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A Bit Confused

Feeling A Bit Confused?

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Here we break down the Korsteel bit range, covering their actions, benefits and suitability, as well as how to clean, care and measure for your new bit.

As fellow horse people, we know that deciding which bit is best for your horse and chosen discipline can be a confusing and frustrating process. To assist you, we have put together “A Bit Confused?” to explain how the different cheek types, mouthpieces and materials work so you can quickly find the right combination to meet your horse’s needs and preferences.

There is no one perfect bit for every horse, which is why there are so many different styles available. But the best choice for your individual horse provides maximum communication and comfort. We hope “A Bit Confused?” makes the process of sifting through the hundreds of bits in tack shops, catalogs, online and in your own tack room a little less daunting. But our main goal is to find the bit that makes your horse most happy!

Full Cheek

Full Cheek bits are a fixed cheek bit, offering direct action similar to eggbutt snaffles and Dee Rings, but with projecting arms above and below the rings to inhibits movement of the mouthpiece laterally and emphasise the turning aid. This is useful for horses who are uncertain of the bit, because it sits very still in the mouth and also should encourage the horse to stretch into the contact. A fixed bit would be less suitable if your horse is prone to leaning or taking hold of the bit. Full cheek bits are very useful for breaking in, or bringing on young horses, as they help tremendously with the turning aids. The full cheek bit action works when pressure is applied laterally when asking the horse to turn, resistance on the opposite side is also applied, offering a clear turning aid for horses who may be evading the contact and other turning aids. Full cheek bits are typically used with keepers, or thinleather straps to maintain functionality of the bit.

Fulmer

Fulmer performs all of the same functions of the Full-Cheek, except the rings are loose rings, making it a more mobile bit. This is useful if you require the lateral assistance with turning that is offered by the full cheek, but with a loose ring movement to prevent the horse fixing and leaning on the bit.

Eggbutt

The eggbutt is a common multi-discipline style of cheek piece for snaffle bits. The eggbutt snaffle minimizes two problems that can arise with its cousin, the loose ring snaffle, whose rings can pinch the edges of the horse's mouth, and which doesn't provide much lateral stabilization. By flaring out the ends of the mouthpiece and joining the rings with flush swivel joints above and below where the lips contact the edge of the bit, the eggbutt can be a more comfortable alternative for many horses. Because the cheek is fixed in relation to the mouthpiece, the bit offers moderate lateral control. By having rings fixed to the mouthpiece, the eggbutt does give up some mobility, in that the position of the mouthpiece is more influenced by the movement and position of the cheek pieces than by the movement of the horse’s mouth, unlike the case with a loose ring snaffle. While this is generally somewhat of a disadvantage in disciplines that require sensitive control with consistent rein contact, such as dressage, the fixed position can be advantageous with horses that tend to play with the bit too much. The lateral movement of the cheek piece is slightly more restricted than in a loose ring, since the metal can bind where it joins the mouthpiece. In either case, the bit is generally bulkier around the lips, which while more comfortable for some horses, can cause others to draw their lips back. However, in general, the eggbutt is a good, safe choice for an all-purpose bit.

 Loose Ring

Loose rings are one of the three most popular designs, often used for training young horses, as the action is mild, the loose movement of the ring provides warning prior to rein pressure. This bit is also useful for horses that usually take hold and lean on the bit as the movement of the rings prevent this. The loose ring is the most common bit seen at the lower levels of dressage. It is also seen through all the levels of eventing (especially in the dressage phase), and is a common bit for race horses and some show jumpers. Because the loose ring allows the mouthpiece to move independently with the tongue and jaw, it helps to encourage a relaxed jaw and tongue, however some horses can find this freedom overstimulating.

