Use them as a guide, read the product descriptions of the bits listed, and consider them as they might apply to your particular issues and training that you are also undertaking. Consider what sport of discipline you have in mind for your horse in the future, and use that to help guide your choices.
A mouthpiece around 16 mm is a great place to start, and 14 mm is the thinnest permitted for young horse dressage classes- and most trainers would not use anything thinner than this on a greenhouse. I generally suggest the use of the egg butt or other fixed cheek- you can read more about the benefits of this over a loose ring bit on my previous blog post here.
It can be a nice bit to start in, as your aids are very direct, there is not a lot for the horse to play with and the slightly bendy plastic can be more forgiving than a metal mouthpiece. A lovely bit, very nicely weighted, and with a flatter egg butt cheek to sit more like a Dee.
The Minos Vision Balancer Dee Gentle curved, with a mouthpiece along similar lines to the loose ring Team Up. Again, this bit is nicely weighted, the slightly larger Dee rings sit flush against the sides of the face, giving the rider the benefits of full cheek, but without the worry of the pointy bars.
The single join is much maligned, but a lot of horses do simply go better in them than a lozenge style, so it is not to be discounted! You can add FM keepers to steady the mouthpiece further should you wish, plus control the full cheek bars a little for safety.
This is quite a fine mouthpiece at 10 mm, but for most of the smaller ponies this is a very comfortable thickness for them as they simply do not have as much room between the upper and lower jaws as the horses do. The first bit a horse carries in its mouth when beginning training should be as mild and as comfortable as possible.
If you’re headed for the dressage ring, your horse will eventually carry both a snaffle and curb a bit at the same time. That’s a personal choice, but it’s wise to consider that in spite of your best intentions to keep your horse forever, dire circumstances may mean you may have to part with it.
A horse will appeal to a wider number of people and have a better chance at a good home if it is able to go in both a fitted and witless bridle. A young horse will chew and champ on the bit, and perhaps at first rub its head to get rid of this new and annoying thing in its mouth.
The first choice will probably be a jointed snaffle bit with smallish rings that would be unlikely to catch on anything if the horse does try to rub its face. Quite often, though, these mouthpieces are thicker than a metal bit and can be quite bulky in a young horse's mouth.
If you want to add flavor to make biting a more pleasant experience, it's easy to smear on a bit of molasses, jam, or honey. Because the curb bit acts on the horse’s mouth, chin, and head, it can be overwhelming.
The shanks are also a hazard if the horse tries to rub the bit, or its head, against objects in its environment. If you're starting your young horse in the wintertime, make sure the bit is warm.
Bits are one of the most Misunderstood pieces of horse equipment man has ever invented. The things that people think they're supposed to do with a bit in a horse's mouth are unbelievable.
A rocket engine is controlled by tiny bits of information being fed one at a time by a computer. The bits flow in a pattern called a program that the rocket understands.
All it needs are tiny bits of information fed to it with the right timing to get with the program. The bit must be shaped in such a way and fit properly within the mouth, so horse is able to understand what the communication is.
Depending on its shape and adjustment, a bit can also put pressure on the horse's lips and on the roof of its mouth. The thinner the bit, the less contact area it has and the greater the pounds per square in of pressure.
The thicker the bit, the greater the contact area and the lower the pounds per square inch of pressure. So the effective size of the mouthpiece is the first thing to look at because it will determine how noticeable the pressure you apply will be.
Rough bit surfaces such as twists reduce the area where pressure is felt much like rough tread reduces a tire's surface area where it meets the road. The second thing to look at is whether the mouthpiece is straight or whether it is shaped, so it relieves the pressure on the tongue.
The bars are the only places in the mouth we can use to communicate an understandable directional pressure. If the mouthpiece is hinged or grooved, so it relieves pressure on the tongue, the bit is more noticeable on the bars of the mouth and gives more directional guidance.
A port is a raised groove or attached spoon so tall that it puts pressure on the roof of the mouth when the shanks of the bit are rotated by pulling on the reins. Leverage decreases the amount of time it takes for the horse to feel a bit pressure.
Because of this exaggerated pressure and release, curb bits impede true feel and understanding between you and your horse. If you use a thick leather strap, the pressure is more noticeable on the bars of the mouth.
The bit is only part of the overall corridor of aids you used to create the shapes you want the horse to take. Whenever you see a horse fighting the bit, he has lost feeling for the rest of the aids.
