Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Bit more - part 2 of 3 - Double, Pelham, Gags & Bitless

In part 1, we looked at Snaffles. Here are the other Bits.


Double bridles are made up of three parts, the bradoon and the curb bit and the curb chain. These are easy to distinguish as:
  • A bradoon will have a link and round rings
  • A curb bit has no link and has cheeks in some form of another
  • A curb chain is a piece of fine metal chain which attaches to either side of the bit and then lies in the chin groove.
Double bridles apply pressure to two further parts of the horse, the chin groove and the poll, which can encourage a more advanced head carriage and/or improved control. For this reason, they are used when the horse has reached a stage in his training where he requires further refinement, such as advanced dressage. Doubles can also be used when showing, hunting or jumping.


A Pelham is a rather cunning bit where the two bits of a double bridge have been combined into one. Pelham bits can be used with one rein (with roundings) or two reins to encourage further refinement. This type of bit has the following variations:
  • Straight bar or gently curved (mullen)
  • With a port (a raised section in the centre of the bit)
  • Jointed
  • Kimblewick, which is a single reined bit with two rein positions, This is a strong bit.
Rugby Pelham can be used with a sliphead, like a double bridle, and can be made to look like a double for the show ring.

Pelhams are generally quite severe and should only be used by experienced people. They are not acceptable in dressage.


Gags are related to snaffle bits but are more severe.

They usually employ a lever action which works on the poll and are commonly seen when horses are going cross country, show jumping or playing polo. They are illegal for dressage.

There are many variations. Like the snaffle, they can have straight bar, single joined or double jointed mouthpieces in addition to a variety of different rings/cheeks, but these are often specific to that type of gag.

Gag snaffles should be used with two reins in a similar style to a Pelham. To use a type of bit like this with one rein does not allow any reward for the horse if he behaves, or give the rider any other option than employing the lever action. If a rein is attached to the snaffle ring and then a ring below, the rider has the best of both worlds.

Gags are very severe and if used inconsiderately can cause a lot of problems. That said, if used correctly and sympathetically, they can provide the rider with a further degree of control. Gags should only be used by very experienced riders.


A bitless bridge or Hackamore is not technically a bit (hence, bitless) but a special attachment is available to provide the rider with control without the need for a traditional bit. These ‘bits’ rely on points of control outside the horse’s mouth, especially the nose. Bitless bridles have difference degrees of severity depending on the length of the shank between the nose and reins, and the paddying/width of straps around the head.

Bitless bridles are great for horses that do not like traditional bits or have damaged mouths, but they are not allowed in dressage competitions. Don’t be fooled … bitless bridles can be very severe and should not be used by inexperienced people.

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