This describes the action of some of the common cheek types which can, of course, have a variety of mouthpieces which will also affect the action.
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Liverpool cheeks are the most traditional for driving bits and offer a range of rein positions which range in severity. This makes the bit adaptable. The Liverpool cheeks can be fixed or able to swivel, fixed cheeks are commonly used in multiples so that the coupling rein cannot cause the cheeks to swivel and pinch the lips. Fixed cheeks also cause a more direct action with the curb and are becoming more popular. The sliding or swivel cheeks allows the bit to slide down the cheeks as the horse yields in the jaw and poll thus easing the pressure from the bit. This can keep the mouth more responsive.
- Smooth or plain cheek is the mildest setting and acts in a similar way to a snaffle, in fact some people refer to it as the snaffle ring
- Rough cheek is the most common rein setting as it gives just a little more poll action and curb but is still not too severe
- First bar or slot, depending on the configuration of your bit this may be only fractionally lower than rough cheek. In the example above it is quite a bit further down. This will create more poll pressure and bring the curb into play more, making it more severe.
- Second bar or slot is really quite severe and should only be used in very experienced hands. There is substantial leverage creating large forces on the poll and curb.
- Some bits have a third slot but quite frankly consideration should be given to whether the horse should be driving at all if this is required.
The Butterfly is becoming extremely popular in carriage driving and offers up to two rein positions. The further down the rein position the more leverage is exerted on the poll and curb.
Buxtons were introduced early in the last century, named after their designer, and they are one of the most elaborate looking cheeks available. This made it popular in formal turnout due to its appearance. Buxton bits may have fixed or sliding cheeks. The cheeks are curved at the middle slot and are joined below the bottom slot by a curved bottom bar.
The Military has a similar action to the Liverpool bit with multiple rein settings. The main difference is that the bars step back at a 90-degree angle making it very difficult for the horse to take hold of the bars with his teeth or lips. The Elbow bit has become widely known as the Military Reversible due to its broad uptake by the army. The cheeks may be fixed or swivel and a variety of mouthpieces may be found.
This is another bit increasing in popularity, the main advantage being in pair driving. In pair driving the coupling rein can cause the bit to turn, hence the reason fixed cheek are usually used, causing the front ring to press into the face. The Half Liverpool alleviates this issue.
The Wilson is not very commonly seen in modern-day driving. It consists of four rings, two floating rings, which are all connected to the reins. If only the fixed reins are attached to the reins this bit becomes very severe as it will press the horse’s face between the cheekpiece rings.
The Swales is not suitable for inexperienced hands or an inexperienced horse. Its action is, effectively, to remove poll pressure and focus much more on the curb action of the bit. It can be used on an experienced horse which is “over-enthusiastic” or perhaps a horse tending to over flex at the poll.
In addition to these more traditional driving bits, we are seeing more and more variation as drivers are experimenting with more bits used commonly in riding. Some of the most common ones being seen on the circuit now are
This cheek offers a variation of rein positions and will add a little more poll pressure than the Butterfly due to it effectively having a hanging cheek effect. These come in a wide variety of mouthpieces and variation and may be fixed or swivel.
This is becoming a commonly seen bit in combined driving and it is deceptively kind to the mouth. The cheek pieces prevent any pinching from rings and the bars can aid with turning.