Bit shopping can be a “bit” overwhelming! With so many options on the market, how do you know which is best for you and your horse?
It is important to know upfront that bits are a communication piece working alongside your body’s cues as you direct your horse.
There are a number of factors that will play into choosing the best bit option, but it is first important to understand the basics of a leverage vs non-leverage bit.
So let’s start with a simple question: leverage vs non-leverage? A non-leverage bit does not apply any pressure to the poll of the horse. It is designed with no shank. A snaffle bit is a true 1:1 ratio, when one pound of pressure is applied in the rider’s hands, the horse in return feels one pound of pressure. A leveraged bit is used in conjunction with a curb strap to apply pressure. The curb strap does not necessarily indicate it is a leverage bit as often a curb strap is used on a snaffle bit to prevent it from pulling through the horse’s mouth. The reins on a leverage bit are attached on a lower portion of the shank (downward of the mouthpiece connection) and apply pressure to more areas of the horse, including the poll, lips, bars and tongue.
• Special Note: A snaffle bit (non-leverage) is widely used for starting a young horse. It teaches a horse to follow its nose, develops lateral flexion, transitions and responsiveness to leg cues. It is a very mild bit to the horse and many trainers believe it is the foundation to key exercises in the development of softness, the starting point of collection. It is easily misleading in the industry that if your horse does not have a “whoa” one should get a bit with more shank in order to be safe, but in all reality a trainer will say that this horse needs a good tune up, back to the basics in a snaffle. Now, for a horse that is completely soft and is ready to move on to a further level of performance one might surely transition into a leverage bit to develop more depth. The leverage applies more pressure, but offers an instant release. The leverage or curb bit is a wonderful transition out of a snaffle. It applies poll pressure and allows a horse and rider to move on in developing more depth to the foundation of softness and collection that was established in the snaffle. A good leverage bit will be used with one hand, small movements and allows the horse to do its job. One can really fine tune and advance a horse in leverage (curb) bit or target a specific job.
• Special Note: It is often misinterpreted that a broken mouthpiece indicates a snaffle bit…this is not so. A true snaffle bit is a 1:1 ratio. A leveraged bit can have a two piece mouthpiece (which is often found on a snaffle) but it has leverage (shank) as a result of the rein connection at a different point than the mouthpiece, making it a different function and feel.
• Special Note: The amount of pressure applied by a curb bit is determined by a leverage ratio. To determine the ratio, measure from the middle of the side of the mouthpiece to the inside of the top ring where the headstall connects. This is the purchase measurement. Then, measure from the middle of the mouthpiece to the point on the bottom ring where the reins connect. This is the shank measurement. Next, divide the smaller of the two numbers into the larger to get the ratio. If, for example, the purchase measures 2″ and the shank measures 6″, the leverage ratio would be 3:1. This means that your horse will feel 3 pounds of pressure for every pound of pressure you apply to the bit with your hands.
So there you have one piece of the bit shopping puzzle. First and foremost determine and understand what you are trying to accomplish and if you are looking for a leverage or non-leverage bit. As you and your horse advance or move on to more activities you may choose to switch bits back and forth along the way. It is important to remember, start as mild as possible and work your way up in the strength of bits you try. You do not want to scare your horse with something they are not ready for or just do not understand. Remember that riding effectively matters just as much as the bit in your horse’s mouth. Sometimes using more leg and softening your hands will make the difference between a terrible and frustrating ride, and a fantastic bonding experience.
As you move on to your shopping experience, be sure to continue to grow your education in these areas as well:
• Bit Materials – what type of metal is it made of? Does this help promote salivation in my horse’s mouth?
• Bit Mouthpieces – watch videos or work with a trusted trainer or mentor to understand the options available and how they function in the horse’s mouth. Learn to recognize a balanced bit.
• Bit Cheek Styles – where does each apply pressure? What is the ratio of pressure applied? How is it attached? Is it pinching my horse anywhere?
• Bit Pressure Points – horses innately move away from pressure. Pressure and release is key to riding. What all points of pressure is my bit applying? Bridge of nose? Chin? Corners of mouth/lips? Bars? Roof of mouth/palate? Poll? Tongue? Learn and study each.
If you are seeking to shop a line of bits with great versatility, Weaver Leather is excited to announce a new line of Pro-Series bits. Working with a team of industry experts this line offers a vast selection of leverage and non-leverage bits that are well-balanced.
Watch this video with horseman Ken McNabb on the lifter bit.
You and your horse can achieve great collection, quick-release and flexion. With options in mild, moderate and strong leverage stages and versatility in mouthpiece options, you can fine tune the basics and master advanced feel. Each bit is exclusively designed with clean styling, mouthpieces that increase salivation to keep your horse soft and prevent a dry mouth and a football-shaped bit attachment that prevents any pinching for enhanced comfort for the best relationship between you and your horse.