 Dee Ring

Named after the letter it resembles, the dee-ring has fixed cheek pieces to prevent the mouthpiece from pinching the horse’s lips and sliding through his mouth. Dee ring snaffles are the happy medium between an eggbutt snaffle and full cheek. Similar to the eggbutt, the edges of the mouthpiece are flared up the shanks to prevent pinching at the corners of the mouth, without the bulk of an eggbutt. The vertical shanks extend above and below the mouthpiece and join at the top and bottom by a D-shaped ring on swivel joints, these shanks offer substantial lateral control without the risks posed by the projecting arms of a full cheek. It is a good, basic cheek piece for gauging a new or green horse’s bitting needs. A hunter dee-ring typically has a thicker mouthpiece and rounder edges than a racing dee-ring.

 Baucher / Hanging Cheek

It is a common misconception that the hanging cheek applies poll pressure. In fact, this bit is found to relieve pressure on the poll. Correctly fitted, the cheek pieces attach to the small top rings and the reins attach to the larger bottom rings. When pressure is applied, the top part tilts forward, causing the mouthpiece to lift, suspending it in the mouth and reducing pressure across the tongue and bars, this bit is also a fixed cheek offering more stability and stillness than a loose ring, beneficial for sensitive horses.

 Beval

The Beval bit is a slightly modified loose-ring snaffle with the same idea of a Dutch Gag but minimizing leverage. The Beval comprises a loose ring but features two extra rings on the inside of the bit ring, offering different levels of strength. The top ring is where the cheek pieces attach, reins then can be attached to the middle offering a similar action to a loose-ring snaffle or can be applied to the bottom ring offering a slightly stronger more fixed action for more leverage.

 Dutch Gag

The Dutch Gag typically consists of four rings, the top ring is where the cheek pieces attach, the three below offer different levels of leverage. Dutch Gags are also available with two rings which give a neater appearance. This bit can be used with 1 or 2 reins. When using 2 reins; the first rein should be used on the snaffle ring, which is the first ring adjacent to the mouthpiece. This works similar to a loose ring hanging cheek, which uses poll pressure and lip pressure due to the sliding loose ring action. When the second rein is attached to the lower rings, the pressures are increased and produce more leverage. If the bit is only used with one rein on the lower ring, the pressure is applied constantly, and no pressure release is available for the horse. The Dutch Gag produces a head raising action and is often used for cross country and/or jumping where the head needs to be raised quickly in order to gain control and so to get ready for the next jump.

 Cheltenham/Running Gag

As with any gag, this bit has a head lifting action, created by increasing pressure on the corners of the lips. The cheekpieces run through the holes in the bit rings and attach directly to the reins, when rein pressure is applied, the bit runs along the cheekpieces to draw the mouthpiece upwards in the horse’s mouth. Stoppers are often used in conjunction with these bits to limit their action. This bit can be used with two reins, the first being attached to the bit offering the same action as an eggbutt snaffle, with the second rein attached to the cheekpiece which is only used when required. This is a strong bit that should be used well and sympathetically.

 Kimberwick

This is a bit commonly used in general riding and provides curb action for horses that may be strong or need slight curb action to encourage a lower head carriage. The reins can be attached through the slots to keep them from sliding. If the reins are placed in the lower slot the bit will have more curb action than the upper slot. If the rider holds their hands a bit higher, the reins will stay high on the rings of bits with no slots in the rings. Lowering the hands will cause the reins to slide down the ring and cause more curb action. The curb chain or strap prevents the bit from rotating too far in the horse’s mouth. When the reins are pulled back, the bit applies pressure to the bars of the mouth, the chin and the poll. If there is a port, there may be pressure on the roof of the mouth. Because the bit has the equivalent of very short shanks, the curb action is relatively mild.

 Pelham

The Pelham is a bit that provides both a snaffle action and a curb action, offering a muted effect of a Bradoon/Weymouth combination. The bottom ring works in conjunction with the curb chain and needs a curb to be effective. This bit can be used with a variety of rein arrangements, two reins can be used so the rider can have both a snaffle and curb rein. However, realistically neither can be used independently as the action of each will not be as effective as using a true snaffle or curb bit. Pelham rounding’s however can be used if one rein is wished to be used, however they do not allow the rider to precisely apply pressure to either curb or snaffle.

