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Bits are for controlling the speed of the horse, containing the impulsion created by the rider's seat and leg, for turning and stopping. Some bits are good at one and not as good at others. Riders often expect too much of bits, thinking immediately that a Horse that is difficult to stop or turn must have a bitting problem. There are a lot of other things to be taken into consideration.
Bits can be placed into distinct categories depending upon which of these seven areas they act upon and in what combination.
The snaffle/bradoon group only acts upon the areas within the mouth i.e. corners, bars tongue and in some cases the roof. The snaffles give little flexion of the poll or the lower jaw and the movement results in an upward raising of the head. Loose ring cheeks encourage mouthing and Eggbutt cheeks avoid pinching to the lips and spoon cheeks help to prevent the bit being pulled straight in the mouth as well as aiding direction of young horses.
The gag has many variations but they all work in the same way moving upwards in the horses mouth thus putting pressure on the corners and upper bars thus raising the head. This range includes the American gag with its wide variety of mouthpieces.
A curb bit is used in conjunction with a snaffle to achieve a better positioning of the head. The curb bit will exert pressure on the poll, curb groove and directly onto the bars. The combination helps to lower the head with flexion of the poll and lower jaw.
The pelham group of bits attempts to achieve the same end as a double bit using only one bit - works on a variety of points of control within the mouth as well as the poll and curb groove. Not accepted in many competitions it is very popular especially in jumping and hunting. The Four Ring bit, known by a variety of names most notably the Dutch gag, is included in this section as its action most closely resembles that of the pelhams.
This mouthpiece actively encourages a horse to move towards, and push his tongue against, the bit. Very useful for a horse that needs confidence to go forward and take up more contact. The softer the material the more encouragement is given. The draw back to a straight bar or Mullen mouthpiece is that you loose the ability to use only one side of the bit, especially for turning because as soon as you use one rein the other side of the bit will move to some degree as well.
These notes on bit action are provided as a guide only and do not imply that a particular bit will always have the same effect on every horse. The Horse Bit Bank and Abbey Bits take no responsibility for the use of any bit detailed on this site and make no claim as to their suitability for any use whatsoever.
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