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Joined: Sat Jun 2nd, 2007
Location: Tāhuna / Glenorchy, New Zealand
Posts: 40
Status:  Offline
Posted: Sat Jun 9th, 2007 04:58 am
I'm keen on developing a 'test' for horses, to try and determine their preferences for particular types of pressure in bitting, without going through an entire tack shop's line up at random in a 'hit and miss' type of style - no structure or logic!

Here's my thoughts to date, I'd love some comments back as to how you all feel and whether we could get close to a 'test set' of bits for determining general pressure preferences in any horse, to narrow the field before getting more specific in our investigations.

  • To find a style of device acceptable for our partners and ourselves
  • To avoid costly buy/trial of many styles
  • To have a baseline tool to judge general preference, for our own piece of mind - yep, putting things in boxes.
Aim: To test for acceptance and preferrence of a particular type of pressure in bitting, to build a basic understanding of the type of mouth and cheek piece to be pursued for an individual animal.

  1. That we can develop a test which isolates (in as much as practicable) a single type or pressure in bitting our horses, drawn from:
      1. Tongue
      2. Bar
      3. Curb
      4. Poll
      5. Palate
      6. Nose
  2. That we can assign one bit (or style of bit/headpiece) to each of the above listed categories of pressure, the result being a 'test kit' of around 6 devices which can test for a preference of one pressure over another.
  3. That we can systematically work through the 6 devices in the 'test kit' to obtain a picture of an individual animal's reactions and thereby pursue a further investigation of 'the best' bit for our animal, once we know the general preference for a particular type of pressure.
  4. That once established, we could return to the 'test kit' at any time to re-test the animal's preferences, as training progresses for example.
  1. That testing in this manner will minimise variables associated with the rider's application of the aids - We will use the same rider in each instance, therefore this will approach consistency in application, whether or not the aids are 'correct'.
  2. That the aids will be applied in a manner which is considered reasonably acceptable and 'correct'.
  3. That the 'test ride' for each device will consist mainly of similar ring figures or questions of the horse, dependent on his/her level of training and the rider's level of ability.
  4. That in addition to the 6 devices, there are additional factors for consideration, such as stability/mobility of the parts of the mouth piece, thickness of the mouthpiece and severity of the device, which should be noted, but can be tested outside the scope of this experiment.
At this stage, simply an assignment of one type of bit to one type of pressure - I'm aiming for a style which will best replicate a single type of pressure with very minimal, i.e. negligible additional pressures of other types. Please also ignore my english bias - it's due to a lack of experience with western tack, but I'd ultimately like an example from both tack styles, for each pressure type.
  1. Tongue pressure - A bit which has a jointed mouthpiece and acts on the tongue rather than simply mitigating palate pressure.(example picture - dr. bristol style) note - Perhaps the 'bean' style mouthpiece in the KK ultra range would achieve a similar objective, i.e. tongue pressure and also be flexible to use the opposite way around to achieve palate pressure(?) - see this forum discussion, post from 'c4'
  2. Bar pressure - note - I'm struggling with this one, maybe a curved mouthpiece?
  3. Curb pressure - A bit which has a curb chain attached, used without a curb guard, not ported, but with tongue relief, in an unjointed mouthpiece of either english or western style, in which the reins are attached in line with the mouthpiece. (example picture - kimblewick style, with two rein attachment points)
  4. Poll pressure - A shanked bit, not ported, but with tongue relief, in an unjointed mouthpiece of either english or western style, in which the reins are attached below the mouthpiece. (example picture - weymouth style) note - most shanked bits appear to come with a curb chain - can anyone give me a better example here? Perhaps we could simply re-use the kimblewick here, (same bit as for no. 3 test) but attach reins lower down to increase poll pressure?
  5. Palate pressure - note - still undecided, A ported mouthpiece, or single jointed version of another type of bit used elsewhere in the test? e.g. a dr bristol eggbut in no. 1 and a single jointed eggbut here in no. 5?
  6. Nose pressure - Either a 'lunge cavesson' in the english style, or western bosal(?) note - I've excluded other bitless devices because I see a lot of them with cross-over throat straps and varied arrangements. i.e. the more traditional cavesson nose/bosal is a simpler form of nose pressure(?)
Current test set: 1. Dr. Bristol; 2. tbc; 3. Kimblewick reins attached straight; 4 Weymouth/Kimblewick alternative rein attachment; 5. tbc; 6. cavesson/bosal

Measures of success:
  • Willingness to accept the bit/bridle in tacking up
  • Improved performance - seeking contact, stretching, telescoping the neck, steadiness in the contact
  • General carriage - calm, forward, straight improves
  • General demeanor - 'seems happier' (yikes that's subjective)
  • Other factors?


*Additional considerations - cheek style, (loose ring, full cheek, fulmer cheek, eggbut/D ring) stability of the mouthpiece, (waterford vs. fulmer with keepers of baucher) thickness, severity, (e.g. twisted mouthpieces left out of this test) mouthpiece material (copper, german silver, stainless steel) level of ability/training of the horse and head carriage range (differing affects due to different action when stretched vs. more raised head carriage - is this a factor, or is it simply a differing action when the base of the neck is raised vs. not?)


