Monday, July 14, 2014

Bit Basics #3

We're going to reach out now into the arsenal of other bits out there in the world. And jeezy creezy there are a lot of them!

I break the bigger bits down as follows and will continue to edit and update this post as I work through each of the categories, as this post will (eventually) be monstrous!


Pelhams can be a great move up from a snaffle, but in their best usage do require educated hands as two reins is usually preferable. You will see roundings between the two rings as shown below, but I think the pelham can be much more subtle when you take the time really learn how to ride with two sets of reins.

Pelhams have two basic actions - the "snaffle" and "curb" just like a double, but are obviously less refined aids as you are doing two actions with one bit. I like the pelham for a horse who needs an occasional extra "woah", as you can ride off the snaffle and only use the curb when needed. Pelhams become stronger depending on the mouth piece and the length of shank. The shank obviously gives you a longer fulcrum from which to pull on the poll, tongue and bars of the mouth thus increasing your strength (think of pulling on a well handle from the top near the hinge versus the bottom of the handle - it's much less force to grab the bottom and use the leverage). The more joints there are in the mouthpiece, the more it will collapse in the horse's mouth. Combined with the action of the curb chain, the pelham can be used artfully to give you the control you need, or it can be used to mercilessly destroy your horse's mouth. This article makes a great point and is definitely a highly encouraged read - go HN!

Kimberwicke bits:

A ported Kimberwicke with slots

Kimberwicke bits are a leverage bit with a D ring type side. It uses poll pressure behind the horse's ears combined with a curb chain to provide the rider enhanced stopping power and control. Kimberwickes come in several mouthpieces, but I often see a ported mouth piece as shown above.. They come with smooth or slotted sides, which impacts  the amount of leverage you have.I have heard the bit referred to as a "pony bit" but find in my experience, it's a lot of brakes often used with very little finesse. Here's a diagram, but I suggest the foot-and-pull testing method to see if your aids really are as light as you think ;)

Ported Bits:

Like the Kimberwicke shown above, a port is an inverted U shape of varying size in the center of the bit mouthpiece. The concept is sometimes described as giving tongue releif for horses who struggle with pressure on their tongue, while others see it as a way to put pressure on the roof of the horse's mouth. The higher the port, the more damage a yank (accidental or intentional) can do as the port rotates to contact the roof of the mouth, especially when used with leverage like a shanked bit or one with fixed rein placement.. Ports come on a variety of bits, from snaffle Dee rings to the elaborate western bits used for shows.

Gag bits, in sub categories: 

Gag bits are united by the presence of leverage, often with a snaffle type mouth. The leverage is achieved differently for each bit. I have been seeing a lot of gags on the XC course lately, so perhaps they are in style. Either way, leverage bits act on the bars, tongue and poll and are usually what you turn too when a snaffle isn't enough. Many of these bits can be used with a "snaffle" rein, much like a pelham, but you will also see bit converters or one set of  reins only on the leverage portion.

Cheltenham Gags

The Cheltenham is a gag bit built, in a way, on an eggbutt snaffle base. The cheltenham uses a cheek piece that passes through two loops or holes in the bit's ring, which allows the cheek to slide through the bit when rein pressure is used. A "snaffle" rein can be attached to the ring as you would with a regular eggbutt bit, and you can find a variety of mouthpieces. When the bit slides on it's cheek piece, poll pressure is increased, and the bit will also act act on the corners of the mouth. I used this bit on my now-retired OTTB eventer, Foxie, and found it to be a nice happy place for her between a snaffle, and no control, and a pelham, which, when she was very fit and schooled, was too much and too much rein for me to handle XC.

Balding Gag

The Balding gag is a slightly harsher cousin of the Cheltenham, in that the Balding gag is built on a loose ring snaffle. However, because the rings rotate, I consider this to be harsher. You will also see the ring size increase, which creates more leverage than a non-turning eggbutt snaffle ring.

American Gags

American gags are a longer, shanked gag bit. While others have the leverage of the rope cheeks sliding through the bit, this bit offers a long shank and a short slide, making it a "faster" type of gag bit. Cheek pieces attach to the top loop, and reins to the bottom loop, and the bit slides on it's leverage as the rider tightens the reins. I have not seen an American gag using two reins, or roundings between the two loops, though I am guessing it could be done. Again, with the rotation like the balding gag above, plus the added leverage of the shank, I would rate this as harsher than the balding gag, and a bit that should only be used by educated hands needing some pretty major brakes.

Pessoa  Gag / Wonder Bits

Hack Gags

Elevator bits:

Hack Combo Bits, Mikmar Combo bits, and other things


Hooked Bits

Buckle up, it's going to be an interesting ride!

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