Gag Bits Explained
I am not an expert in Gag Bits. Most of this information was gleaned from other’s writings. If any of our Horse-Pros.com friends would like to contribute, please feel free to do so.
The sliding action of a Gag Bit applies most of the pressure to the horse’s lips and corners of the mouth. (There is no curb strap) When the rein is on the lower position, the bit is allowed to slide up the cheeks of the bit to tighten the distance between bit and poll.
In the case of a simple rope gag bit poll pressure also increases as the bit slides up the shank or rope. Severity is determined by the ring size (the distance from bottom rein position and top rein position): the larger the distance, the more severe the gag.
The gag bit is normally used with two sets of reins; one on the bit ring that does not apply gag leverage, and the other on the gag ring or the ring attached to the cord or rolled leather strap of the gag bridle cheek piece. This allows for the bit to be used as a normal snaffle (most of the time), with gag action used only when your horse gets strong. (It is helpful to use two reins of different materials. ie: one flat and one braided – to help the rider differentiate between the reins by feel.)
Gag bits are often used to encourage elevation in the front end and to re-balance a horse before a jump. Ideally, the cheek pieces should have a stopper fitted to limit the upwards action of the bit. This bit allows a horse to travel along in his own frame when forward lift is not necessary (alleviating fighting him all of the time) and then lift his front (as in preparing for a jump) when necessary. See an excellent article here.
Barrel riders sometimes use them to get better control of their horse’s front, and cutting and reining horses use them to re-balance. They are frequently used by lighter or smaller riders riders with strong horses who need more braking leverage. A gag is too severe for a heavy-handed rider or a rider who does not have very good balance and a very good seat.
They are not permitted at any level of dressage, since dressage riders are trying to get the horse to come down onto the bit, and want to encourage the horse to accept contact. They are also never seen in the hunter arena. They are sometimes used for polo and show jumping.
They are not used as an everyday bit. Frequently used for warm-up or fine-tuning.
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