METALAB is a manufacturer of riding products, including stirrups and spurs, but is perhaps best known for its bits, which are becoming very fashionable, according to some saddlers.

The company uses a range of manufacturing processes, including stamping, forging and lost-wax casting. The resulting brushed stainless steel material is easy to pick out on the shelves, thanks to its striking engraving and light colour.

Why are they popular?

BITTING expert Eloise Chugg from Fox Saddlery stocks a range of Metalab bits from the John Whitaker International (JWI) range, endorsed by John and used by riders including his daughters, Louise and Joanne Whitaker.

“Metalab bits are made from brushed stainless steel with no added chemicals, and riders usually find they are more widely accepted by their horses than conventional stainless steel versions,” explains Eloise.

“The smooth finish encourages a relaxed mouth.”

The engraved Metalab logo can be seen on a loop attached to the main ring of each JWI bit — the rein attaches through the loop, stopping it from moving excessively.

“I compete a strong 17hh mare in the JWI Pelham Low Port,” says Eloise.

“It stops her from carrying her head too low, but gives me a great response when I apply rein pressure. Attaching the rein through the loop makes the bit stable, allows more leverage and gives quicker, clearer signals to the horse and the material is said to reduce mouth irritation.

“In my experience as a retailer, the most popular JWI bits are the snaffles and the low ported pelham with a curb chain. Some bits have copper pieces, such as the eggbutt jointed mouth copper oval, and the jointed full cheek snaffle with a copper piece. The copper element produces more salivation and acceptance from the horse, so is popular with customers riding young horses.”

Who else uses them?

THE Metalab material is used in several other ranges, including the Felix Brasseur Collection of driving bits, developed by the Belgian driver who took the four-in-hand driving title at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. The bits feature a unique “up-down” leverage action, which Felix says equalises the force exerted by the driver on the mouth and poll.

“The process of collecting the horse is therefore accomplished with less effort,” he explains.

Brazilian show jumpers Rodrigo and Nelson Pessoa also favour the Metalab material and have launched their own bit range, the Pessoa Collection, which encompasses snaffles, pelhams, eggbutts and gags.

“We developed the ‘Magic System’ of bits with Metalab to provide signals that are faster, stronger and clearer, and allow the rider to be in better command of the horse’s tempo and movement,” explains Rodrigo.

Where can I buy one?

JWI bits are available from Fox Saddlery Tel: 01285 651106 www.foxsaddlery.com or www.johnwhitakerintltd.com

The Pessoa Collection and the Felix Brasseur Collection are available from Bitworld Tel: 01664 812 298 www.bitworld.co.uk

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (19 July, ’07)