Choosing the right bit

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  • Tina Fletcher (n‚e Cassan) has twice won show jumping’s premier ladies’ title, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. With Genesis, she was first reserve for the British team at the Barcelona Olympics and the same year, 1992, was a World Cup finalist, finishing fifth overall in Del Mar, California.

    Tina is married to Horse & Hound columist Graham Fletcher and together they run a yard near Wantage, Oxon. Tina produces jumpers and event horses, as well as training riders of all ages for both disciplines.

    Tina Fletcher starts all her young horses in a loose ring, stainless steel jointed snaffle with a medium width mouthpiece.

    “I prefer loose rings to an eggbutt because they allow more movement in the horse’s mouth, which makes him softer in your hand – the eggbutt is solid. I quite like a horse to play with his bit to achieve an amiable, responsive mouth.”

    Fitting a horse’s first bit correctly is essential. The snaffle should fit snugly into the corners of the lips, just wrinkling the corners. And when you pull the bit straight in the horse’s mouth, there should be room for one slim finger between the bit ring and lip on each side.

    Nathe snaffle

    Not to be confused with cheaper, plastic mouthpieces, Nathe is soft and flexible, but not as bulky as rubber. An inner core ensures safety – horses have been known to bite into non-metallic bits.

    “Fussy-mouthed horses, or those with a very light mouth, seem to like Nathe bits,” said Tina. “They enjoy the feel of them, which means you can keep a contact without worrying them.”

    Tina uses a straight-bar Nathe snaffle with medium-sized loose rings. “I always add rubber bit guards because, occasionally, the bit can pinch where the mouthpiecejoins the rings.”

    Dutch gag

    When a horse is difficult in his mouth, but needs to be worked into an outline, Tina chooses a Dutch gag with straight Nathe mouthpiece.

    “Of the three rings, I would nearly always use the middle one, which gives slight leverage but is not as severe as the bottom ring. Slightly strong horses seem to respect this without resenting it.”

    Tina often switches to a Dutch gag when an impetuous youngster is too forward-going in a plain snaffle. “Instead of having a fight, I’ll ride him in the Dutch gag for a week or so to try to soften him up. Then I go back to the snaffle. A change of bits often helps keep a horse interested and supple in his mouth, too.”

    Waterford snaffle

    “These are brilliant for horses which lean on the bit and need lightening up in front,” said Tina of the bit with a mouthpiece formed from a series of linked bobbles.

    “There is no nutcracker action, as you get with a jointed snaffle,so horses that lean on snaffles tend to be lighter in a Waterford.

    “I use this bit a lot for competing when I need a little extra control, for instance as a horse gets fitter and stronger. I always try to use a Waterford with a Fulmer cheek which, as you ask for a turn, puts slight pressure on the opposite side of the horse’s face. It helps make him more obedient.”

    Tina added that any bit with many moving parts, such as the Waterford, should regularly be checked for signs of wear and sharp edges. Buying good quality to begin with is the best safe-guard.

    Double bridle

    “I wouldn’t often compete in a double bridle, but they are excellent for schooling a horse which needs to be lightened up in front. Very often,provided you use it correctly, you can get a better result than with draw reins or other schooling aids.”

    Tina’s double bridle consists of a loose ringed, thin-mouthed bradoon and curb with medium cheeks – long cheeks would be more severe – and small, low port.

    “Riding effectively with two reins is a particular art. You need to be able to use the curb and snaffle reins independently; using them as one dulls the bridle’s action.”

    Tina says that horses which go well as youngsters in a snaffle are ideal candidates for a double bridle when the time comes to refine their schooling.


    For a really strong horse, Tina opts for a rubber-covered pelham. “The rubber is softer than vulcanite, but many hard-pulling horses don’t resist it as much – perhaps because they enjoy the feel of it.

    “With a really sharp bit, you often end up in the situation where the more you pull, the more the horse pulls. The pelham is a good bit for competing as it allowsyou to maintain a contact and keep control throughout without a fight developing.”

    Tina’s pelhams have couplings rather than two reins. “I know it’s a bit of a compromise, but it always seems to work well.”

    She rarely uses an uncovered curb chain but adds a rubber guard or uses a leather substitute. “And, of course, we should all remember our lipstraps should be completely correct!” .

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