Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bitting Arrangements

Bitting can be complicated, especially when certain bits are made without an obvious orientation or with more rings than there are reins. This aim of this post is to make the process of setting up a new bit easier. These are amongst the more popular bits, and most other styles will follow a similar pattern. Whenever you try a new bit, I strongly recommend that you adjust and use it under the guidance of an experienced horse person.

Dashed lines on the bit diagrams indicate where two sets of reins or a single rein with converters (aka roundings) could be used.


The baucher is a snaffle that differs from others in that it has two rings: one for the cheekpiece and one for the reins. This causes it to hang differently in the mouth in a way that some horses prefer, but it also makes it prone to being hung upside down.

There are no options here; the cheekpiece always attaches to the small ring while the reins attach to the ring that contains the mouthpiece.

Elevator/Three-Ring/Four-Ring/Continental Gag/Pessoa Gag

This bit has many names to go along with the many ways in which it can be used!

The cheekpiece always attaches to the small ring at the top, but everything aside from that is an option. Many will ride with a single set of reins on one of the lower rings, which makes it exclusively a leverage bit. Set up in this way, the horse has no relief from the leverage unless contact is dropped entirely. To remedy this, a snaffle rein can be added to the big ring, using either converters or two sets of reins. The lower the ring for the curb rein, the more leverage there will be.

Gag Bit/Running Gag

This bit incorporates both a bit and special cheekpieces which allow the bit to be lifted up in the mouth. The bridle's original cheekpieces must be removed to make room for the gag cheekpieces.

There are two options for using this bit. Many riders will just use the gag attachment with a single set of reins. The severity can be lessened by using, in addition to the gag rein, a snaffle rein attached to the big ring, which keeps the bit from being lifted every time contact is taken. I do not recommend using the snaffle rein without a gag rein attached; this gives the bit the opportunity to bounce freely up along the cheekpieces with every stride, which can be both irritating and confusing to the horse.


The pelham is a popular choice for hunters or equitation horses that require more bit than a snaffle.

There are very few options when using a pelham. The cheekpiece will always attach to the top ring, and the curb chain will also attach to the hook there (sometimes the chain is run through the snaffle ring on its way to the hook to stabilize or shorten it). The pelham should be used with either two sets of reins or with rein converters/roundings. In the jumper ring, pelhams are occasionally seen with just a curb rein but this is very severe and should only be used in rare occasions by very talented riders. The reins or converters will always attach to the big ring and to the lower ring. For hunter and equitation classes, check your local rules to find out whether converters are permitted for your jump height and age group.

The tiny ring is for a lip strap, which is the most correct way to use a pelham despite not being very commonly used in the North American hunter/jumper scene. The lip strap is a thin rolled piece of leather that runs through the centre link of the curb chain to keep it flat and still, and it also keeps the bit shanks away from the horse's mouth where they could be grabbed.

Uxeter Kimberwick/Kimberwicke/Kimblewick

The Uxeter or slotted kimberwick is a bit sometimes seen on strong ponies (the pelham is a more appropriate bit in most other cases because the action is more refined).

The cheekpiece will always attach to the small ring at the top, and there is a hole below that ring for the curb chain hook. There are two options for the reins; the upper slot will hold the rein in a position opposite the mouthpiece that will act more similarly to a snaffle, while the lower slot holds the reins in a position to provide stronger curb action. The short length doesn't allow the curb action to ever be truly strong, but this bit isn't generally favoured because there is no relief from that small amount of leverage given that only one set of reins is ever used.

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