There are several essential elements to finding the perfect bit for your horse, though the search is often a case of trial and error until the perfect combination of mouthpiece, cheekpiece and size is found. But if you’re coming into the hunt with only the vaguest idea of what you’re looking for, it can seem like an overwhelming and impossible challenge.
While there’s no trick to sensible bitting, it’s smart to start with a sense of what you’re hoping to achieve. Then, you can begin to narrow down the broad spectrum of options available to those that’ll help you tick precisely those boxes – and understanding the actions of a variety of cheekpieces will ensure you’re on the right track.
Ruling it out
In a perfect world, bit choices would solely come down to what fits our horse’s mouth the best and provides the clearest line of communication. But if you compete, or hope to start, the selection process will be somewhat complicated by the legality of your options.
Each discipline’s governing body has different rules and allows for different bits, and as the rulebook changes each year so, too, does the list of allowable options. It’s well worth consulting the latest edition of the rulebook while you’re browsing your options, and if in doubt, contact the area representative or main office of the governing body for clarification to avoid an expensive and frustrating misjudgment.
In general, you’ll only be allowed to use snaffle bits in dressage, unless you’re riding at Elementary and above in British Dressage or Intermediate and above in British Eventing, while jumping competitions and phases will allow more leeway for bits with increased leverage, such as pelhams, kimblewicks and gags. But even so, you’ll need to check the legality of both the cheek- and mouthpieces of any bit you’re considering, as even the innocuous snaffle family contains some non-permissible options, including flat central links and shaped rubber mouthpieces, so it pays to keep your intel up to date.
Minimise expense by using a bit hire service to try options before you commit. They’ll also be able to offer advice and even in-person fittings, much like having a saddler out.
For great advice on finding the perfect cheekpiece for your horse, pick up a copy of March Horse&Rider, on sale 7 January 2021.