MANY polo players, show jumpers and eventers are regular users of the American gag. We find out why

What is it?

THE American gag is a snaffle-type bit, with upper shanks to which the cheekpieces attach, and lower shanks with attachments for the reins. It can also be used with a second set of reins connecting to the metal loops at the end of the mouthpiece, giving a milder action.

How does it work?

IT has a leverage (elevator) action, although it is not classed as a true leverage bit because there is no curb chain. Pressure on the gag rein causes the bit to pull on the cheekpieces, which raises the bit and exerts pressure on the poll and corners of the mouth. It gives the horse a firm message to get his head up and stop, so is useful for a strong puller or a horse that leans on the hand. It’s a great help with turning and brakes, but can encourage a high, stiff neck carriage.

Who uses them?

COLINA Allen used one on her eventer Nictim.

“It was the only bit I could stop him in across country,” she says. “It offered controllability and steerability because it got him off the hand.

“We’ve been through a lot of bits — in a Dutch gag [also known as a bubble bit, with three or four side rings] he tended to hollow, but he stays softer and rounder in this.”

Fellow eventer Julie Tew uses a cherry roller American gag on her advanced horse Sir Roselier.

“I went through loads of bits before I tried this,” she says. “He carted me at a one-day event a few years ago in a Pelham — I tried the American gag for the show jumping and what a difference.

“Sir Roselier has a very soft mouth, which is why I didn’t try it sooner — it’s quite a strong bit.But as soon as I tried the gag, I found he was much more together and connected. I can now ride him on a much softer contact, as I know I can get him back before a fence.”

How do I get one?

THE American gag varies in price from £12.99-£79 depending on where you buy. We’d recommend it only for experienced riders.

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (8 March, ’07)