History of the Horse Bit
Never to be over looked a basic essential to riding a horse is controlling it. The bit is key here. Well the bit and bridle or head-stall work hand in hand. The bit was originally made from rope and sinew, wood or bones, if there was a bit at all. Metal bits where originally made of bronze around 1200 BC. Nickel was used until around 1940's when it was replaced by stainless steel. Now a days bits come in all sizes and shapes and flavors. Copper, aurigan, and cold rolled steel (sweet iron) are added to encourage the horse to salivate, and rubber or plastic are also used. Bits have worked on the same mechanism since their invention, a combinations of pressure and leverage.
Parts of Bit
Types of Bits
There are three main categories for bits. The snaffle, the curb and a gag style bit. It is often said that the snaffle is the mildest bit but the truth is any bit is only as good as the hands that control it. In hard or harsh hands even a snaffle can be harsh. The major way to define what kind of bit is what is by the action the bit provides on the horse.
The snaffle bit usually made up of some kind of bars and rings, some are thicker or could have a twist to the shape of the mouthpiece.
The snaffle applies direct pressure to the bars, tongue and corners of the mouth.
The curb bit is a lever type bit. The bit acts as a fulcrum and applies pressure to the mouth, the poll and the chin groove. The longer the shank the more lever action is applied.
All curbs have a curb chain across the back. A Kimberwick is considered a curb, so is the Tom Thumb bit.
The gag bit, as name implies adds a gag action to what ever mouthpiece is used. Gag bits come in snaffle like design as well as curb or a mix of both. The bit will rest on rings or slots that when pulled causes leverage by sliding the bit up in the horses mouth.
There are other combinations of bridles and bits in the world, the full, Weymouth, or double bridle feature both a snaffle and a curb. A bosal or hackamore style bridle has no bit but does apply pressure to the bridge of the horses nose. These could be called bit-less bridles.
Bits are designed to work by pressure and not pain. It is very important the bit is appropriate to the horse and its needs and that it does fit properly. Different styles can offer varying degrees of communication and control between the horse and rider.
To ensure the proper size and adjustment for the bit follow these simple rules:
Horse should have 1-3 wrinkles in lips when the bridle is on and bit is in mouth.
Double check inside the horses mouth to see that the bit lies on the bars of the gums and that after a ride there is no red or irritated areas.
Badly fitted bits cause sores at the sides of the horse's mouth from rubbing.