The Mullen extends across the horses mouth and rests on the bars, the region between the incisors and molars where there are no teeth. The bit, bridle and reins function together to give control of the horse's head to the rider.
The bit applies pressure to the horse's mouth, and reinforces the other control signals from the rider's legs and weight distribution. A well schooled horse needs little pressure on the bit from a skilled rider.
Although there are hundreds of design variations, the basic families of bits are defined by the way in which they use or do not use leverage. The port or straight piece goes inside the mouth, and the circular part lies under the jaw.
Types of headgear for horses that exert control with a nose band rather than a bit are usually called sycamores, though the term witless bridle has become a popular colloquialism in recent years. The riders of early domesticated horses probably used some type of witless headgear made of sinew, leather, or rope.
Components of the earliest headgear may be difficult to determine, as the materials would not have held up over time. There is evidence of the use of bits, located in two sites of the Bowie culture in ancient Kazakhstan, dated about 3500–3000 BC.
Nose rings appear on the equips portrayed on the Standard of Your, circa 2600–2400 BC. The first bits were made of rope, bone, horn, or hard wood.
In modern times, nickel was a favored material until about 1940, when stainless steel largely replaced it. Copper, Auriga and sweet iron (cold rolled steel) are incorporated into some bits to encourage salivation in the mouth of the horse, which encourages a softer mouth and more relaxed jaw.
Throughout history, the need for control of horses in warfare drove extensive innovation in a bit design, producing a variety of prototypes and styles over the centuries, from Ancient Greece into modern-day use. It is the sidepieces and the leverage these rings or shanks used to act on a horse's mouth that determines whether a bit is in the curb or snaffle family, and has a great impact on the severity of the mouthpiece.
Some have rollers, rings or small “keys” that the horse can move with its tongue. Various types of metal or synthetic substances are used for bit mouthpieces, which may determine how much a horse salivates or otherwise tolerates a bit ; a horse having a moist mouth is considered more relaxed and responsive.
Commonly used metals include stainless steel and nickel alloys, which generally do not rust and have a neutral effect on salivation; sweet iron, Auriga and copper, which generally tend to encourage salivation, and aluminum, which is considered drying and is discouraged as a mouthpiece metal. Synthetic mouthpieces may be made with or without internal metal cable or bar reinforcement.
Depending on the style of bit, pressure can be brought to bear on the bars, tongue, and roof of the mouth, as well as the lips, chin groove and poll. Snaffle bits most commonly have a single jointed mouthpiece and act with a nutcracker effect on the bars, tongue and occasionally roof of the mouth.
Most curb bit mouthpieces are solid without joints, ranging from a straight bar with a slight arch, called a “Mullen” mouthpiece, through a “ported” bit that is slightly arched in the middle to provide tongue relief, to the full spade bit of the Vaquero style of western riding which combines both a straight bar and a very high “spoon” or “spade” extension that contacts the roof of the mouth. The length of the shank determines the degree of leverage put on the horse's head and mouth.
Another bit that combines direct pressure and leverage uniquely is the Gag bit, a bit derived from the snaffle that, instead of having a rein attached to the mouthpiece, runs the rein through a set of rings that attach directly to the headstall, creating extra pressure on the lips and poll when applied. Usually used for correction of specific problems, the gag bit is generally illegal in the show ring and racecourse.
Because this behavior was most often seen by the public in horses who were anxious to begin a horse race in the days before the invention of the starting gate, the term has become popular in everyday speech to refer to a person who is anxious to get started or to do something. Because some impatient horses, when held back, would also occasionally rear, a related phrase, “raring to go,” is also derived from observations of equine behavior.
^ Anthony, David W. and Dorcas Brown, 2000, “Neolithic horse exploitation in the Eurasian steppes: diet, ritual and riding”, Antiquity 74: 75-86. 180–181 ^ The Francis C. Sharron Bridle Bit Museum ^ a b c Price, Steven D.
The Whole Horse Catalog: Revised and Updated New York:Fireside 1998 ISBN 0-684-83995-4 p. 149 ^ Edwards, pp. This lesson has unique sections that lead you through the learning process and can be viewed sequentially or in a random order.
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A bit selection is influenced by a variety of factors, including the style of riding and traditional bit use, the rider’s ability, the level of the horse’s training, and the intended use of the horse. For example, stock seat horses are ridden mostly with curb bits, with riders placing one hand on the reins and no rein contact on the horse’s mouth unless applying a specific cue.
