Bit talk

Gina

I spent the weekend at a dressage show in Tulsa, which was both fun and exhausting. I was working at the tack shop’s mobile unit, and the most popular items by far were bits.

It seems like there are lots of opinions and ideas about which bits to use, how they should fit, and what brands are best. I’m not the be-all, end-all of bitting advice, but I do have some general tips for finding a good bit for your horse.

Gina
Gina models a loose ring.

Type
In dressage, many people choose loose ring snaffles. This isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but remember that a loose ring snaffle allows for a lot of input. If your horse is green, it might be overwhelmed by the cues transmitted by your hands. If you’re a rider with unsteady or inexperienced hands, you may be inadvertently sending mixed signals to your horse. A fixed cheek snaffle like an eggbutt or full cheek might be a better choice. A fixed cheek bit moves less and can aid you in giving clearer signals to your horse.

Fit
Fit is by far the thing that people struggle with the most. It seems like most riders are deeply concerned about finding a bit that isn’t too small; in reality, a bit that’s too large can be just as painful as a bit that’s too small. A too-large bit will slide across the bars of the horse’s mouth every time you move the reins to turn. Don’t be fooled into thinking your horse needs a bigger bit because his lips are squished against the bit rings- on fixed cheek bits you want a snug fit! (This goes for curb bits on a double bridle, snaffles, and everything else!) Bits are designed to sit on the bars of a horse’s mouth; your horse’s jawbones are narrower than you think. Loose ring snaffles need some clearance (about 1/8″ on each side) to prevent pinching.

Brand
High quality bits are expensive, and that sucks. Most quality bits are made by manufacturers who use expensive materials like copper and spend money on things like research and development. Copper blends are a popular bit material because horses seem to like them; a copper bit will warm to the temperature of the horse’s mouth quickly and will maintain that temperature. Stainless steel bits stay cool. Herm Sprenger and Neue Schule are two quality brands that make a variety of sizes and styles.

Here’s what I use on my own horses:

  • Moe has a thick, single-jointed, stainless steel 5″ D-ring snaffle that I use for dressage. He has a slightly thinner, single-jointed, copper roller 5″ D-ring snaffle for jumping. A 5″ fixed cheek bit fits Moe really well.
  • Gina has 5.5″ French-link eggbutt snaffle for hunting and hacking. I alternate between a 6″ single-jointed copper baucher and a 6″ stainless steel, French-link loose ring snaffle for dressage. Both 6″ bits are too big for Gina, and I’m looking to replace them with something a little smaller.

What bitting advice do you have? Are there bits your horse really likes or really hates?

23 Replies to “Bit talk”

  1. I tried all kinds with Tesla – and a french link 14mm KK loose ring (a bradoon I think, judging from the ring size) is by far her favourite 🙂

    1. It’s funny how they’ll tell you what they like!

  2. Funny that you say this because I’ve recently realized that Paige prefers my fixed eggbutt to a loose ring snaffle. I only realized because one of my western reins broke so I’ve been riding western, but with my english bridle that I keep the eggbutt on. I guess it looks more like an english bit? So now I’ve got the eggbutt on the western headstall. haha.

    1. Moe HATES loose rings! I was borrowing one for a while and he was very unhappy. I think the input is way too much for him; he’s much happier with his D-ring.

  3. Nilla has a brass bit. I don’t know where I got it and I’ve had it for 10+ years. I cannot find it online and I can’t figure out how someone else would get one. She still hates it, but it is, by far, her favorite bit. Her reaction to other bits is not at all subtle. I’d really like to try a baucher, but I’ve never seen another brass bit let alone a brass gaucher.

    1. How interesting! The Herm Sprenger Aurigan material is basically brass with a little bit of silicone mixed it; if you haven’t tried it, it may be worth a shot. They make a baucher in a 16mm thickness, but it’s kind of limited on size (5″, 5.25″, 5.5″).

      1. I just don’t have it in me to spend 200$ on a bit.

        1. Supposedly the baucher has no poll action, but Tesla seemed to think otherwise!

        2. It IS a stupid price and you almost never see them listed for less than $150 used, either. Sprenger also has minimum pricing requirements for stockists, which means they’re never on sale.

