The Waterford bit: how does it work and what type of horse does it suit?

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • What is a Waterford?

    The Waterford bit looks like a line of ball-and-chain link. It usually comes with plain loose snaffle rings although you can also buy Waterfords with full cheeks or gag-type rings.

    It is a flexible bit that moulds round the horse’s mouth, creating an even pressure. It is moveable in all directions and horses find it difficult to lean or take hold of it, giving the rider good levels of control.

    Martyn Welsh, bitting expert at Equiport, says: “Strong horses seem to accept the Waterford rather than a Pelham or curb-type bit as its action is broken when the horse goes to set its jaw. The bit is very loose in the horse’s mouth so they seem to mouth more with this bit.”

    Bitting expert, BETA field officer and lorinery consultant Tricia Nassau-Williams says: “The Waterford mouthpiece is available across a wide range of bit designs and groups. When incorporating it to different groups be they snaffle, pelham, running gag or lever, its action will be to a degree be dictated by each of the side sections on the bit’s design. With its distinctive multi-joint links, it forms a bobbly chain across the mouthpiece and therefore it is very flexible within the mouth. 

    While the basic multi-link features of the Waterford are available from many manufactures, designs will vary slightly. Look for high-end purchases, as these will not simply reflect the price but most importantly the quality of the bit’s design and finish. If you cannot afford new look, go for good quality second-hand instead rather than inferior new options. Your horse will thank you!”

    Shires Waterford Loose-Ring Snaffle
    Find this popular version of the Waterford mouthpiece, which makes it hard for the horse to take a hold or lean on, at viovet.co.uk. Also available in sweet iron and brass alloy.

    View Now

    Shires Three Ring Dutch Gag With Waterford Mouth

    The mouthpiece prevents the horse taking hold or leaning, while the gag cheeks add leverage and apply pressure to the poll. Also available in sweet iron or brass alloy at viovet.co.uk

    View Now

    How does a Waterford work?

    Tricia explains: “As mentioned, the flexibility of this mouthpiece allows it to sit across the tongue and ‘mould’ over the horse’s mouth, to provide an even pressure of contact. Horses often respond well to the movement in many directions that this provides and some will often accept bits with this mouthpiece better than a fixed ones.

    “Because this mouthpiece is flexible and its action is broken across the mouth, horses that normally tend to lean on or set their jaw to block the rider’s aids go better in it.”

    Shires Waterford Snaffle With Full Cheek
    The full cheeks aid steering. Find this Waterford snaffle at viovet.co.uk

    View Now

    Shires Waterford Snaffle With Hanging Cheek
    The hanging cheeks allow a little pressure to help encourage flexing. Find this snaffle at viovet.co.uk

    View Now

    Which types of horse does this mouthpiece suit best?

    “The Waterford mouthpiece is useful for horses that the rider may feel need to be lighter forehand,” says Tricia. “It can also be helpful when used for strong, bold horses when in fast work, who tend to snatch or take hold of the bit and pull, thus providing the rider with better levels of control, making it a popular choice for riders when riding cross-country or showjumping. 

    “However, success over failure will be totally reliant upon the skill and empathy of the rider, who will require an independent seat and rewarding hands. When employed by a skilled rider it can also be helpful for some training purposes to promote self-carriage and response. 

    “As the Waterford flexes so much, it generally suits all types of mouth conformation, from full mouths to long, slim ones.”

    Tricia adds that “today bits are chosen by first selecting the most appropriate mouthpiece for your horse’s individual mouth type and conformation, also the discipline he is doing and the level of both his training and that of his riders”.

    “A Waterford mouthpiece can be found across a wide range of bits from snaffles, pelhams, running gags and lever bits. Each of these groups will have varying actions and a wide range of end (cheek) section designs. Seek help and guidance from a professional bit  and bridle fitter if you are unsure and require further help,” she advises.

    Tricia continues by saying: “In more recent years, a lot of care and research has been put into bit design. The Trust Equestrian bits have smoothed out the length of the mouthpiece for a more even contact. Neue Schule has produced a short, smooth section at the end of the mouthpiece on both sides, referred to as a LipSmart shelf (find one here at GS Equestrian). This design function is to hep eliminate rubbing in the area of the bit on both the horse’s lips and the flesh just inside them. When measuring for either of these bits, a size larger does not have to be selected because the designs help to prevent the pinching/rubbing problem.”

    Bombers Bits have also tweaked their design recently, elongating the ends of the mouthpiece in order to reduce the risk of the bit pinching the horse’s lips.

    Neue Schule Waterford at GS Equestrian
    This new design incorporates slimmer, smoother, more clearly defined links and has an ergonomic shelf for the lips to rest on, which prevents rubbing.

    View Now

    You might also like:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...