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Horse Bits

Bit Brigade

Part of being an equestrian is accumulating all of the stuff that horses and riders need: tack, blankets, clothing, boots and bits. It seems that just about every equestrian has their own arsenal of bits, and we’re constantly borrowing bits to find one that works. Some horses change bits more than others… and in the last few years Miles and I have gone through a few rounds of “musical bits.”

Bits I Tried on Miles

When I bought him, Miles hacked at home in a Beval Gag and showed in a Rubber Pelham. The second I bought him, I started riding in a single-jointed Dee ring snaffle. He went around just fine in that, but after a little while, I started to experiment to see if I could fine something he liked just a little bit better. I tried a loose ring French link and that’s the fussiest I’ve ever seen him in a bit. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t like it. After that, I tried a single-jointed Happy Mouth, and he went happily in that (ha!) for a year and half.

Please give and bend

This past winter, when we started having problems, I wanted to try more bit to help with some of our issues. In the Happy Mouth, Miles could grab the bit and pull it right through my hands. He didn’t do it all the time, but when he did, I felt powerless to stop him and I ended up on the ground. At first, I was ashamed to ask my trainer about putting more bit in Miles’ mouth. I’m not one who wants to solve training issues with gadgets and I’m very cognizant of over-biting. However, I figured asking is free and consulted my trainer. We decided to try to a two-ring Happy Mouth gag with double reins.

Miles in three ring gag bit

That bit worked awesome for a long time. It was enough leverage for me to pick Miles up when I needed to, but I could still be soft enough through my hands and arms to get him to relax. Unfortunately for me, this bit is considered “unconventional” in the hunter ring (I don’t think it’s outright illegal, but someone correct me if I’m wrong), so I needed something else for horse shows. No problem, I thought: he’s shown in a Pelham before, which is about as similar to a two-ring as you can get, so I’ll just try that. I got a big, fat, huge NOPE on that bit. Miles isn’t usually particular about bits, and my experience has been he’ll go around is just about anything. He would not go around in the Pelham. And after that experiment, he was mad about the two-ring gag bit too.

Miles Side Eye
How Miles feels about pelhams and two-ring gags

So back to the drawing board I went, armed with BFF’s bit brigade. We pulled out any option we thought might work, and I came to my next lesson armed with five or so bits. I wanted something that was more bit than a Happy Mouth, but less bit than a Pelham or two-ring gag. Our top contenders were a Waterford and a slow twist. We started off the lesson in the Waterford, and I’ve been riding in it ever since. It’s enough bit for me to pick Miles up when I need to, but not enough to piss him off.

Waterford Bit
And on the third day, the heavens opened up to reveal the MAJIKAL Waterford bit

Before all of this transpired, I believed that if a horse goes best in bit X, that’s the bit he goes in. I realize now that’s a very narrow view, and not necessarily realistic. I do think it’s important for horses to not be over-bited, and I believe riders have a responsibility to learn to have soft and forgiving hands. But at the same time, the relationship between horse and rider is a partnership. It’s awesome that Nichole can ride Miles in a Happy Mouth snaffle… but that doesn’t help me since I can’t. This probably isn’t a popular view, but I now think that finding a middle ground between what the horse needs and what the rider needs is imperative, in terms of proper biting. All in all, I’m grateful we found a solution that works for both Miles and I


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

24 thoughts on “Bit Brigade

  1. I LOVE waterfords. both my boys go in them for jumping. They are legit magical. Yankee goes in a simple loose ring while be gets the Gina Miles double loose ring version. ALL HAIL WATERFORDS

  2. What a great learning experience for you! I’m also a fan of the Waterford, especially for a horse that gets heavy in your hand and leans, which sounds like what Miles was doing to pop you out of the tack! I’m glad you found something you both like. 🙂

  3. I think this is a super tough lesson for people to learn, but it sounds like you approached with an open mind and really found a good solution. It also sounds like you’re keeping your mind open that your bit of choice might change again sometime. Love it! (Also love that photo of Miles giving some serious side-eye.) 😉

  4. I LOVE the waterford! I swap between a waterford and a french-linked happy mouth for Ax and that seems to keep us both happy. I agree with your view on that and am a firm believer that some horses can’t stay in the same bit for expended periods of time. Some just need a change-up.

