The hanging cheek bit: does it apply poll pressure?
Hanging cheek bits are sometimes confused with leverage bits. In reality, they relieve poll pressure and can be a good choice for sensitive horses.
There is a widely held misconception that hanging cheek (or Baucher) bits increase pressure on the poll much like a leverage bit. In reality, the hanging cheek design relieves poll pressure and is a form of mild snaffle. In fact, hanging cheek bits are milder on the poll than even a loose ring!
The belief that a hanging cheek applies poll pressure stems from the superficially similar appearance this bit has to a shanked bit. However, the ‘shanks’ on a hanging cheek are attached to the cheek pieces of the bridle, not the reins. As such, the only effect they have is to stabilise the bit in the mouth – they do not function as levers.
This diagram from Bit Bank Australia shows how bits of a similar size like a Kimblewick or Pelham can work as leverage bits by having the reins engage a fixed point relative to the mouthpiece. This means that the reins do not engage the bit directly, but rather do so via the leaver. This increases the pressure applied. This is not the case with a hanging cheek/Baucher where the reins are free to slide on the bit rings and the mouthpiece is attached centrally. As a result of this design, the reins can only engage with the bit directly – not via a lever.
In fact, when the reins are engaged on a hanging design, the cheek pieces bag, decreasing the pressure on the poll. Watch the video below for a more visual illustration!
A hanging cheek bit can be an excellent choice for many horses and is especially appropriate for horses that are sensitive to pressure on the poll such as some headshakers and younger horses. They can also be a good choice for horses that prefer the bit to stay stable in their mouth and not move around. Hanging cheek bits have the additional benefit that you don’t need to worry about them being pulled through your horse’s mouth, which can occasionally be a problem with some snaffles. Finally, they are competition legal in many disciplines, making them a great choice for anyone wishing to compete their sensitive horse.