We all run into the same problem at some point and time, that daunting, intimidating and sometimes frustrating process of buying a new bit. There are thousands of choices out there, snaffles, straight, ported, chains, gags.......... as well as hundreds of options inside of those options.
So where do you start?????
1. Start at the top.....the horse. What is the horses personality, demeanor....how does the horse handle? Is He/She sensitive on the tongue, bars, or roof of the mouth?
These are all factors that play into the selection process and every horse is different.
A horse with a harder mouth is going to use a more aggressive bit and vice versa.
A COMMON MISCONCEPTION IS THAT IF A HORSE IS NOT WORKING WELL WE NEED A STONGER/OR SHARPER BIT, THIS IS NOT THE CASE, WHEN YOU ARE HAVING TROUBLE WITH THE BIT IT IS BEST TO STEP DOWN THE SEVERITY OF THE BIT FIRST!! This will make a big difference in your riding and treatment of your horse.
Signs Of a Horse Having Bit Trouble:
Shaking their head
Opening their Mouth wide to evade the bit
Putting the Tongue over the Bit
Lifting or Dropping the Head violently when pressure is applied
Chewing heavily on the Bit
Trying to Escape the Bit in General
Example: If you have a horse that has a sensitive hard palette (Roof Of The Mouth) you do not want to have a bit that will touch the roof. If you have a horse with an extremely sensitive tongue you are going to want a bit with plenty of tongue relief ( a wide port or tongue spanning bit)
2. What are you doing with the horse?
Determine what it is that you need the horse to do and where you need their head to be. Different styles of bits are going to give you different head placement and body control. Some bits lift, some drop. This is why certain bits are common in certain disciplines. (always check rules and regulations for the event in which you are competing) Solid mouthed, and corrections are common in Cutting Horses. Chain bits and Corrections are common in Rope Horses.
If you are Roping or Running Barrels you will want a bit that allows the horse to rate, stop, slow and flex smoothly, Therefor we want a bit that has a lot of free motion. Usually a broken mouthpiece or a chain style bit. If you are in an event that relies more on small sharp movements you are going to want something usually fairly solid with some weight to it, so your signals can be direct and easily felt. Also bits with longer shanks are going to have more leverage and bits with a shorter shank will have less leverage with a faster response time.
Example: A cutter is probably not going to show in a long shank chain bit, the swing of the bit would cause unwanted movement in the horse and a team roper is probably not going to rope in a large cathedral style spade. When roping we sometimes tend to pull and jerk in the excitement of it all. This is where the chain bits come in. They still have a lot of feel but are much more forgiving.
3.RIDER.....who is using the bit?
This is where the Rider comes in as well THE BIT IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE PERSON OPPERATING IT. This is where we really have to be honest with ourselves, how are our hands? Some of us can feel the horse very soft and others of us like to pull! WHICH ARE YOU???? Be very honest because rough hands on the wrong bit can be very dangerous to the horse. If you are someone with very soft hands and you use a bit that requires a lot of pull it also makes it very difficult for you to get your point across with too mild of a bit. So judge yourself honestly!!
Example: A seasoned bridle horse or cutting trainer can take a bit with a very large port or spade and make a horse work very well and safely operate that bit, but if we were to put that bit in the hands of a novice it would be a real disaster!!!!
4. THE BIT ITSELF
Now that you have determined the type of bit that you need or want to try.(if possible test a bit that someone else has before you buy your own) How do you determine which brand or company you want to buy a bit from? Price is usually a factor. (You get what you pay for usually) A really good determining factor on the quality of the bit will be the weight.....usually the heavier a bit the stronger the bit is going to be. Look at the thickness of the Cheek Pieces (Shanks). Higher quality bits generally have thicker cheek pieces. 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick is desired in full cheek style bits. Be careful with bits that have cheek piece thinner than 3/16 of in inch. They tend to bend and get twisted. I have also seen some break resulting in terrible accidents. Quality bits will last the test of time and treat you well for many years. People often ask "How much should I spend on a bit. My rule of thumb is I would spend over $100 for a bit to get a quality bit. Over that price usually means they are made on a smaller scale and quality and longevity is more of an issue to the makers of these bits. Just like anything there are always exceptions to the rules. Also bits that are constructed with "Sweet Iron" or copper in the mouthpiece will function a little better because they help keep the horses mouths moist!
This is just scratching the surface of Bits, there is so much that goes into how a bit functions. Well get into construction of bits in a later post. I hope this helps you and makes your next experience a little easier!