 Bradoon & Weymouth

The Weymouth bit is always used in conjunction with a bradoon bit. This combination of two bits are used with double bridles predominantly for high level dressage. The Weymouth bit is also always used with a curb chain, as with any other curb bit. The rings of the bradoon are smaller and mouthpiece thinner than usual loose ring snaffles to minimise bulk and not to inhibit the action of the Weymouth. The bradoon works exactly the same as a normal snaffle by raising the head, whilst the curb bit acts on the horse’s poll and curb groove, enabling the rider to fine tune their horses head and neck carriage. This bit combination should only be used on horses who are already well schooled with a sympathetic rider.

Single Joint

Single jointed mouth pieces allow the rider to put pressure on one side of the mouth more than the other, offering better control over the lateral flexion of the horse. Single jointed mouthpieces have a nutcracker action that occurs with pressure on the reins, this pinches the tongue and on a horse with a low palate, or a high tongue can also put pressure on the roof of the mouth, causing discomfort and resistance. This action becomes emphasized with thinner mouthpieces but can be alleviated with shaped or double-jointed mouthpieces.

French Link

One of the more common varieties of double-jointed snaffles is the French link snaffle. The two joints help to reduce the nutcracker effect of the single jointed snaffle, while still allowing the rider independent control over the two sides of the mouth. It also transfers rein pressure more evenly over the bars. The French link refers to a flat spatula between the two joints, which is designed to lay flat over the tongue. This is easy for the untrained eye to confuse with the Dr. Bristol, which has the spatula angled such that the thin edge can push into the horse’s tongue. Some horses prefer the rounder version of the French link, often called an oval mouth or lozenge, although the French link can be preferable for horses with less palate clearance.

Dr. Bristol

Perhaps the wolf in sheep’s clothing of mouthpieces, this bit looks much like a mild French link to the untrained eye. However, the centre spatula is angled such that the thin edge can push into the horse’s tongue, thus giving this bit a more severe action than might be supposed. A Dr.Bristol is a good choice for a horse that does not tolerate a single jointed bit but who can get somewhat strong.

Oval Link / Lozenge

An oval link in a mouthpiece relieves some of the pressure on the tongue when the rein aids are applied. Because the link is rounded, this mouthpiece is considered slightly milder than a French link. The oval double-jointed mouthpiece is basically a variant of the French link, with a rounded lozenge instead of a flat spatula joining the two halves of the bit. The benefits are largely the same, with reduced nutcracker effect, more even pressure over the bars, and independent control over the two sides of the mouth. Some horses prefer the rounded lozenge as it perhaps encourages them to mouth the bit and obviates any thin edges that could be uncomfortable. The lozenges are typically designed so that the eye hole of the jointed arms is open when looking at the bit straight on. This is different from the French link, in which the eyes on the spatula are in that position and the eyes of the arms are at a 90-degree angle. The former type of jointing would seem to be preferable, in that it would be less bulging against the tongue, but in practice, it probably comes down to individual preference.

 Mullen Mouth

A mullen mouth is an unjointed mouthpiece that is slightly curved to accommodate the horse’s tongue. Without the nutcracker action of a jointed bit, the mullen mouth and straight bar are considered milder and encourage the horse to raise its poll. With its slight curve, it is often considered to be a mild bit because it puts more pressure across the tongue instead of the more sensitive bars. However, for that reason it is not typically a bit that will aid in the lateral flexion of a horse’s head. Hence, it is not often used in dressage, but more often as a pleasure riding bit on sensitive mouthed horses. Because it lacks a joint, there is no possible nutcracker or pinching effect in the mouth, which also makes it milder and can be advantageous for horses with sensitive palates. These bits are frequently made from flexible materials, like rubber and plastic, which in combination with a curved shape, allows the pressure on the bit to be distributed more evenly in the mouth. There are also now differently shaped mouthpieces available, which perhaps make these bits more interesting or ergonomic for some horses.

