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With Christmas just around the corner, its worth understanding what you are buying when looking at Polo Gear, bits provide the central line of communication between horse and rider, ensure yours is helping your horse rather than hindering it!! 
The Gagging Order
The Gag and Barry Gag are the go-to bits for the majority of polo players and ponies, throughout all levels in the world of polo. A top quality, properly fitted Gag or Barry Gag is perfectly designed for the continually changing commands and requests of the players while playing polo. With such a huge demand, there is a vast variety of Gag bits on the market. But the elements that make the Gag the perfect polo bit, can be forgotten, meaning that the majority of Gag’s being used are in fact not able to effectively perform the job that they are designed to do.

The ultimate objective of a bit is to give clear, concise, immediate communication between horse and rider, any interference or discomfort on this line will effect your results and your horse’s performance.

The most common and obvious signs of a poor quality Gag is lack of control of your horse, bleeding from the mouth, cuts on the tongue or cheek, head shaking, head turned slightly to one side or the other, head plunging into the ground or the head held too high. All of these are symptoms of some sort pain or discomfort felt by your horse.
If your horse suffers from any of the above, there are two quick tests you can carry out to check your bits.

1. Mouth Pressure – Pressure is the basis of how a bit works, but the amount of pressure and where the pressure is felt, is the difference between pain and communication. Imagine carrying a bucket of water with your bit as the handle, how would it feel in your hand? If the pressure is concentrated too much in one spot as opposed to spread evenly throughout the mouth the message is either miscommunicated or too painful to be understood.  Continued miscommunicated messages not only confuse horses, but teach them bad habits, and can cause lasting damage to the mouth, leading to ongoing problems as the mouth becomes more sensitive in selected areas and desensitised in others. The pressure being even is the most important factor in the results you get when asking anything of the horse.

2. Bit Movement – The bit moves continually across the tongue while in use, even though polo players only use one hand. As the horses frequently change their head carriage, up, down and side to side, depending on the horse’s body shape and the manoeuvre they are performing, the bit must constantly move to adjust to that as well as your hand position and requests. If you pull the bit across your hand and it catches, it will do exactly the same thing within the horse’s mouth. If a certain manoeuvre or request causes this ‘catch’ horses react negatively to the pain and therefore their response to your commands will be fought with.

The Design of the bit also plays a major role in its effectiveness, and in the above two factors.  If we break down the design of the Gag we can easily pin point possible issues your horse might be facing, or variations that you could make to improve your horse’s performance.

1.    Surface Area affects the strength of the message being received by the horse. Thinner Gags or Barry Gags have less surface area and therefore increase pressure resulting in a stronger message, while thicker Gags will provide a softer message. However if the gag is very thick or tapers out at the ring end of the mouthpiece, this can cause excess pressure on the teeth through the cheek, causing discomfort. Horses teeth being perfect is paramount with the use of any Gag, but is even more vital with the thicker gags, because of this additional pressure. A medium thickness mouthpiece is a safe and good place to start . It will provide the horse a soft yet firm message as well as allowing for enough surface area for the message to be clear.  If you start with this you can tell by the feel of the horse if you require any increase or decrease in pressure, and can alter the thickness of your gag accordingly.

2.    The Width of the mouthpiece can also vary between Gag bits and this is often overlooked. The average Polo Pony will fit a width of 5.14”, but a too narrow or too wide Gag will either pinch or sag within the mouth.  With a correctly fitting bit you should be able to fit one index finger only, either side of the horse’s muzzle, between the mouth and the ring piece.

3.    The Feel of the Gag. Curved, smooth soft edges will decrease the chances of any catches or excess rubbing, enabling the bit to move freely across the tongue and within the mouth itself. Currently there are lot of bits on the market, trying to stand out and to catch the eye of potential buyers, feigning innovation, that have light weight mouthpieces with right angel or sharp edges, these should be avoided. The mouthpieces should always be curved to reduce the chances of the ‘nutcracker’ effect and enable the Gag to sit comfortably and naturally within the curve of the horse’s mouth.
Here we see smooth soft edges and a curved mouthpiece, enabling the bit to sit comfortably within the natural curve of the horse’s mouth.
4.    The Weight of the Metal. The Lighter the Bit, the slower the release of pressure when you release your hold on the reins, as the Bit does not automatically drop down in the mouth. Without a good weight to the bit, the horse must either open its mouth, or wait for it to drop back down in the mouth. The release of the bit is essential during schooling to give immediate reward to the horse, or when playing to release for acceleration, without this reward or a delayed one, communication between horse and rider is muddled.

5.    The type of Metal. It is important to keep the mouth wet and the horses salivating. Copper, Brass and Sweet Metal all have distinct flavours, which can encourage some horses to salivate more than regular stainless steel that has no taste. 

Now that we have covered the Gag itself, the last thing to ensure is that you have fitted it correctly. There should be one small crease on either side of the horses mouth, the horse is able to pick up the bit itself and is happy and comfortable, when you apply pressure it is felt evenly throughout the mouth and when you release the pressure, the reward for the horse is instant.
Here we can see nicely made Gag rings, with centralised smooth holes for the Gag rope runners and also a smooth free moving hole for the rings; Allowing for smooth pick up and release of pressure for flawless communication between horse and rider.
A Happy comfortable horse will always perform better than an uncomfortable sore one. If a horse is not working for you in the way that you want 9 times out of 10 is because it doesn’t understand what is being asked of them.
For the Best Quality Polo Gear, check out the Ainsley Polo Saddlery.
Made by Professionals for Professionals.
Copyright © Ainsley Polo, All rights reserved.

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137 Pukekohe East Road, RD2, Pukekohe, New Zealand.

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Ainsley Polo · 137 Pukekohe East Road · Pukekohe · Auckland, Auk 2340 · New Zealand

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