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There are a great number of different bits, and finding the right one is not always easy – you have to work with trial and error until you find the one that suits you and your horse.
In general, the aim should be to use the mildest bit possible. The smother the bit, the milder it usually is. A jointed loose-ring bit is usually considered the mildest bit, as the horse is able to soften its effect by pressing the bit upwards with its tongue. Most bits are made from metal, but there are bits where the actual mouthpiece is made from rubber, and there are also leather models. These are usually appropriate for a more sensitive horse. Remember that the sharpness of any bit is ultimately decided by the person holding the reins!
It is important to adjust the bit to a size that fits your horse. The mouth of the horse is not designed to hold a bit, so remember not to use one that is too thick or too heavy, as this can lead to strain injuries in the mouth.
Even if the bit should not be too heavy, solid bits are preferable to hollow ones. A solid bit will lie more firmly in the mouth of the horse, while a hollow bit may feel too light and therefore less clear, as it can move around the mouth more.
Unjointed snaffle, lies steadily in the mouth and does not easily cause damage. Some horses may feel a little front-heavy on this bit.
A single-jointed snaffle is one of the most common bits; it is important that the bit is not too long, as it can then press against the roof of the mouth.
Double-jointed snaffles. Correctly sized, this bit will lie comfortably in the horse's mouth. Some feel that it adds sharpness. Here too, it is important that the bit is not too long, as it can cause pinching damage.
All these models are available as loose-ring bits or eggbutt bits. The eggbutt distributes pressure evenly in the corner of the mouth and reduces the risk of pinching, while the D-ring gives a small leveraging effect.
This bit moves the entire mouthpiece up and down as you pull on the reins, and also affects the horse's neck.
Pessoa bits are available in single or double-jointed versions, and with two or three rings. The further down you attach the rein, the more effect you will get. This bit can also be used with a bit converter.
Gag bits have special side pieces that run through the bit rings, and the reins are attached to these. Gags should be used with two pairs of reins.
These become sharper the longer the cheek pieces are, and the further down you attach the reins. For this type of bit you also use a curb chain. When fastened, it should allow the cheek pieces of the bit to move about 30 per cent in either direction.
Pelham bits are available in unjointed, single-jointed or double-jointed versions. The cheek pieces of this bit are not that long, which makes it a relatively mild curb bit. This bit should be used with a curb chain, a lip strap and a bit converter.
The Kimblewick bit is available both as a jointed bit and as a curb bit with a port and short cheek pieces. This bit requires a curb chain, but no bit converter is required. You can choose where to place the rein; in the larger ring or in one of the smaller slots.
When riding with a double bridle, you use two bits: the bradoon bit (single or double-jointed snaffle) and the curb bit, with or without a port. The port is the arch in the curb bit, which may be larger or smaller. The larger the port, the sharper the bit. The curb bit is used with a curb chain, and preferably a lip strap as well. This form of bridle requires two sets of reins; one for the bradoon and one for the curb bit.
The Hackamore uses pressure on the nose to influence the horse. This is a good complement to your regular bridle, to give the horse's mouth a rest from the strain of the bit. It can also be a good alternative if your horse gets a sore in its mouth or if it is tender due to tooth loss etc. It is important to remember that it puts a high pressure on the horse's nose, and it should therefore be used with great care.
There are also combination bridles that combine a regular snaffle with a hackamore, however, these solutions also require a lot of experience and care.