Selecting a bit is one of the most important decisions a rider or trainer can make when it comes to tack. Half cheek bits are not as common as full cheek, loose ring, egg butt or D-ring bits, but they serve an important purpose. The half cheek refers to the branches of the bit, which may be combined with a snaffle, straight bar, corkscrew, French link or twisted wire mouthpiece.
Half cheek bits feature a single branch or arm that extends downward from the rings. They often are called spoon bits because the shape of the branch flares outward at the base like a spoon, unlike the full cheek bit, which features tapered branches. The rings on half cheek bits come in a variety of shapes. Some are perfectly round, while others are D- or egg butt-shaped.
Half cheek bits appeal to riders and horse trainers because they improve lateral action on a direct rein, which means that they put pressure on the horse's face when the rein is engaged by the rider. Spoon bits are less likely to get caught on other equipment than the full cheek bit, because there is one less arm. Additionally, the half cheek prevents the sides of the bit from sliding through the horse's mouth when the rider pulls on a rein. The arm extends toward the horse's jaw and keeps it centered in place.
Driving horses frequently wear half cheek bits because full cheek bits are more likely to snag on the complicated harnesses worn by these athletes. Race horses with sensitive mouths also wear half cheek snaffles because they are not as harsh as other racing bits. The half cheek works well with soft or rubber bits, which otherwise might slide too much.
If you do not want to use a half cheek bit, but your current mouthpiece slides too much from side to side, consider bit guards as an alternative. A bit guard is a circular piece of neoprene that fits between the mouthpiece and the rings of the bit. It keeps the bit from moving in your horse's mouth without a branch or arm. Bit guards are popular accessories for D-ring, egg butt, and loose ring snaffles. For horses who require more lateral action, consider full cheek bits. To prevent them from catching on other equipment, attach keepers to each branch of the cheek piece. Keepers are strips of leather that attach the branches to the bridle to keep the bit stable in your horse's mouth.
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Laura College is a former riding instructor, horse trainer and veterinary assistant. She has worked as a writer since 2004, producing articles and sales copy for corporations and nonprofits. College has also published articles in numerous publications, including "On the Bit," "Practical Horseman" and "American Quarter Horse Journal."