  5. i definitely agree that it has to be a balance between horse and rider! also the waterford was an instrumental bit in my relationship with my mare. it didn’t become our forever bit, but switching to it even temporarily was a turning point in our relationship and communication. glad you found something that works so well for you!

  6. Waterford believer over here! I just switched out the sparkle bit for a waterford and I don’t hate it!

  7. Gags are illegal.
    HU123 Tack
    1. Snaffles, pelhams and full bridles, all with cavesson nose bands, are required.
    a. Judges may penalize, but may not eliminate, a horse or pony that competes in a snaffle, pelham, or full bridle
    that is unconventional. Unconventional snaffles, pelhams, or full bridles include, but are not limited to, hunter
    gags, kimberwickes, etc.
    b. Judges must eliminate a horse or pony that competes in illegal bits or nosebands. Illegal bits include, but are not limited to, three rings, gags (other than the hunter gag), et cetera… Illegal nosebands include, but are not limited to, drop, flash and figure eight nosebands. BOD 1/17/15 Effective 12/1/15

  8. I’m all for trying different bits! Jampy goes great in the 3 ring (that one you’re using is actually a 3 ring by the way, the two ring has a big ring in the middle and then just one on top and on the bottom). I show him in a slow twist D though, as you can’t show in the three ring in the hunters or equitation. Rio on the other hand goes in a single jointed rubber loose ring. Or at least he did before he retired.
    Every horse is different, and not every horse can go in a fat snaffle. I know the humane police don’t agree with that view, but they probably don’t ride a lot of strong jumpers either. I think it’s more cruel to have to hang and pull on a horse in too little bit than it is to try something a little bigger, and ask once and have it work. Once you give back even a harsh bit is plenty soft.

    1. Hah, I know. I tried a three-ring first to see if he’d like it. That particular one is actually a single-jointed whistle three-ring. I just didn’t have a good picture of us in the Happy Mouth two-ring LOL. I should have made that more clear tho #oops

  9. I 100% think that anyone who says every horse should go in a plain snaffle has just never ridden a horse who couldn’t be ridden in one, and has never actually tried changing up bits just to see whether it makes their horse happier. I agree that you should be careful not to over bit. But since there are so many options, and each horse is different, I think working to find a bit that allows them to be happy and relaxed is much kinder than either a bit that is just plain uncomfortable, or a bit that encourages fighting between horse and rider. Good on you for being willing to experiment and find what makes both of you happy!

    Not sure if this was mentioned already, but three rings are actually illegal in Hunters per USEF.
    “Illegal bits include, but are not limited to, three rings, gags (other than the hunter gag), et cetera…Illegal nosebands include, but are not limited to, drop, flash and figure eight

  10. Personally I don’t object to seeing horses in stronger bits if the rider has good hands because sometimes brains leak out and you need a bit more. I strongly object to people yanking on their horse’s mouth strong bit or not.

  11. I gotta say, I’m lucky enough to not have to fool around with bits, my horse is very simple. But I know soooo many people that try different bits for months on end and it’s super annoying!
    Glad you found one that works!

  12. Oh boy, Bacon LOVES her Waterford. She is foamiest and happiest in it. I’m playing around with her dressage bit (she normally goes in a simple loose ring snaffle) to see if there is anything she loves as much as the Waterford. So far, that is a no! Glad Miles picked out a bit!

  13. I used to love playing around with bits when I had my old horse. I can’t see ever changing Tuckers bit though. (he goes in a Myler level 1, just a plain mouth with a roller). One reason is because he needs a bit bigger than a 5″ and that can be difficult to find up here. Also I tried something different once and he hated it. Do what works for both the horse and rider.

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