A Snaffle Bit has two rings (one on each end) and a mouthpiece, which is usually jointed and made of smooth metal, nylon, plastic, or rubber. (Rough, sharp, or twisted wire mouthpieces are discouraged for Pony Club riding.) Snaffle bits work by direct pressure. This means 1 ounce of pressure on the reins makes 1 ounce of pressure on the pony’s mouth. Snaffle bits are usually fairly mild bits. They are used for training ponies and for advanced riding, as well as for pleasure riding and beginning riders.
Cheekpieces include: Loose Ring, Eggbutt, Dee Ring, and Full
A Kimberwicke Bit is a mild curb bit, with a metal, nylon, plastic, or hard rubber mouthpiece. Because it has a curb chain and shanks, it works by leverage and multiplies the pressure. For example, one ounce of rein pressure might cause two or more ounces of pressure on the pony’s mouth. It is stronger than most snaffle bits, so riders should be careful when using it. However, a Kimberwicke is quite mild compared to other curb bits. It is useful for ponies who don’t pay attention to a snaffle bit, but whose riders cannot handle double reins.
The Uxeter Kimberwicke Bit is a particular kind of Kimberwicke bit with two slots in which the reins can be fastened. The upper slot is the mildest and the lower slot makes the bit stronger. Putting the rein around the ring so it can slide freely makes the bit more like a snaffle, with very little leverage.
A pelham bit is a double-rein bit. The top rein goes to the snaffle ring. When you use that rein, it acts like a bar snaffle bit with direct pressure. The bottom rein goes to the curb ring. When you use that rein, is acts like a curb bit, with leverage. A pelham bit is always used with a curb chain, which lies under the pony’s chin in the chin groove. It has shanks, which makes it a leverage bit. Long shanks (more than five inches) make a pelham bit more severe and are discouraged for most Pony Club riding. Pelham bits may have metal, nylon, plastic, or rubber mouthpieces.
A pelham bit is stronger than most snaffle bits. Some ponies need the extra control of a pelham bit, but the rider must be able to handle double reins.
A bit converter, or rounding, is sometimes used to change a pelham into a single-rein bit. This is a pair of round leather straps that buckle to the snaffle and curb rings on each side of the bit. The single rein is attached to the loop of the bit converter. This makes a pelham bit act like a Kimberwicke bit with only one rein. It is usually used with beginning riders.
A Fulmer is a style of loose ring snaffle and should always be used with bit keepers. These leather keepers link the bit’s cheeks to the bridle so it remains at the correct height and angle in the horse’s mouth. Most full cheeks can be used with or without these keepers: using them provides a more stationary mouthpiece. A Fulmer style snaffle provides the action of a loose ring without the risk of pinching the horse’s mouth.
Baucher Snaffle (Also known as a Hanging or Drop Cheek Snaffle)
This snaffle bit has small rings attached at the top for the cheekpiece so that the bit is suspended in the horse’s mouth. This stabilizes the bit in the horse’s mouth, creates some pressure on the bars and poll, and reduces tongue pressure.
3-Ring Gag Snaffle (Also known as an American Gag, Dutch Gag, Continental, Elevator, or Pessoa Gag)
This bit has three rings in line, creating a snaffle ring (without leverage) and two lower rings that act as gag bit rings (with leverage). When the reins are attached to the upper ring (at the level of the mouthpiece), the bit acts as a snaffle. When the reins are attached to the lower rings, the bit rotates, applying pressure to the horse’s poll and the corners of the mouth. Using the reins attached in the lowest ring is the most severe.
Bits with more than one point of attachment should have one rein attached so that the snaffle action of the bit is in effect. If other bit actions are to be used, a second rein may be attached. Always check the rules to see if a particular bit is allowed, and where the reins should be attached, for each discipline, competition, or certification. The use of these and other more severe bits requires responsibility and sensitive use of the aids, and should never be a substitute for good riding.
Gag bits come in a variety of cheek and mouth pieces and should always be used with two reins. One rein is attached to the bit ring in the standard fashion and acts as the direct rein as it would on any other snaffle. The second rein is attached to running cheeks, which can be made of leather or a synthetic material, and pass through slots in the rings of the cheekpiece. The reins are held in the same manner as those of a double bridle. The gag rein applies pressure to the horse’s poll should only come into play when necessary so the horse does not become immune to its action.
A mechanical hackamore is a bit that does not actually go in the horse’s mouth. Instead, a mechanical hackamore has a partial noseband made of leather and usually lined or covered with fleece for comfort. This is connected to metal shanks of varying length with longer shanks being more severe. A curb chain or strap is also used with a mechanical hackamore. This design creates pressure on the nose, chin groove, and poll when the reins are tightened. Mechanical hackamores are often used on horses or ponies who have had mouth or tongue injuries or with mounts who find a traditional bit uncomfortable.
Combination bits disperse pressure over the horse’s nose, mouth, poll, and chin groove. The Myler combination is the most popular combination bit and has a rawhide noseband. A single rein is attached to the lower ring and a second may be added to the larger ring for a direct snaffle action as well. Myler’s short-shank combination bit is very kind and super versatile. Horses of all levels of education react well to this bit as the control points are not focused on a single point on the horse’s head or mouth.
All text taken from The United States Pony Clubs Manuals D & C Levels and the Horse Tack Bible by Carolyn Henderson.