned to respond to the will of the rider and the action of the bit.

A stronger bit might subsequently be necessary if the rubber bit is not allowing sufficient control such as when the horse gets bigger or more canny.  However if the horse works well with the soft bit do not feel obliged to change as the horse gets older. If it works leave it be unless you are a professional looking to gain a specific competitive advantage .

Modifying port height in the bit is another variable you might consider. The height of the port can allow more room for the tongue but when the reins are pulled more force is put on the horse's palate e.g. High Port Pelham. So in this case very careful evaluation of your requirements is recommended so that you do not injure your horse .

To summarise one can physically control the horse with direct or indirect force. Also the bit can be modified to provide more or less force depending on the horse.  The behaviour of the horse can be affected by adjustments to the mouth piece form and even what it is made from e.g. copper or rubber.

In future articles we will look at some typical behavioural issues with horses that can be addressed by using different bit forms.  However remember your horse is a animal that deserves love and respect and one should not simply apply general rules in a prescriptive way .  Your horse cannot talk but he is definitely trying to help you solve your problem.

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