Lightest Driving Bit?

The trainer who has my pony has remarked that she is a bit sucky and doesn’t really want to move into the bridle when driving. This isn’t anything new. This is exactly how she is when riding. I was actually planning to move her into a nathe bit (super soft rubber) for riding before sending her off to learn a new sport. I can ground drive her and get her soft and collected, but it is a very, very light hand. Even then, she tends to curl.

So, is there an equivalent to a nathe for driving? Is it not advisable to go that soft? Trainer is currently using a half cheek snaffle on her. Any other suggestions?

Have you tried a French link snaffle? If she has a low palate like some ponies do maybe the joint in the half cheek is bumping her palate and causing the curling. I went through this with one of my minis and just switched to a French link and he seems to be tolerating it better (too soon for final judgement) He could/would not tolerate a mullen mouth snaffle and a half cheek snaffle was not much better.

I don’t see why you couldn’t just use a loose ring nathe bit with your driving bridle. Give it a shot!

My gelding is quite light in the mouth. He really loves his mullen mouth liverpool, with reins at the snaffle setting.

Some of these animals need to learn “to go into the bit” rather than try for the “lightest” bit possible. Does not mean he gets heavy mouthed, hanging on you, non-responsive to reins. The problems arise when horse over reacts to a little rein pressure, won’t go FORWARD because he feels some rein weight or pressure. No forward is dangerous!! They usually will add backing up when they won’t go forward, won’t do Whoa either! You may hate using the whip, but without a ground person to grab pony, that is about the only alternative to getting forward again!

Equines do notice small changes in harness, different vehicles. Our tell us the leather reins are TOO HEAVY after using the Web reins! Heads down by their knees for a while, then at their normal head carriage when we start trotting. Too hard to trot with heads that low! After a day or two, they forget the web reins, leather weight is now the normal feel.

Driving reins are longer than riding reins, have more leverage with that length over riding rein weight. Pony needs to get used to that. As a Driver, you can work on being subtle with the reins, wrist roll instead of an actual pull. Take a small loop for corners, instead of moving your arm back.

The pony may need to do some " homework" too. We do the old-fashioned mouthing with our young horses, newly purchased horses, so they are familiar with a bit in their mouth, no big deal. We start with them wearing it in the stall, then during any grain feedings. They wear it for an hour to a couple hours daily. I want them to finish by just holding it while relaxed in the stall or tied to a post. They (usually) will quit chomping bit, their mouths get tired, like with old gum! Bridle and bit become non-exciting, not any reason to react. We did and do, have have a mare and son who are mouthy, busy lips. They both used a loosejaw bit where they can raise and lower the mouthpiece while standing still. They just needed that “fidget outlet” to be able to stand quietly in harness for very long times. Her other sons did not need a fidget toy, stand well. Husband says “” Better an outlet you can tolerate, over them going to real misbehaving! You just ignore the tink-tink of the bit jingling


In my limited adventures in driving, I have to echo goodhors, you may want to teach your horse to be more accepting of the bit. There is nothing like taking the reins of a driving horse and having a good connection and feel with their mouth, a trusting communication where you both feel connected to each other.

My morgan used to curl at the slightest pressure. With the help of a Glory bit, and a fantastic trainer (Lisa Singer) I was able to reprogram him and develop a fantastic mouth.

Three things that spring to mind that Lisa taught me: Hold the reins by the edges, communicate with your pinkies; Turn by releasing the outside of your horse, not pulling the inside (keep your hands together! my biggest foible), and; Hold your hands out, above your knees and at chest height, that gives the straightest connection to your horse’s mouth. Any time the line of the reins break as they go through the terrets, you are adding immense drag on your horse’s mouth.

Keeping my horse forward, “in front of the leg”, was the glue needed to bind all these ideas together.

1 Like

Thanks for the advice! Pony is a converted eventing horse who is just as light under saddle. She can be fussy if you hang on the rein without purpose, but she is also willing to come through when she’s forward and supple. I can get her forward and put together ground driving her. For some reason, I thought it wouldn’t be acceptable to drive her in a nathe, but so long as she maintains control and is happy, it sounds like that is an option. I am also seeing mullen rubber liverpool bits and butterfly bits, so that may be an option as well.

I had a friend who used a waterford bit in everything from dressage to marathon, it just worked for her mare. I guess the only caveat I would add is that if it isn’t a closed loop shaft, stay away from any ring cheeks. Also you can search the British websites for driving bits, a lot more variety in mouthpieces and generally better prices!

1 Like

There are a few bits that are unsafe for driving (like full cheeks, where the pointed cheeks can hang up in harness), but otherwise, a horse can drive in most riding bits and visa versa, it’s just traditions that get a bit stuck in a specific discipline. I know many horses that drive in loose ring snaffles. My competition pony drives in a Baucher and events in a half cheek with keepers. Both bits function similarly, it’s just how the cheeks fit on the respective bridles. The mouths are both lozenge. Some horses have a preference of bit stability (fixed cheeks vs loose cheeks) but I find much more often the horse cares about the mouth, either they like a single joint, or a double joint, a Mullen, or a low port, all of which can be found in snaffle bits. A preference for thickness and metals/materials can also be big to get a young horse to accept contact. I tried a whole bucket of bits when my kid was green to find one he’d accept, and as he develops, we’ve changed the bit a few more times.

I’m trying to picture a half cheek with keepers. Where to the keepers connect? I was taught to use a half cheek with the “cheek” pointing down, so I can’t picture how this would work. I’m also not driving educated, so please pardon my ignorance, but I’m quite curious!

The half checks are upward, not pointing down as commonly seen. Bit keepers are leather loops in a figure 8 shape. One loop of the 8 goes around the half cheek, while the other loop of the 8 goes around the bridle cheekpiece. The half cheek then lays alongside the bridle cheekpiece while horse is bridled and driven. The bit keepers hold the mouthpiece across the tongue, in a more stable position than mouthpiece lays without the bit keepers.

Our half cheek bit had a single joint, eggbutt thickness and was used on my son’s riding horse. He was required to have bit keepers on the half cheek for Pony Club competitions. Horse had used that same bit previously, just with the half cheeks down. I could see the difference in her responses with the use of the bit keepers. She was just crisper in responses, they made a better working combination.

1 Like

Thanks for the explanation! I’ve always seen them with the cheek pointed down but it makes much more sense to have them pointing up so they can be used to stabilize the bit like a full cheek. And then you wouldn’t have the other point to get hooked on the harness somewhere. Brilliant!

1 Like