I use a straight-bar snaffle on my horse, but my instructor suggested that I switch to a sweet iron bit as this would soften him in the mouth. How much does a bit's material affect the horse? - Jaimie, NC
Choosing the "right" bit for your horse can be difficult and time consuming, it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are options to help your horse soften and become more receptive to the correct aids - a different mouthpiece, a different bit ring, or as you asked, a different material.
Stainless stell is the most common metal used to make today's bit. However, some horses find the metal tasteless and cold, which is why it was suggested that you consider switching to sweet iron, a metal said to encourage salivation.
Sweet iron oxidizes with use, to produce a sweet taste, hence the name. These bits have had a negative press due to inferior manufacturing processes in the past, but today's sweet iron bits are safe and well made with combinations of copper and sweet iron.
Another material that may work for your horse is Salox, which is used in the Neue Schule bits. Salox is a nickel-free, copper alloy formulated to encourage acceptance of the bit through warmth and sweetness. The copper is alloyed with other components and warms very quickly in the mouth. Because Salox maintains blood temperature, the mouthpiece doesn't feel like a foreign body to the horse, which means many riders find the rein aids are more definitive.
Other types of mouthpiece materials available include polyurethane and rubber blends. You should also check to see if the bit is of correct size and if the bit is worn, which also may cause discomfort.
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