Excerpt from upcoming book “A to Z Rider Hints” – copyright Dr. Rivkah Roth
Bits come in all kinds of materials and shapes. Here we will only mention a few, perhaps less commonly considered aspects.
Often the less experienced and less educated rider resorts to harsher bits for control. This is a highly misguided attitude. The bit does not control the horse, the rider’s seat, ability to elastically move with the horse, and her impeccable use of timing of the aids do.
A rider must be educated that every part of her body unwittingly communicates with the horse, and that it is she who contradicts herself, thus bringing out the horse’s fight against its rider.
Bits come in a variety of materials. Stainless steel, Argentan steel, and similar bits are most common, and are usually well tolerated by the horses. Hard rubber bits are considered more humane, but this is not so.
Rubber bits stick to the horse’s lips and mouth corners and may rub it severely, particularly in warmer climates or during the heat of summer. They find a use only in temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius where metal bits would freeze to the horse’s mouth.
Double jointed snaffles (lozenges) make for a decent introduction to the bit for a youngster. However, due to their symmetrical nature, they do not allow a rider to work on riding the horse between inside leg and outside rein.
This is where the classical single-jointed snaffle is unbeatable. Test it by holding each ring in its respective hand with the link of the bit pointing away from you.
Hold say the left side of the snaffle firm where it attaches to the ring. With the right hand move the ring of the loose side around the bit’s central link in the slow circles of a bending-like motion.
Subsequently repeat with the right side held firmly and the left circling around the joint of the snaffle. In one direction you will feel sloppy free motion, in the other a highly controlled movement.
Install the snaffle in the bridle with the more precise side on the side where the horse tends to be more rigid. Remember this and flip as needed.
Traditionally, the firmer side of the single-jointed snaffle was installed on the right cheek piece. This finds its cause in the classical 3:1 rein use of the double bridle – the snaffle here being called a bradoon, due to its smaller rings.
The bit must hang in the horse’s mouth as not to hit the pre-molars. However, it is equally important that a bit not be fitted too loose so as to hit the stallion teeth. And no, tightening a flash or other cavesson attachment will not keep the bit from dangling against the teeth.
The bit needs to comfortable rest on the bars. Some horses have fleshy bars. In others the bars are razor sharp without any cushioning. Latter horses tend to go best on thicker, softer bits.
The tongue, fleshy or sleek, has a use to keep a gentle chewing motion going, which in turn keeps the lower jaw from clenching and the atlas from locking.
These days new trends emerge of bit construction that often defy biomechanics. Many bits are curved as to avoid the tongue. But the riders are not schooled any better; few have been schooled to possess that angel’s hand such a bit would require.
Other than for the first month under tack as a baby, I still vote for the simple, straight single-jointed lose-ring snaffle.
copyright Rivkah Roth DO DNM
Dr. Rivkah Roth is the founder of Equiopathy and a natural health practitioner, lecturer and author with over five decades in the saddle as a correction rider (Swiss National License LMS since 1968) and many hours as a National Grand Prix and FEI C dressage judge. Student successes include professional coaches on five continents (incl. CDN/EC I to III, ISR I to III, Dutch 3rd Level Instructor, USA, AUS), 1986 Dressage World Championships alternate (CDN), 1986 National GP Kuer Champion (CDN), 1992 Barcelona Olympics Longlist 3-Day (CDN), 2002 Young Horse Dressage World Championships – Verden/GER (ISR), World Cup and WEG dressage horse (CDN), many Nat. and Provincial Champions all levels (CDN / ISR / SUI).