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Horse Illustrated/Metalab Bit Contest Results

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In May, we asked you to send in your top questions about bits for a chance to win one from Metalab. Here, the winning questions are answered by Metalab bit designer Fabien Bedoucha. What is the difference between a snaffle and a curb bit? (Addie Randolph, Kansas) A snaffle has a direct action on the corners of the lips, the bars and the tongue, whereas a curb bit has a leverage action between these areas and under the chin with the curb chain. Another major difference is that most snaffles have a broken mouthpiece that collapses in the middle, whereas curb bits have a solid mouthpiece (port). The more solid the mouthpiece is, the more severe it is.

Q: What are the metals used to make bits? (Kassy Nolet, Ontario, Canada)

A: Different types of metals are used: Steel is the basic material for bits. Stainless steel is sturdy and will not rust. It is used for articulated parts of the bit. Sweet iron is used to promote salivation, as is copper.

Q: Some people tell me Tom Thumbs are not harsh at all, but others tell me they're one of the harshest bits. Which is true? (Kristi Weese, Washington)

A: The Tom Thumb is not really a harsh bit; the problem with the Tom Thumb is its lack of precision to deliver the message to the horse--that is probably why you rarely see any professional trainers using one. Most Tom Thumbs have a poor design that hasn't changed over the years. It is really a basic bit, and in most cases, the mouthpiece is not very comfortable for the horse and doesn't help to deliver the message. It has a straight mouthpiece, so it puts pressure on the horse's tongue even if you don't pull. The tongue is the most sensitive place in the horse's mouth, so any bit that puts pressure on the tongue, especially in the neutral position, is a bad bit. It is a common bit that you find in many stables, but in bad hands, the straight snaffle bars of the mouthpiece combined with the leverage of the straight cheekpieces (the entire length from the top ring to the bottom ring made up of the shank below the mouthpiece and the purchase above the mouthpiece) could cause damage to the horse's tongue (the "nutcracker" effect).

I'd recommend a short hinged port bit or a three-piece Argentine instead, which is like a French link or Bristol with a copper roller or middle piece that is connected to the snaffle. The hinged port is like a port bit, but it has a barrel hinge in the center. It doesn't collapse, but you can lift the cheek right or left, so the two sides are independent. It's great because it doesn't put pressure on the tongue, but you still have your right and left like a snaffle.

Q: How can you tell if a bit is severe? (Rebekah Eilert, Kansas)

A: Any bit can be severe in bad hands. A bit must be comfortable when there is no action from the rider (in a neutral position). Some poorly made bits put pressure on the horse's tongue even when there is no action on the reins. So quality and comfort are very important.

In general, the severity of a bit depends on the diameter of the mouthpiece (the thinner, the more severe) and the amount of leverage because these factors multiply the force you are using on the horse's mouth. The purchase length determines the amount of poll pressure, while the shank determines the amount of pressure between the corner of the lips, the bar, the tongue and under the chin. The longer the shank, the more pressure is put on those spots. With an 8-inch cheekpiece (for example, a 5-inch shank and a 3-inch purchase), if you pull on the reins with one pound of pressure, it multiplies that force by four; the result is a force of four pounds applied to the horse's mouth.

Q: What effect does a double-jointed bit have? (Ann Carpenter, Virginia)

A: The double-broken mouthpieces are more comfortable for horses with smaller mouths than single-jointed snaffles because the link in the middle promotes salivation and relaxation. It also avoids poking into the palate like a single-jointed snaffle.

About the Expert
After years spent training horses in various disciplines, traveling everywhere from Iceland to Australia, Bedoucha went on to sell Quarter Horses imported to Europe before moving on to selling tack. But through his travels and meetings with riders from different disciplines, he developed an interest in the design of riding equipment. He collaborated with top jumping riders and reiners as well as ranchers and knowledgeable horsemen, listening to what professional trainers were looking for.

Bit design requires a solid knowledge of the horse and the bit manufacturing process. These days, Bedoucha gives clinics in Europe and Canada on bits and bitting, sharing his passion with riders from all disciplines and backgrounds, and raising awareness about the importance of the communication that goes through the bit.

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