Tongue Grooves & Ports

Tongue grooves and ports are raised areas in the center of a mouthpiece to prevent the tongue from softening the bit’s action on the bars. and, if the port is high enough, to put pressure on the horse’s palate. Grooves are shallower and wider, while ports typically are the shape of an inverted “U”. Ports typically must be 2–2.5 inches high to act on the palate when engaged. With no joint, the ported bit bears some similarity to the mullen mouth. However, the port acts to reduce pressure over the middle of the tongue and hence increase pressure over the bars. This bit is not as mild as a
mullen mouth and is often used as a corrective bit for horses that have learned to get their tongue over the bit, as the port makes this more difficult.

 Quarter Moon

The quarter moon or half-moon is another type of joint which offers more room for the tongue, while the double links soften the nutcracker action. The quarter moon link is quite often made of copper to encourage salivation and softness.

Rollers

Rollers/bushings (loose sleeves) or “beans” on the mouthpiece that roll when manipulated—can be found on straight-bar, mullen and snaffle bits and are good for horses with “busy” mouths. Rollers are a popular addition to many styles of mouthpieces today. Sometimes as little as a rotating disk set inside the center oval of a double-jointed mouthpiece, or as much as a series of rollers along the joints or arms of the mouthpiece, the general idea of rollers is to encourage the horse to play with the bit. By moving their tongue under the bit, horses can become more relaxed in the tongue and jaw, leading to better acceptance of the bit. Whether or not rollers actually encourage such movement is, of course, debatable. However, some horses may be stimulated by the rolling action, so it may be worth trying with horses that tend to set their tongues and don’t salivate much. Some designs can be problematic in that the roller action may lead to pinching; this can be tested by placing the bit over bare skin and applying pressure to the rings to simulate the action in the horse’s mouth. If you experience discomfort, it is likely that your horse will too.

Waterford

The Waterford is, essentially, a mouthpiece made entirely of links, thus eliminating the nutcracker action of the traditional jointed bit. A Waterford is a good choice for a heavy leaner, as the links cause the mouthpiece to mould around the mouth and apply equal pressure on everything it touches

Mouthing Bits / Keys

Mouthpieces featuring elongated beads of metal also known as keys are intended for introducing young horses to the bit. Also referred to as mouthing bits they encourage the horse to mouth and play with the bit.

Twisted

Twisted mouthpieces can have straight, mullen or jointed mouthpieces, a three-sided twist is formed into the mouthpiece offering a more severe action than other mouthpieces due to the shape and sharp edges. The more, tighter twists featured the harsher the bit. This mouthpiece is suitable for strong horses and not recommended for horses with sensitive mouths.

Corkscrew

A corkscrew mouthpiece features a tighter twist than twisted mouthpieces with slightly rounded edges, this is harsher than a twisted mouthpiece but significantly milder than a twisted wire mouthpiece. Acting on the tongue, bars and lips of the horse this offers the rider more control and can prevent the horse from fixing and leaning. This bit is not recommended for horses with sensitive mouths.

Wire & Double Twisted Wire

Two of the most severe mouthpieces available, they are thin with a tight twist but also feature a nutcracker action, working on the tongue, bars, lips and palate. Double twists offer twice the intensity of a single twisted wire mouthpiece and should only be used by the most experienced rider.

 Heavyweight, Hollow, and Lightweight mouthpieces

A heavyweight mouthpiece sits still and quiet in the horse’s mouth, allowing for effective communication between horse and rider whilst encouraging relaxation, suitable for horses who are generally sensitive in the mouth. A lightweight mouthpiece is hollow in the middle, making it lighter than a solid mouthpiece. Typically, bulkier than solid bits, which disperse the pressure over a larger
area, making it milder than thinner mouthpieces, however this might not be suitable for horses with little palate clearance.

 Korsteel JP Curve

Developed in conjunction with world-renowned trainer and jockey John Patterson, JP bits provide the utmost comfort for your horse with their unique curved mouthpiece which provides the following benefits;

  • Eliminates the nutcracker action and prevents the bit from hitting the roof of the horse’s mouth
  • No direct pressure on the bars or tongue
  • Replaces bit interference with humane comfort
  • Encourages relaxation and salivation
  • Allows for effective communication between horse and rider
  • Available in a variety of styles
  • Excellent for all training and riding disciplines

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is the most popular choice when purchasing bits due to their light, durable and superior strength. These bits unlike other materials retains a shiny appearance that wears evenly and does not flake or rust. Offering a neutral taste and smell which some horses may prefer.