          1. you can find used KKs on eBay for $50-$80 on the regular if you don’t mind a used bit. i’ve bought and sold a TON that way! (since pretty much every horse i ride gets put in a KK unless they indicate it’s not for them haha – what can i say, i’m a creature of habit!)

  4. Great points all around. I love how you mention that loose rings aren’t the best choice for everyone. Every time I go to look at bits it seems like so many of the mouthpiece options only come in loose ring versions and I find it frustrating since I know an egg-butt works better for me and Kachina.

    Right now I use a super thick single jointed eggbutt snaffle. I’ve been looking for a double jointed snaffle for Kachina but as above, most of the ones I’ve seen only come in loose ring, and the eggbutt options I have found all seem to be too thin or have joints that pinch or move weirdly. I finally found one online for a good price that looks promising so I ordered it on Friday.

    I’d ideally like copper or a copper-blend, but I don’t find material is as important as shape or size so I’m settling for stainless steel. My current bit is stainless steel and she doesn’t seem to have a problem salivating with it.

    1. I think the dressage community gets fixated on loose ring snaffles. I don’t know why. They’re definitely not the best choice for everyone!

      Moe definitely salivates more in the copper roller bit than in the stainless steel one, but Gina’s about the same regardless of what’s in her mouth.

  5. So this totally made me realize something. I generally school in a french like loose ring but show in an HS french link snaffle. I like that I can be picky in my schools but shows are very solid and have very clear aids to avoid confusion. I just bought a Nuue Schuele veribend bit that I really enjoy to school in. Thinking about trying it at a show and comparing it to my eggbut. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    1. The verbindend is a great bit, it’s super for horses that have a tendency to get heavy or like to lean on the bit! You should definitely try it to see how it compares to the eggbutt.

  6. I know a lot of people like to preach that a three piece bit is the best evarrr and anything else is tortureee, but Bobby hates them. He goes in a fat single jointed eggbutt for dressage and a skinny single jointed eggbutt for jumping. Most boring bits ever.

    1. YES! This is an excellent point. A three piece bit isn’t always the best- some horses really don’t like the bean in the middle. Moe doesn’t like them either- he fusses with the bit way more when it’s double jointed.

  7. This is all great info! It’s so funny how even soft bits can make them so upset, like a loose ring on a green horse. Val usually goes in an oval link loose ring, and when my bridle was forgotten, I threw him in an eggbutt that was otherwise the same and he had a fit over it. Horses are so silly.

    1. The loose ring on a green horse is one of my personal pet peeves, but I see it all the time! I appreciate the sentiment- that people want a gentle bit on their greenie- but for the love of god, put on a D ring or a full cheek! It will make everyone’s life easier!

      I do think it’s funny how some horses are so particular. They really are ridiculous.

  8. I’ve been reading up on bits myself lately, mostly just out of curiosity. I think sometimes understanding the different cheekpieces and their functions is an overlooked part of horsemanship — and it’s SO important! Bitting your horse properly leads to so much success.

    1. I agree- it is kind of overlooked for whatever reason! I think people often think, “Oh, my trainer uses this bit” or “My friend uses this bit” or “Everyone else at this show is riding in a D-ring” and don’t really dig into what bit might be a better fit for their horse. I’m guilty of this, too. When I bought Moe he was going in a D-ring, so I just kept him going in a D-ring without ever really questioning it. It’s worked out, and he prefers it over a loose ring or even an eggbutt, but I wonder if I’d experimented a bit more when I was younger if there would be something he’d like better.

  9. I feel like an odd duck out because I have a loose ring snaffle I call my “magic bit” because it has worked so well for every horse I’ve put it on. It’s super simple, single link, heavier than you’d expect and pretty narrow (16mm). Honestly, I would be keen to try a 14mm but they’re hard to find, and they definitely don’t cost 15$, which is what I paid for the magic bit. It’s so interesting to experiment with bits, as well as nosebands… I never expected my horses to be so opinionated but they definitely are!

    1. Lots of horses like a loose ring! Gina seems to prefer to the baucher I have, though it could be because the loose ring is a double jointed bit and the baucher is a single jointed bit.

  10. I just heard a throwback piece on Horse Radio Network’s Dressage podcast and so many of the things you said here were exactly what they said in the podcast, which was super neat! And then I heard that the interviewee was someone from The Horse Of Course and that made me smile. 🙂

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