Friday, November 9, 2012

Bit Basics

Hello all,

Since it's on my mind, I figured I'd start what I plan to be a series of articles on bits. Today I'm going to start from the outside aka the part you can see - the side pieces. The cheeks. Whatever you want to call them. They're actually something important, and it's good to consider what your horse is used to, or goes best in, and stash that knowledge away. It's useful! All of these bits are considered Eventing "dressage legal" in their most elementary forms - we'll talk joints and other disqualifying factors in another post. As a note, many of these bits come in options with loops or slots depending on their make - these are not dressage legal parts of the construction, and are usually added to create leverage, or pressure on the poll (the area behind the ears) of the horse. This leverage encourages the horse to lower his head to gain relief from the pressure on a sensitive area, and is not allowed in dressage.

The Eggbutt.

Foxie started her career in a eggbutt snaffle. This bit has a stationary ring, meaning that there is no turning or spinning going on. They look like this:
Notice the fixed ring? When you hold this bit in your fingers, the rings will move laterally across the line of the mouthpiece, but will not spin or rotate. This allows the bit to lay very quietly in the horse's mouth, which can work for a horse who is very sensitive or suspicious of hand contact. Eggbutts, depending on the mouth piece, are considered to be very gentle, and while the fixed side does help with turning somewhat, this bit is more of an all-rounder to have in your arsenal.

The Loose Ring

The Loose ring is just how it sounds - loose. The turning action makes the bit flexible and allows the horse to move it in his or her mouth, which allows for maximum comfort. It can also be the little change a horse wearing an eggbutt needs to be loose and light in the bridle. The moving rings offer just enough motion that often, the horse can't grab the bit, a common problem in ex-racers, and encourages them to keep their mouth soft and pliable rather than hard and ignoring your hands, and therefore making it really hard to stop!

The rings are sliding, which is the advantage of the bit, but can also cause rubs. Some people use bit guards to keep this from happening. They look a little like the photo below - just make sure you're pulling them to the right sides when bridling, as your horse really doesn't want them in his mouth!

They come in lots of fun colors - I've heard many different methods as to putting them on the bit, but I'm going to say don't plan to take them off without scissors! 

The Full Cheek

The full cheek snaffle is another good starter bit - the extended cheek assists with turning and keeps the bit from sliding across the horse's open mouth if he is gaping his mouth. 

What many riders don't know about full cheeks is that they require (technically, don't get me counting how many people I've seen not using them ) bit keepers to keep the top of the cheek in position. They look like this:

Some people think that they add poll pressure, but I don't really believe that. It creates a nice neat bridle and helps keep the horse from impaling himself or anyone else on your nice turn-helping bit. This bit should sit quietly in the mouth, like the eggbutt, as the bar is stabilized by ring and the bit posts. 

The Dee Ring

The dee ring is the hunter ring classic. D's are classy, and give many of the same benefits of the full cheek without the prominent points (which is great if your horse likes to itch on people!) and some of the same facial pressure that the ringed bits can offer. Again this bit will sit more quietly in the horse's mouth, but may not be good for horses who like to grab the bit. Dees can come in various sizes and styles - more squared off versions are usually called racing dees, while a larger, rounded dee is often a King or Hunter style D.

Pretty classy, huh?

The Boucher

The boucher is going to be the biggest gun you can bring into a dressage ring. Looking at the structure, it can offer a slight poll action and again can assist in turning a la the full cheek. There is the standard one:

And then there is the only branded one that I might actually believe creates poll pressure: The KK Ultra. It retails around 200$.

Notice the difference in the bar position? That makes the difference. I always like to take the bits I'm using on my horse and try them between my hands - you will see people do this with their feet, too - and have someone grab the reins and pull appropriately, and also give me a yank or two. I don't feel any leverage with the boucher, but still find the bit to be a nice one to try if you're not having luck with some of the more traditional sides. 

As per always, questions are welcomed and much loved. We'll move on to the bar section of the bit in the next post!

- Ashley and Foxie

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