Did you know that the Dutch and American 'gags' aren't gags at all, but leverage bits? A true gag lifts the horse's head, whereas leverage bits lower it. That was just one of the fascinating facts picked up from a talk given by Tricia Nassau-Williams from the Worshipful Company of Loriners (above) at a London region event held at The Punch, Fleet Street in March.
Around 40 people listened and were rapt as Tricia ran through the history of bits, highlighted the key features of the seven groups of bits, including their effect or action on the horse, materials used throughout the ages, and the main principles of bitting. The earliest bits featured rope mouthpieces and shell bit 'rings', but some of the things put in horses' mouths - including the bit used by the famous Xenophon - looked more like instruments of torture than bits. However, as Tricia reminded the audience, the bit is only as severe, or as mild, as its rider.
While the Worshipful Company of Loriners, which covers all metal parts of bridles, harness and saddles - in fact anything to do with the horse except shoes - is an ancient and esteemed organisation, dating from the 13th Century, it welcomes some of the modern developments, including different materials, as the choice for horsemen and women increases. But as the saying goes, there's nothing new under the sun, and many of bits extremely fashionable today - e.g. Waterfords - have actually been around for ages.
Tricia was also happy to answer questions, but unfortunately didn't have a lot of time as she had to catch a train home - to Exeter!