Selecting the correct bit is one of the most important parts of training your horse and bringing out their best performance. This is especially important when riding cross country, a discipline which although exhilarating, can put you and your horse more at risk.
Where possible, a simple loose-ring snaffle can often provide the best bit for many horses, but this may not provide enough control when riding a cross country course. Sometimes, a stronger bit is required for cross-country.
Horses are big, strong and potentially dangerous animals and even if they normally are perfectly behaved in a mild, simple bit when jumping, when tackling a faster cross-country course, the rider must be able to ride safely.
When in doubt, it is wise to err on the side of a stronger bit during cross-country (within one’s capability or realm of experience, of course) to ensure the rider stays confident and in control; but this should always go hand-in-hand with correct leg and seat aids, and when using a stronger bit, the rider should be conscious of being lighter with their hands where possible. If riders don’t have a suitable bit to get the horse’s attention, it could end up being counter-productive in the horse’s training. This is because if the horse is under-bitted for the discipline it is undertaking, in this instance cross country, the horse pulls too much and the rider doesn’t use enough leg, which creates a safety concern when jumping.
The bit’s action is affected by various factors; the mouthpiece, the rings of the bit and the amount of leverage the bit provides.
For riders who prefer snaffle bits but are looking for something a bit stronger, a single-jointed bit has more of a nutcracker action, and is therefore stronger than a double-jointed or lozenge snaffle bit.
Some riders favour a Waterford mouthpiece for cross country, pictured. This bit style is good for horses that lock their poll and jaw, and become rigid in the contact. The bit lays across the horse’s tongue, creating an even pressure, and encourages the horse to mouth the bit and salivate. Helping to relax the jaw, the Waterford only becomes uncomfortable when the horse pulls, or leans on the bit, or takes a strong hold. Cherry roller bits offer a similar, yet alternative style, and the large round rollers of the bit spin if your horse or pony tries to take hold.
If your equine tends to take a high-head carriage when in excitable situations such as cross country riding, applying leverage to the poll and chin (via the curb chain) using a Kimblewick (pictured left) or Pelham bit may offer the solution.
Finally, if your horse dives down with his head too low, an elevator bit like a three-ring or continental gag bit will encourage him to raise his head – sometimes essential when riding into solid fences.
Contact me (Lucy Nicholas) at The Saddlery Shop with your bitting queries – click HERE.