Instructor and trainer Ron Meredith has refined his horse logical” methods for communicating with equines for over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Center : Rt. 1 Box 66, Waverley, WV 26184; 1-800-679-260; an ACCEPT accredited equestrian educational institution.
To my way of thinking, a horse should be ridden in the mildest bit that he will respond to for the job which he is intended to do. The more pressure or abrasiveness the horse’s mouth is subjected to, the quicker it will toughen and lose its sensitivity.
Ideally, you want both… an educated mouth that responds and is sensitive to light pressure. With that idea in mind, a green colt will usually be ridden with an o-ring snaffle that has a smooth 7/16” mouthpiece.
And you stay with that mild bit until the colt doesn’t respond to it well enough anymore. Generally, the horse should stay in some form of o-ring snaffle a bit until he is well along in his training.
Ideally, the horse should be taught to do everything that you want him to while being ridden in the snaffle bit. Curb bits are for refining the training that you have accomplished with the snaffle.
He should be in a snaffle bit while he learns to stop, turn and rate the cow. I believe the snaffle bit is the best tool for teaching a horse how to position himself and use his body correctly.
Any performance horse needs to learn to give his head to the direct rein, move his shoulders off the indirect rein and position his rib cage and hindquarters from leg pressure. Be aware, I no longer sell these bits on my website as my suppler has retired.
Most horses are going to need a snaffle with a thinner mouthpiece, so I’ll go to my absolute favorite snaffle… My favorite training snaffle has a thin, smooth mouthpiece that is 3/16” in diameter.
I love this bit because it gets the desired results but isn’t harsh or abrasive to the horse’s mouth. These twisted-wire bits have some “bite” to them and will convince even an older, hard mouthed horse to respond and lighten up.
Even though it works well, be aware that a “twisted” mouthpiece is abrasive and can sore a horse’s mouth if it’s used too many days in a row or too harshly. I recommend riding the horse with it for one or two days to lighten him up and then switch back to the smooth-wire snaffle.
If you want to try a piece of equipment that DOES HELP a horse learn to give to your hands, supple-up and flex at the poll… use a German martingale. Again, as soon as the horse lightens up and is responding well, I’ll switch back to a milder bit.
The practice of using a stronger bit to lighten a horse up and then switching back to a milder bit for everyday riding, works really well to preserve the horse’s mouth while keeping him working right. Transition bits are the stepping stones between the greenhouse and the finished horse.
When I feel the horse is ready to leave the o-ring snaffle, I’ll move up to a mild transition bit. (Billy Allen was a top trainer who invented this mouthpiece many years ago.
The reason why is that the Billy Allen mouthpiece moves and is flexible similar to a snaffle. The difference is, the Billy Allen mouthpiece has a roller that is molded over the middle joint.
The horse gets the feel of a mouthpiece that is almost solid like a regular curb bit yet still has some flex to it. This semi-solid mouthpiece gives you a lot of control without scaring or worrying the horse.
This is also the primary bit I used to teach a horse to neck rein. However, most horses will eventually need to be moved up into a regular, solid-mouthpiece, curb bit.
For those horses, the next bit I’ll use will be a low-port mouthpiece with 8” loose shanks (cheeks). I like using the low port as the horse’s first solid mouthpiece because is relatively mild.
The bit pressure is more evenly distributed over the tongue and bars of the horse’s mouth. The loose shanks make it much easier to take a horse’s head to the side and get lateral flexion.
After the horse gets farther along in his training, then solid shanks can be used with good results. I’ll ride a horse for a while with this low-port curb bit and see how he responds with it.
From this point on, it’s just a matter of experimenting with different bits to see what the horse responds to best. Keep in mind, all through the training and batting process, if I run into a problem, I’ll sometimes go back to an o-ring snaffle to iron out the trouble and regain the horse’s confidence.
Usually, a few rides in the snaffle fixes the horse up, and I can go back to the curb bit. Every time I go back to a milder bit to reward the horse for good performance, he cheats me and won’t work right.
Either they refuse to lighten up at all or they will get light for a while and then revert to being heavy. Yes, I want the horse to have a lot of respect for that tuning bit, but I don’t want him so afraid of it that it worries him.
Remember, a horse that is scared or worried will not work to his full potential. He’ll be tentative and prone to make mistakes due to his nervousness.
This bit has some leverage to it, but it’s still easy to get lateral flexion because the shanks are loose. I should also mention, on some heavier horses, I’ll use a curb chain with this bit that has more bite to it than the usual one that I use.
Reining & cutting horse trainer, Larry Rocha Larry Rocha lives in Salt, California where he trains horses for the public.