Essential Horsemanship: When is a Stronger Bit Really Necessary?


Your trail riding partners think it’d be a fabulous idea to gallop to that big oak tree in the distance. But you get a sinking feeling in your stomach. You’re certain that you’ll still be flying at a dead run until your horse reaches the next county.

Whether you’re out on the trails or performing at a show, your horse needs to respect your requests to slow down and stop when asked. But how can you tell if it’s time for a trip to the tack store or time for a riding lesson? Here are two tips to help you decide.

First, make sure that your horse understands what you’re asking. For example, if your horse has never truly grasped the concept of neck reining, simply sticking a harsher curb bit in his mouth won’t magically transform him into a reining wonder. The same goes for a hunter or jumper. If you skipped the part of his education that included maintaining a rhythmical pace throughout an entire course, then stepping up to a Pelham won’t help. To help you decide, ride in an enclosed arena using your current bit. Work through turns, circles and transitions. If you discover that your horse feels more like a runaway circus train than a compliant teammate, it’s probably not time for a stronger bit. Instead, seek out the advice of a professional trainer or instructor who can help you and your horse communicate better. On the other hand, if your horse can execute the arena tests but attempts to evade your aids by boring down on the bit and getting faster, or scooting off at the lope or canter, then a little more bit might help resolve your issues.

Second, if your horse has demonstrated that he’s generally a reliable, responsive horse, temporarily opting for a stronger bit under certain circumstances isn’t a sin. In fact, it can be a life saver. A horse that suddenly spooks out on the trails needs to be pulled to a stop before it bolts into danger. A jumper competing on an outside grass course requires a braking and turning system that’s dependable. In those instances, having a special occasion bridle equipped with a slightly stronger bit can come in handy. Always remember, however, that if you step up to a stronger bit and use it consistently it’ll be difficult to return to the milder one. That’s because the corners and bars of your horse’s mouth can become toughened as it acclimates to the increased pressure of the more severe bit. Plus, you’ll begin to rely on the available power that a harsher bit provides. Instead of improving your horsemanship, you’ll be in danger of continually reaching for the next stronger bit. Remember: a bit is only a tool. True control and communication comes through your skills as a rider.

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  1. This is so wierd thow my horse was very hard to control in a kimberwick and i tried him in a D ring and he did better in a lighteer bit:)

  2. It’s about time someone told the truth about bits, I get tired of hearing everyone say a horse needs to go back into the snaffle,,
    the lugging, leaning horse that has been in a fat snaffle for 10 years needs to lighten up and respect his riders cues.
    A slightly smaller diameter will do the job in 3 rides. The rider will benefit as well, from not getting into the habit of thinking every horse is a lug.
    There is also much to be said, but never talked about concerning changing bits to avoid the same pressure on the horses mouth for every ride.
    I switch bits every 3 days, a tiny change in the port, the joint or the diameter will keep my horses mouth soft and free of ulcers and sores.

  3. i like this article. i use a wonder bit on my playboy. i almost moved up stronger until i relized it was something that I was doing wrong!!!

  4. Good article. I use the bitless bridle on all my horses. It is the best thing I have done for my horses and for me. My 3 yr old has been started in the bitless bridle and is awesome. I wish more people would try them.


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