There is quite an array of bit types and variations, each made to apply pressure to a horse in a specific manner. All bits are designed to control a horse through this applied pressure, meaning pain.
There exists the argument that when properly fitted and controlled, even the most severe of bit styles can transmit subtle, nuanced signals to a horse without any pain. Additionally, the mouthpiece of the trigeminal action bit hits the horse’s palate and squeezes down on his or her tongue.
The joint of a dental bit also hits the horse’s palate when pressure is applied on the reins, causing the inferior alveolar nerve and infroarbital nerve to transmit pain signals. Horses will often insert their tongue in between the bit joint and the roof of their mouth in an attempt to escape this pain.
The four most frequently cited effects were to instill fear, to make the horse fight back, to trigger a flight response, and to cause facial neuralgia (head shaking). However, the responses were not limited to the oral cavity, for they included a whole cascade of systemic effects.
Dr. Cook’s studies show that the impact of bits reaches far beyond a horse’s mouth. He advocates natural horsemanship using a witless bridle and his analysis of the impact of bits is from the perspective of bettering the riding experience.
They will also shake their head and perform other neurotic behaviors in an effort to stop the pain. “Whichever way a person tries to argue, science can lay the truth on the table.
When behavioral problems arise with riding horses, owners undoubtedly will search for solutions. According to recent study results, the bit could be the cause of more behavioral problems and ailments than many owners currently recognize.
Cook suggests that if behavioral problems arise in riding horses, owners and trainers should consider the bit as a cause along with other possibilities. It is embarrassing to tell the sales person, who often looks as if he just won the national reining finals, that all you know about bits is that they are supposed to turn the horse left and right, and make him whoa.
The reins are attached to the ends of the levers and when pulled the levers swing back and pressure is applied to the tongue and bars of the mouth, while a chin strap or chain applies pressure underneath the jaw. Shown is a full cheek snaffle bit with a French link or “dog bone” mouthpiece.
If there is a raised “port” in the mouthpiece, it will give some tongue relief and apply pressure to the roof of the mouth if it is high enough. The amount of curve in the shanks also plays a role: the straighter the shanks, the more pressure is applied. The purpose of having the port drive up and touch the roof of the mouth is to cue the trained horse for the desired response.
Thinner mouthpieces, for example a one-quarter inch twisted wire bit, are simply too harsh and can damage the horse’s mouth. Trail riders may choose to spend their entire careers using a snaffle bit, but many prefer a medium thanked, medium port curb bit like this one simply because it offers extra control and safety under difficult circumstances.
Do not progress to a curb bit until the horse is responding to indirect pressure (neck reining) and body cues. This means that the horse is calm and responds softly to cued stops, lateral flexion, riding straight between the reins, and backing up. When choosing a bit for early training, you need to use a snaffle bit as you are applying direct pressure.
Does this mean that you should use a longer shank and a mouthpiece with a high port, like a spade bit for example, to increase control on a difficult horse? The reason that many trail riders and trail riding operations use a curb bit is primarily for control and safety. Horses can become spooked, irrational, and defiant, and a curb bit simply offers more control and safety in these difficult moments.
Extreme ports are for well-trained horses ridden by riders who apply very subtle cues to get the desired response. If your trail horse is defying you, it has other issues such as a lack of respect or a high maintenance personality, and needs more training time in a controlled environment like in a round pen or on a lunge line.
You need to go back to basic training for unruly and stiff horses, not a more extreme bit or a mechanical sycamore. Avoid aluminum and cheap plated mouthpieces as they do not encourage salivation or taste good to the horse.
We are mindful of the width of the bit so that it is not narrow and pinching the mouth, and not wide and sloppy. Rollers are meant to entertain or calm a horse, not to increase or decrease the severity of the bit.
They vary in construction and quality, and need to be adjusted and used properly as they can encourage horses to become stiff if not used correctly. Bitless bridles and non-mechanical sycamores are wonderful for both training and trail riding, but they are a separate science and need to be studied before you use them. For a few years I used a short thanked curb a bit with a jointed mouthpiece commonly called a Tom Thumb.
Their job is to provide entertainment or activity to occupy or calm the horse, and to encourage salivation. If I happen to have one I will use it, but see no real advantage, and at times a horse who constantly fusses with one may be a bit of a nuisance.
Even though you are not supposed to plow rein or apply direct pressure on a curb bit there are times in the life of a trail rider when you will. Suddenly the calmness, disposition, and training of your trusty trail companion shines through, or perhaps it lets you down harshly.
The bit you choose for trail riding may not be as important as how you use it, and your horse’s training and disposition. This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Pacific & Prairie Horse Journal.
A horse wearing an English bridle with a snaffle bit, the end of which can be seen just sticking out of the mouth. It usually refers to the assembly of components that contacts and controls the horses mouth, and includes the shanks, rings, cheek pads and Mullen, all described here below, but it also sometimes simply refers to the Mullen, the piece that fits inside the horses mouth.
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. 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. Bits also can be made of other materials such as rubber or plastic, sometimes in combination with metals.
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.
Improper use of a bit can cause considerable pain to a horseshoe mouthpiece of the bit does not rest on the teeth of the horse, but rather rests on the gums or “bars” of the horse's mouth in an interdental space behind the front incisors and in front of the back molars. 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. CS1 main: archived copy as title (link) Definition ^ a b Edwards, E. Hartley, Saddlery, Country Life Limited, England, 1966 ^ a b Price, Steven D.
The Whole Horse Catalog: Revised and Updated New York:Fireside 1998 ISBN 0-684-83995-4 p. 153 ^ a b Howling, Kelly. “ ^ Anthony, David W. and Dorcas Brown, 2000, “Neolithic horse exploitation in the Eurasian steppes: diet, ritual and riding”, Antiquity 74: 75-86.