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.
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 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.
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?