Joined: Sat Jun 2nd, 2007
Location: Tāhuna / Glenorchy, New Zealand
Posts: 40
Status:  Offline
Posted: Sat Jun 9th, 2007 07:15 am
P.S. This thread is also running on other forums, feel free to address issues raised by others as well:

ESI is Forum no. 1
Forum no. 2
Forum no. 3

Super Moderator

Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3332
Status:  Offline
Posted: Sat Jun 9th, 2007 03:14 pm
Kallisti -- you might want to view the DVD produced by me and Canadian master bitmaker Dave Elliott. Many of your questions are already answered there. This DVD program is actually a mini-course, consisting of some 8 hours of instruction, and it includes not only many different kinds of bits covering an array of different designs, but also all the relevant points of anatomy. Go and view. I think it's cheap at $120 USD.

As to a test: the best test I know of if your horse does not seem happy with the bit he's wearing is to get a chain bit. You put the chain bit in and see if he goes quiet and carries himself better. If he does, you may conclude that the bit you had been using was in some way uncomfortable for him.

A chain bit does two things: first, it conforms to the internal shape of the horse's mouth. Of course the type of chain bit I mean is one made out of a dog-collar, that has fairly fine links that are shaped so that they will lie flat.

The second thing a chain bit does is it allows the horse to pick the "mouthpiece" up and place it on his tongue wherever he wants. A horse needs to be able to move a bit up or down until he finds the best spot for it, and the chain allows this freely. So you observe what the horse does when you put it in there -- see if he "hooks" it with his tongue and then moves it upward (or downward) until it seats in the natural dip or groove that goes across his tongue, or in some other spot that he prefers.

Having learned what the horse likes through observation, you can then do two things: (a) adjust the position of the bit so that the horse can have it lie at whatever height up and down you noticed that he likes. This involves having enough "play" designed into the bit so that at least some adjustment on the horse's part is possible, but more importantly it involves having you learn how to adjust the bridle. Since you are trained in science, Kallisti, I can mention to you that Dave E. points out that this is a factorial phenomenon: for if you have a bit that can itself be adjusted, let us say, two different ways, but you hang that bit on a bridle that has two different possible adjustments, then you really have 2 to the 2nd power or four different possible configurations. But most bridles and many bits have more than two possible adjustments, so for example in the Monte Foreman pelham we use for an example on the DVD, you have two different possible rein positions, two different possible positions for the curb strap, and (let us say at least) two different up-down choices on the bridle hanger, yielding 2 to the 3rd power or 8 different possibilities. So a single bit is almost never a "single" choice!

(b) The second thing the chain-bit test will help you to do is select a bit that will, as closely as possible, conform to the internal shape of the horse's mouth. Some horses have flatter mouths, others have a more giraffe-like or cylindrical internal shape. The amount of bend in the canons of the bit needs to be just right to accommodate whatever shape your horse presents. You should also buy only well manufactured bits in which the "join" or interlink between the canons is small and yet well-made. We go over how to tell this on the bitting DVD program. In terms of "standard" equipment that would be legal at horse shows (a chain bit is generally not legal), you can opt for a snaffle that has a dogbone center (i.e. a three-piece snaffle, there are different particular designs for the center piece), or for a two-part snaffle. If you are interested in a leverage bit, then rather than go over all the considerations here I will merely say you need to view the DVD -- where it emphatically repeats, NEVER combine a snaffle-type mouthpiece with any type of shank, unless the shanks are welded/connected together by a bar below the horse's chin.

So again, Kallisti, maybe it's that you're in graduate school and you need some feedback because somebody is telling you that you need to design and perform experiments. But if you are instead someone who just wants to go get the right bit and then learn to ride in it, then I think you're approaching it in a way that takes it from a realm where it could really happen into a realm where it is never really going to happen.

As Ray Hunt says, Kallisti: "Smile and go at it". And: "The man who never made a mistake never done nothin' anyway." Because Kallisti, there is no real harm in a person experimenting with many bits, and having to buy many bits. You have to do this, I have to do this, everyone has to do this before any of us can become horsewomen and horsemen. You have to try many things, get the feel of each one, see how your horse reacts, see how the same bit and bit set-up might work on other horses too -- and -- observe, remember, and compare. This is Galileo's maxim, often repeated by our elderly teacher, and it is the very essence of scientific method.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb




Joined: Sat Jun 2nd, 2007
Location: Tāhuna / Glenorchy, New Zealand
Posts: 40
Status:  Offline
Posted: Thu Jun 14th, 2007 01:24 am

More than happy to 'smile and go at it' thanks for the reserved encouragement of my hair-brained schemes. (No, no school requirements here).

I hadn't heard the 'chain test' anywhere before, but it certainly seems to make some sense. Now if I can just figure out how to see inside my horse's mouth whilst it's closed we'll be away....

observe, remember, and compare


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