Few subjects provoke more heated debate among showing producers than what is a suitable bit for lead-rein and first ridden ponies.

Traditionally the snaffle has been king, but a bewildering array of “snaffles” are now available. The main society’s rules are not clear on the subject either. Ponies (UK) stipulates any “suitable bridle”, while the BSPS requires “suitable snaffle bridles”.

However, as a snaffle bit may have a jointed or straight bar mouthpiece, which is twisted, rollered or smooth, with or without a port, with fixed or moving rings, this is an area which leaves judges divided and competitors confused.

The general feeling is that exhibitors would like the societies to give them clear guidance on this issue.

The BSPS is reluctant to adopt the same wording as Ponies (UK). Chairman Jim McTiffin explains: “This is a road I do not want to travel down, as “any suitable bridle” could include a double bridle.”

In order to resolve judges’ dilemmas and give exhibitors clear goalposts, the BSPS has shifted the emphasis away from technicalities. “A class should be judged on the way the pony goes, and not the snaffle in its mouth,” is the official decree. “The pony should be happy and the child must be safe.”

Ponies (UK) chairman Davina Whiteman agrees and stands by her society’s “suitable bits” ruling.

“As a trainer, I have always taken the view that there is a bit for every animal and this might not be an ordinary snaffle. The priority must be for animals to accept their bit, so the judges must take responsibility and decide if an animal looks happy and is going well.”

Leading pony judge Michael Sharpley favours the traditional eggbutt or loose ring snaffle for lead-rein ponies, but places children’s safety above hard and fast rules.

“Small ponies on a lead-rein should go well in a traditional snaffle as they are trained from the ground before the child even gets on. In a first ridden class however, if the pony goes correctly in a bit other than a simple snaffle, then for safety reasons I would approve.”