Blue Steel

New to Korsteel is the Blue Steel range, similar to copper or sweet iron, blue steel gives off a pleasant taste enjoyed by horses to stimulate salivation and acceptance of the bit.

Sweet Iron

Sweet Iron bits are made from black iron and copper which with use oxidises and rusts producing a sweet taste in the horse’s mouth, encouraging relaxation and salivation. This is a slow acting process and completely harmless however the mouthpiece will always discolor.

 Copper

Copper is similar to sweet iron in that it produces a sweet taste in the horse’s mouth, however unlike sweet iron it does not rust and with the metal being conductive it also warms up faster in cold weather. However, the downside to copper is that it is a soft metal, therefore should be monitored if the horse is known to chew the bit, in case the mouthpiece changes shape or develops sharp edges. Copper is quite often used to create the links/lozenges or rollers to encourage salivation and relaxation.

 Rubber

There are a number of different rubber variations available; soft rubber, flexi-rubber, hard rubber, but they are all backed onto the mouthpiece and encourage softness and acceptance. Warmer than metal these can be great for young horses or those who are not accepting the bit. These bits can also be flavored to further encourage the horse to accept the bit. However, it is important to note these bits should be maintained and checked regular for chew marks or cracks as these can be sharp and injure the horse’s mouth, therefore are not suitable for horses that chew their bit. If the mouthpiece is cracked or damaged in any way it is important to stop use and replace.

Hackamore

A hackamore, or bridle without a bit, can employ all the tools of a curb bit, without the actual mouthpiece. Depending on its design, a hackamore can exert pressure on the jaw, the nose and the poll. While a good choice for horses that for one reason or another cannot tolerate a mouthpiece, hackamores and other bit less bridles are not allowed in dressage or English pleasure competition and are considered “unconventional tack” in hunter classes.

How to Measure for a New Bit

The mouthpiece length is usually measured in inches. Dee-rings and eggbutts should rest comfortably against the outside of the horse’s lips. Loose-ring bits should have about one-eighth inch more room, to prevent pinching the horse’s lips. A bit that is more than a half-inch wider than the horse’s mouth will have too much sideways play to be comfortable. The width of a bit is measured in millimeters and refers to the circumference of the widest part of the mouthpiece, usually next to the bit cheek. Your veterinarian or dentist can tell you if your horse has an unusually thick tongue or low palate that would restrict your width and port height choices. A general guide would be to look for 1 – 1½ lip wrinkles at the corner of the mouth, but obviously this hinge on how short the horse's mouth is from the corner of the lip to the muzzle and also how fat the lips are. If the horse's mouth is short, then there may be more lip wrinkles in order for the bit to sit at the correct height. If a horse is overactive in the mouth and trying to get the tongue over the top, position it a little higher to discourage this. When starting babies, a bit that is a little lower will generally encourage mouthing.

Bit Cleaning & Maintenance

While a post use rinse in fresh water usually is enough for a bit’s everyday use, from time to time you’ll want a deeper cleaning. A variety of safe, nontoxic cleansers are designed specifically for use with horse bits. Be sure to use cleansers labeled for use with all the materials that make up your bits. A safe and effective alternative is toothpaste. To prevent scratching the metals of the bit, use a non-abrasive toothpaste, avoid any labelled as tartar control or whitening. Make your own “toothpaste” using equal parts of baking powder and salt, with just enough hot water to make a thick paste. A child’s toothbrush is great for getting in all the bit’s nooks and crannies. Always rinse the bit thoroughly after cleaning or run it through a dishwashing cycle to make sure it has been properly rinsed and sterilized. Dry with a soft cloth afterward to prevent water spots and buff it to a high shine.

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