Re: MtMan-List: spanish colonial spurs and bits

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Author: Nick Sheedy
To: hist_text, Wynn, neotoma_mexicana
Subject: Re: MtMan-List: spanish colonial spurs and bits
RE: Ring bits...

A ring doesn't have to be as big as you might thing to encircle a horse's lower jaw. If you look at a Chifney bit (a very simple ring that goes around a horse's lower jaw--but is only used for in-hand work, and not riding), they are typically only 4-inches to 5-inches wide. And the radius top-to-bottom can be narrower, allowing the ring to be more oval or "D" shaped.

If you are looking at some sort of a bit with a "ring" or circular piece that will not fit around a horse's lower jaw, it is not a ring bit. If you have a photo of the bit, e-mail it to me. I am sure that my wife will be able to tell you what it is. It might be that the bit has some sort of circular port?

A true ring bit has a solid metal ring that runs through the horse's mouth and around the lower jaw. It can attach to another bit and the reigns different ways. The ring fits around the lower jaw the same way a curb chain would if used with a curb bit. The ring bit is still commonly used in horse racing, particularly in the south-western QH circuit and in Australia. The pressure applied to the lower jaw by a ring bit can be severe.

Google "Dexter Ring Bit" and you will see what a ring bit looks like in its simplest form. A Dexter Ring Bit is attached to a snaffle bit by little rings on each side of the snaff;es shanks. As pressure is applied backward on the snaffle bit, the snaffle shanks move backward, and the side rings on the shanks slide backward along the underside of the ring bit, forcing the the back of the ring bit to turn upward against the lower side of the jaw and the front part of the ring bit turns downward againsts the horse's bars (gums behind the teeth). The snaffle mainly slides backward as usual, but since the smaller rings on the snaffle's shanks are loose on the ring bit and slide back on the underside of the big ring, it is important to understand that pivot point of the ring around the lower jaw changes as more pressure is applied--increasing the pressure applied to the jaw dramatically. This is what can make it so severe.

The old spanish-style "ring bits" were not so simple... for one, they were not attached to a snaffle. Sometimes they were simple an addition to some solid bit, attcahing to rings on the side of the bit the same way as the Dexter Ring bit. Some old Spanish ring bits actually attached to the port rather than being attached at the sides of the mouth. This changes the pivot point. (And since the port would rotate, the pivot port would change... with a "high" port, the more the pivot point might change, and the more leverage would be applied to the ring.)

Go to this link:
Scoll down to the image of the "Spanish ring bit dating to the 16th century." You will see a fairly simple old ring bit where the ring is attached to the prominent port. Not only does the ring around the lower jaw pivot differently (compared to the Dexter), but the port may also apply pressure to the roof of the mouth.

Sometimes, a severe port would be used in conjunction with a nose band. The nose band would keep the mouth shut as the severe port would pivot upward against the roof of the horse's mouth. Now add a ring bit that applies pressure down and forward on the inside of the lower jaw at the same time it applies pressure up and backward on the lower side of the lower jaw, and you have a bit that could brak a horse's jaw. A Spanish or Mexican "Chileno" bit usually applied several parts like what I just described... but the only think that makes it a "ring bit" is the ring that circled the horse's lower jaw.

Now go to this link:
See the ring attached to the bit in the right side of left-hand photo? The ring may look too small to go around a horse's lower jaw, but that's what it did. It would have been rotated 90-degrees in relation to the bit so it was widest left-to right in the horse's mouth (see where the forged ring's ends come to each other? those would have been in the middle of the port). In this case, the ring is also attached to the port of a solid bit, and that point that would have been the pivot point for leverage. As the reigns pulled back, the port would have moved upward and the ring's pivot point would move accordingly.

There is another old ring bit on e-bay:
item no. 280260188191
This is fairly simple. It is not a solid bit, and does not have a severe port, but the ring is still attached in the middle of the bit rather than at the sides. This shows how much ring bits can vary.

Indians (and I would suppose mountain men) would sometimes use a piece of rope through the mouth and around the lower jaw, but it would act more like a chain (except the chain links wouldn't be there to pinch), and would not have the same leverage on the jaw as a solid ring.

--Nick Sheedy