Icelandic Horse Connection

Do Gaited Horses Require Harsher Bits?

Link to this page!
The question "Do Gaited Horses Require Harsher Bits?" was asked of the members of the GaitedHorse email discussion list:


Here are some of their replies:

From Lucy:

I use a plain loose O-ring snaffle and also a french link snaffle (the one with the middle piece that is shaped like a dog biscuit). It doesn't really make any difference to me or mine which one I use. I do not use any curb bits. Just don't like them. No shank or purchase. I don't know why most people use so much bit with these horses. It does seem to be the norm but it's actually much harder to work well with them with all that metal between them and you. Also, you should never try to work on bending in a shank type bit. I highly recommend Lee Ziegler's book "Easy Gaited Horses". There is a great deal of good information on bits and bitting in it.

From Elva:

For my mare, a snaffle is an instrument of torture and I know she is not the only one out there with a low palate. I use a curb bit on her with a very low port, so low it's almost just a wave and very short shanks. She is much happier in it than even the three-piece snaffle. I just hate to see the one bit for all horses philosophy as much as the one saddle for all horses.

From Kat:


I agree that gaited horses are indeed like any other horse when it comes to biting. The bit should fit the horse, the rider, and to a lesser degree the activity.

First, a snaffle is any non leveraged bit, rings on a solid mouth piece is a snaffle. A leveraged snaffle is a contradiction in terms. It is a leveraged, or curb bit, with a broken mouth piece, often called a tom thumb or an argentine "snaffle".

And I agree that a leveraged broken mouth piece bit is indeed a "harsh" bit and one that ought to be used with care, if it is ever used at all. And that most of the bits I see on the D-Bar-M's walls I wouldn't let any where near a horses mouth, ever. But the beautiful hand made spade bits that look so harsh, those I dream of some day being worthy of using.

I don't agree that a regular snaffle is a "mild" bit, though it is the proper bit for an uneducated horse that is just learning to give at the poll, bend thru the body, etc . Or a rider with heavy hands. A snaffle is rather like the stubby pencils or crayons a child uses. Fine for printing block letters but there is a limit to where you can go.

If used by an educated horse and rider, a port or spade is a refined communication tool. To continue the analogy -- it is like a pen with a nib used to create beautiful script. Some horses and riders will be happy in the snaffle and have no desire to move on, and that is great. But if you seek refinement then you need refined tools. These bits are only harsh if used incorrectly. They are not meant for horses that don't stop in a snaffle, they are for horses that stop from your seat without ever touching the reins. As Sylvia suggests, if you can't stop your horse with a snaffle, its time to take a step back and take a hard look at where there are holes in the foundation training. Not buy a leveraged, broken mouthpiece bit to get more "whoa".

As I have mentioned before, here in northern Nevada the Vacquero tradition is still very strong. Horses are started in the snaffle, then the bosal, the four rein (bosal & spade), and finally the finished bridle horse wears the spade with only an ornamental bosalitto tied to the forelock. These horses are as highly educated as any you are likely to see, and happy in their work. And yes some of them are "shufflers" that gait beautifully.


PS: That said I ride Ruby in a Myler low port, 5" shank because it is what she is comfortable in. She is just past her basic training and most of the time the movement of my pinky finger is all it takes. I would have been comfortable staying with the snaffle longer to work on getting more bend BUT She Detests the Snaffle. All snaffles. But put a port in her mouth and she is a happy camper, picks it right up and rounds into it like a pro.

From Noel:

"I just hate to see the one bit for all horses philosophy as much as the one saddle for all horses."

I have to agree with Elva. Unfortunately, much to the frustration of people trying to find a bit for their horse not every bit works great for every horse. Kind bits like snaffles can be torture if you have heavy hands, and curb bits (JMHO) really should be used in the hands of "trained" people because since they are leverage bits, they can be easily "misused" or have the potential to be really heavy with just light pressure (longer shanked ones anyway).

I guess I'm a very lucky girl, my horse goes easily in a snaffle or a short shank curb or a hackamore. I do take exception to people who say you need a certain this or certain that to make a horse gait. I'll bring my gaited morgan over and gait bareback with her grooming collar on and show them!!

From Paul:

I think that most people that don't know better use the long shanked Tom Thumbs because that's what they have been told to use.

For me having a horse in a "good" curb bit is a wonderful thing, if it is done right. One of the most beautiful things is a properly trained bridle horse going. I am actually getting ready to start the bridle horse process with my Walker gelding. Hopefully in 3 - 5 years he'll be going nicely in a spade.

By the time a horse is going in a shank bit they should be mostly finished, so there should be no need to work on bending.

"I'm assuming that a broken snaffle is a "torture device" on your horse because it stikes the palate."

It certainly IS the case for many TWH's and their like. As are so called mild mouth pieces because the diameter is larger. Some TWH type mouth's simply find the larger diameters miserable. Like carrying around a log in their mouths.

I think my view with spurs sums up my feeling on curb bits. You don't get to use them until you've proven that you don't need them...

No, most "gaited" horses don't require harsher bits ...for example, I ride most of my Fox Trotters in a sidepull.

To contact us, please go to the Contact Page.