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Icelandic Horse Connection

The "Wonder" Bit

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What is a Wonder or Gag Bit?

Here are some images of wonder / gag type bits:

wonder gag bit

wonder gag bit

wonder gag bit

wonder gag bit


Lee Ziegler (website), starts us off with an explanation: A wonder bit is a modified gag -- as such it has very limited application in good horsemanship or riding. With this bit, any pressure on the reins causes the mouthpiece to rise in the mouth, pulling on the corners of the lips -- a very sensitive area -- and the poll, as well as putting pressure on the jaw from the curb chain. The only really legitimate use of such a contraption is to raise the head of a horse that tends to get behind the bit -- and then only to be used for a short time until the horse learns other habits and can be put in a bit that actually has some useful training function.

The illegitimate uses are myriad, however -- including creating head nod on a horse that has none. This bit does nothing for teaching self carriage, nothing for teaching lateral flexion, nothing for teaching the horse to work through his body, and nothing for teaching the basic "calm, obedient, forward, straight, supple and light" which are the goals of good horsemanship everywhere.


The Gag Bit features a sliding mouthpiece that is able to move up and down the cheek of the bit providing a variable amount of leverage to the corners of the mouth. The intent is to lower the head position and direct the attention of the horse.

Through lots of reading and asking questions, we have learned that the wonder bit, which is the bit one horse was accustomed to, was actually contributing to her paceyness. The physics of such a bit (it is actually more like a gag bit, due to the pressure on the poll and corners of the mouth) were encouraging her to stargaze, hollow her back, and pace.

Lee again: We have yet to determine a good reason for using one -- unless you have a horse that bogs his head low and goes behind the bit. In that case, the gag action is of some help bringing the nose back out, until you can retrain him not to do it. The one thing that *is* good about a Wonder bit is that you can attach the reins to the large ring and have a bit ring snaffle when you do that. IMO, buying a regular snaffle is probably cheaper.

Severity? Well, think of what this bit does when you pull on the reins (assuming they are on the bottom of the shank) It:

1. rises in the mouth putting strong pressure on the corners of the mouth /lips.

2. It "peaks" at the joint in the middle of the mouthpiece, putting pressure on the roof of the mouth and on the bars.

3. It holds strongly under the jaw (from the curb chain) putting the lower jaw in a triangular grip from the bars of the mouthpiece and the chain.

4. It simultaneously puts pressure on the poll, as it rises in the mouth and does these other things.

Is this more severe (more pressure) on the horse's mouth than a bit which does not do all of these things (say a French link snaffle)?

If your end goal is a snaffle, using a more severe bit is not going to help you reach it. Time and work in the snaffle will. Few situations indicate a need for a Wonder bit. One use for them would be a horse that puts his chin on his chest and runs off with you, and even then, it would not be the first choice.


Darlene adds: I have always been told by those that use them, and it is in the advertisements as well, that gag bits including the wonder bit, raise the head and appear to lift the horse off the forehand when the gag is engaged.

I think gaited people like this bit because it can make the horse lift his head, break at the poll and then with the shank you can bring the nose in. To me this bit is a shortcut to good training that not only could be achieved with a better designed bit but with which one could achieve better results.

I now also "wonder" (a little pun) if this bit is not responsible for some of the many stepping pace horses seen in the ring. As I believe while this bit may get the horse's head in the position people want it, it also has the ability to cause stiffness rather than looseness and also hollows the back through the unnatural raising of the head...

It is a wonder why so many people think the wonder / gag is so wonderful... One gaited horse owner relates: "Even being a greener-horn than I am now, when I first started riding my horse she had a wonderbit. She was SOOO upside down, head-tossing, tense, grabbing the bit and taking off with me... it was awful! Even *I*, ill-informed as I was at the time, sensed that it was not a good bit for her. I started looking around, and learned why I didn't like it. It's basically a gag bit, and the jointed mouthpiece gives nutcracker effect inside the mouth. UGH."

No matter how many pieces it has in the mouth, if it has a curb chain / strap and shanks, the effect is going to be a nutcracker in the mouth, because the mouthpiece is going to bend around the bars and clamp down when applied through pressure on the shanks.

The gag effect means that the thing can and does rise in the horse's mouth when the reins are used -- pulling up against the corners of the mouth/lips. The saving grace of the wonder bit compared to a regular gag (the unshanked kind) is that the size of the ring limits the lift in the mouth. The unlimited gags could theoretically be pulled all the way through the top of a horse's head if you kept cranking on them. The only other saving grace of one is that you can attach the reins to the ring at the mouthpiece, take off the curb strap, and have a sort of large ring snaffle (but one with a really thin mouthpiece that is on the severe side).

I have not seen many wonder bits used with two reins. But if you put a rein on the ring, you have a snaffle, and add a rein on the shank, you have a gag curb.

The most severe set is the loose ring gag, eggbutt gag and dee gag.

Gags are not snaffles. They are leverage bits and belong in their own category.

A reader asks: And another thing that confuses me about the WB, what makes it an "elevator"? Doesn't it put pressure on the poll when the reins are engaged, which I would think would encourage lowering the head?

No, you would think so, but there is also the pressure upwards in the mouth which goes along with the pressure on the poll, actually the whole head is in a vice, so that when you pull on the reins, the head comes up. the things are sold as "European Elevator bits" in some catalogues.

If you time it just right, you can create head nod with this sort of bit, by raising and lowering the head through rein manipulation.

Once you have seen a few horses "working" in them, you can really see what the effect is on the head.

Another list subscriber says: "I was told to use the wonder bit to "square up" my pacey horse, but lots of slow riding made his paciness go away on its own."

Another says: "My horse IS easier to 'control' in that bit, but I can tell it is 'control' and not 'communication'."

And that is the crux of the situation. What this bit does is raise the horse's head and cause pain. It is designed to do that. That is all it is designed to do. That is not what good bits are for -- they are for communication, quiet, kind, communication, between horse and rider as much as between rider and horse.

A horse who has been brought along through their training correctly and with compassion acquires an educated mouth and from there, you can ride them with just about any bit without causing harm and will also have a horse that is responsive to the riders aids too. You've obviously done a good job of training your horses and that is why they are responsive to you and also different bits; they're educated and they trust you not to hurt them.

An educated trainer adds: "You have to know if your horse needs to be worked off the bars or lips... when you understand the mechanics of how your horse is built, how he travels, and your goals, then you will know which bit to go to."

One of the fellas says: "I have used the Wonder Bit, but I have not had remarkable results with it. My mare was more apt to blow off the barrels with this bit because I was never able to take a hold of her face with it...due to the long draw of this bit...it just kept sliding. The large amounts of poll pressure wasn't a welcome attribute either. The Wonder Bit is one of those bits that everyone has, but nodody uses!"
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