Gaited horse owners usually use severe bits in training their horse. This results to dry and hard (or in some cases excessively sensitive) mouths. Some horses even develop unresponsive mouths that make successful horsemanship impossible. Why do these owners use such kinds of horse bits? There are several reasons for this. One is because it is part of tradition. A lot of people have been using the same bit, and through the currents of time, the original purpose has faded. Today, no one really fully understands why they use it.
The second reason is because they cling to the misconception that horses are better controlled if they receive a higher degree of severity from their rider. Of course, this is not true. Horses are sensitive creatures, too. If they feel severe pain, they tend to go berserk, thus making it hard for them to be stopped. Other owners, on the other hand, put such kinds of horse bits on their animal because they have seen some famous riders use it before, or they are just too lazy pulling the reins. These last two are undeniably the pettiest reasons of all.
Generally, there are three basic gaited horse bits used. These are the Snaffle bit, the Curve bit, and the Gag. The first of these three, the snaffle bit, is a horse bit that has no shanks. It works on the lips, tongue and the bars of the horse’s mouth. It may either have a jointed or a bar mouthpiece. The pressure that the horse will feel is more or less equal to the amount of force that the horse rider applies in pulling the reins.
The second type, the curb bit, is a bit that has shanks. It also comes with a chain or a strap under the jaw. This functions as a hinge for the leverage of the bit in the mouth of the horse. Curb bits apply pressure on the horse’s bars, tongue and jaw. The pressure depends on the design and the amount of contact that the horse rider keeps with the reins. Bits like this allow the horse to tuck his nose. However, if this bit is not used properly, it may raise the head of the animal too high. A curb bit may be painful to the horse as well. Even a light pull on the reins of a curb bit can be harsher than a heavy tug on the reins of a snaffle.
Lastly, a horse gag bit works on the lips of the horse; it pulls up the horse’s mouth. A gag that has a shank functions as a curb and as a gag at the same time. It pulls up on the lips while applying pressure on the jaw and the bars. However, classical horsemanship refuses the use of gag.
Bits should be used according to the training level of the horse. Young gaited horses for instance should be taught first to respond to bit pressure and to associate the tugs in the reins to commands of turning, stopping, going back, etc. In this stage, a snaffle bit is recommended. This bit does not only cause the animal less intense pain, it also prevents him from being confused with complex commands. The most advisable snaffle bit is the simple jointed or bar snaffle bit. It should also come in eggbutt, full cheek or D-ring design.
One does not want to bore the mouth of the horse with snaffle bits alone for the rest of his life. That is why it is better to change the bit into a higher level, most especially when he is undergoing his training. For gaited horses in training, horsemen are allowed to use a little more severe horse bits like the Pelham, double bridles and curbs. A Pelham or a double bridle can be a good transition between the snaffle bit and the curb bit. A curb bit, on the other hand, is not recommended for basic training in gait. Using it too soon would dull the horse’s response and diminish his potentials.
In choosing the best gaited horse bits, one should take into consideration the comfort of the horse. As mentioned, snaffle bits should be used for basic training, curb bits for finished horses, and the combination of the two for ordinary riding or in more advanced training. Owners must also analyze the gait problems of the horse in order to maximize the use of the horse bit in commanding him the gait that you want. There are many horse bits available on the market ― physical and virtual ― but in the end, it is still the horse and its owner who will decide as to what is the best for them.