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

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  • What is a Waterford?

    The Waterford snaffle 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.””

    Who uses it?

    Fiona Jonason, who is based with leading eventer Polly Stockton in Cheshire, is currently using a Waterford on her advanced ride Zinzan Tiger. Fiona initially rode Zinzan Tiger in a Waterford when he was a seven-year-old, before switching to a snaffle with a lozenge last year, but has now returned to using a Waterford.

    “I did ride Zinzan Tiger in the Waterford last year, but only for schooling at home, as he can get quite strong,” explains Fiona. “Through the winter, I’ve been riding him in a Waterford and because he’s been jumping so well in it, I decided to leave it in for competition.

    ““The Waterford suits him because he’s prone to cocking his jaw, but this bit stops him latching on to it.”

    Anyone else?

    Cheshire-based rider Mike Florence uses the Waterford on his string of novice show jumpers in the Mellor Vale stable.

    “There is no nutcracker action, so a horse cannot lean on it and, as it isn’t a harsh bit, they will go onto it without problems,” says Mike. “But equally, it is strong enough for me bring them back off the bit without trouble.

    “It’s a bit I particularly like for a youngster because it makes him ‘mouth’ and salivate well, relaxing the jaw and making him more responsive to the rein aids. Because it is not rigid, it is especially useful for a horse that tries to take hold.

    “I have at least nine horses who use a Waterford snaffle, which indicates that a lot of horses will go happily in one.

    “I’ve just changed one of my best horses into one from a plain ring snaffle. She tends to run on downhill and I’m now able to keep her balanced and together in a Waterford and stop her digging a hole for herself without over-bitting her.”

    Horse & Hound (5 April, ’06)

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