Inexperienced or incorrectly trained horses may be confused and respond adversely to the type or intensity of pressure applied by some bits. Readers are encouraged to continue their education by receiving hands-on instruction from experienced professionals and by reading and viewing the many resource materials that have been developed on training horses.
By doing so, riders will gain a better understanding of the training process and how bit use and selection can assist in achieving their riding goals. That pressure can be on the bridge of the nose, under the chin, corners of the mouth, tongue, bars, palate, or poll.
A sycamore is designed to exert pressure on the bridge of the nose and under the chin of the horse’s head. The headstall of a sycamore also applies pressure to the horse’s head behind the ears (poll).
Basal sycamores are used in training young horses in the stock seat discipline. There are several variations to the basic basal, such as a side pull sycamore that places the rein attachment to the side of the horse’s face, thus lessening chin pressure and increasing lateral pull.
Mechanical sycamores are used to enforce a stop or a slowing action in activities such as roping and speed events. Mechanical sycamores limit lateral pull, even when single rein cues are applied.
True snaffles are constructed so the bridle headstall and reins are attached to rings positioned on the outside of the horse’s mouth. Ring snaffles apply direct pressure from the reins to the horse’s mouth.
Most ring snaffles have jointed mouthpieces to intensify the pressure on the corners of the horse’s mouth. Snaffles apply a simple type of direct pressure when used correctly and are mild enough to use with frequent reinforcements.
Most Western showing requires that older horses perform in curb bits. Even so, snaffles are commonly used as a training tool throughout the life of horses ridden Western style because of the advantages of snaffle action when applying frequent reinforcements or when conducting riding activities that require constant slight mouth pressure.
In general, curbs are designed to be used with no rein contact unless the rider is applying a specific cue. When reins are pulled, the action of the mouthpiece and curb strap tighten on various locations in and around a horse’s mouth.
Curb A bit construction is modified to apply varying amounts of pressure on the tongue, lips, bars, roof of the mouth, and, by way of the chinstrap and headstall, under the chin and over the poll on the horse’s head. Curbs are used on horses trained previously with snaffles to respond to direct and neck rein cues.
Bits are constructed to vary the location, intensity, and type of rein pressure. The attachment, length, and shape of the shanks, the angle of the mouthpiece in relation to the shanks, the amount of release allowed by the curb strap, and the shape and angle of the port and bars of the mouthpiece affect the amount and distribution of rein pressure from curb bits.
Curb bit shanks and snaffle rings may be flattened or round and engraved or inlaid with precious metals (silver or gold) for aesthetic value. Some mouthpieces are twisted, rolled, or flattened to cause variations in intensity of pressure.
The rings on the outer portion of a snaffle bit function to position the mouthpiece and allow attachment of the headstall and reins. Variations in ring diameter and shape influence the location and intensity of rein pressure.
Smaller ring diameters may allow the mouthpiece to be misaligned with the mouth when using a single rein or lateral pull. Port shapes vary, including rounded, flattened, rolled, and covered.
Port heights and widths vary to allow for differences in the amount of tongue relief and pressure on the upper palate. The mouthpiece-shank junction may be welded solid or be attached with a sleeve or hinge that allows some flexibility.
Bits that are loose-shanked, sleeved, or hinged at the mouthpiece-shank junction allow for the initial part of the rein pressure to be exerted more gradually. Altering the placement, weight, and shape of the shanks and mouthpiece affects the pressure exerted on the tongue and bars and the balance of curb bits.
Balance can be determined by laying an unattached bit on your fingers, which are positioned under each end of the mouthpiece. Applying large amounts of rein pressure when cueing a horse for an initial response, will increase the frequency of undesirable responses from the horse and limit his ability to learn additional tasks.
Applying single episodes of long-term pressure encourages resistance and avoidance of cues. Horses in the beginning stages of training should be accustomed to the bit and taught to respond to rein pressure before being ridden.
One way to do this is to tie the reins from a snaffle bridle to a batting harness so small amounts of pressure are applied to the horse’s mouth until the horse responds acceptably by giving in to the rein pressure. Ground driving employs the use of long lines attached to a ring snaffle bit.
Horses can be taught to stop, back up, and guide with direct rein pressure before being ridden for the first time. Bits can be constructed in different ways to assist in training horses for specific tasks.
Most of the differences not discussed in this module are intended to increase the severity or intensity of pressure a bit exerts. Regardless of personal preferences or aesthetic appeal, most horse experts agree it’s important that bits be functionally correct and that the rider understands how particular bits exert pressure and how a horse should respond.
And above all, it’s important to remember that the hands of the rider affects the function of the bit more than a particular construction variation.