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The History of the Bit
 By mosquito   •   9th Jun 2010   •   4,919 views   •   4 comments
I just wrote an article all about the history of the useful stirrup, but there’s another nifty piece of equipment most riders (but of course not all) use – the bit. Where did it come from?

There is evidence of bits being used since 3000BC. Archaeological finds have included bits of various designs – although nothing as sophisticated or as gentle as our modern bits – have been found, made of all kinds of materials including wood, antler, stone, and even leather and rope. Controlling the horse by controlling its head – and its mouth – was clearly a concept understood by the very earliest riders.

The History of the BitThese early bits were only designed for controlling the horse in its relatively slow-paced role for farming and transport. Once horses became tools of war however, beginning with the chariots of Ancient Egypt and the mounted warriors of east and central Asia, the need to control the horse is a distracting and fast-paced environment became more important. Now, riders were looking for sharper communication, and rougher bits, to be able to stop or steer their horse in battle, often with just one hand on the reins. Bits of the Egyptian, Roman and Medieval European eras were much more severe than their predecessors. Iron or bronze bits with sharp, v-shaped edges, and wire (even barbed wire) bits were developed. It is this period that we begin to see the ancestors of the modern curb bit, as the leverage of longer shanks and high ports was discovered.

Here too, we see the art and craft of ‘lorinery’ or bit-making coming into fashion. Right from the start, as saddle makers and loriners (bit maker) became separate trades, there was a rivalry as to which skill was more important for the control of the horse. So strong was this rivalry, that the two sides actually rioted against each other in the streets of London in the 14th century, in an outbreak of violence that left many craftsmen dead. Interestingly, after that riot, the courts of London ruled in favor of the loriners, and the saddlers were ordered to leave the loriners alone or be forced to pay compensation to them in wine!

Simple snaffles also appear in this period, although they should not be mistaken for the snaffles we use today. The mouthpieces were normally designed to be very long, so the action in the horse’s mouth was more like the port of a curb than a properly functioning modern snaffle.

The History of the BitIt was not until the 1700s that innovations in horse training led to gentler bits, although many riders today would still be horrified at the equipment used then. The concept of ‘schooling’ and ‘haute ecole’ emerged in the period, with training seen as a valid way of developing control over a horse. It is in this period, the 18th c, that we see the first real innovations in snaffles, and soon after, bits made of more palatable steel. Despite this new found sensitivity to the horse, there was little further innovation in bits until the 1900s, when new materials and designs began to emerge again.

Nowadays, there is even more emphasis placed on correct bit fitting for the welfare of the horse, and on innovative bit designs to make the rider more effective and the horse more comfortable. New shapes, designed to match the contours of the horse’s mouth, and new materials seem to come out every day. Even better, new bitless bridles are being developed. Today’s rider has a seemingly endless selection of gentle and effective shapes, materials, and designs to choose from.

Even so, severe and aggressive bits are still around to fall into the hands of riders not yet skilled enough to use them, and inexperienced riders can create painful and aggressive combinations of otherwise gentle bits mixed with aggressive training gadgets. Thankfully though, riders in the 21st century are generally much more aware of ‘sympathetic’ horsemanship, are much more patient with their training, and will usually chose the gentlest and most appropriate bit for their horse and their level of riding. Best of all, there are plenty of sources for advice available today to help riders find the best combination for their horse’s mouth!
The History of the Bit
The History of the Bit
The History of the Bit
The History of the Bit
Horse News More In This Category:  General      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
halfbrokehorses  
your articles are very interesting!
  44 days ago  •  2,820 views
 
T W I  
Great article! Quite interesting.
  44 days ago  •  2,788 views
 
Prarie Rose  
Great article! It is very interesting.
  44 days ago  •  2,786 views
 
boomer  
i cant imagine how comfy those bits were...
  44 days ago  •  2,804 views
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