When you come across a bit with a strange name it isn’t surprising to learn that it’s likely the surname of its creator. The interesting part is discovering the mastermind behind such a creation.

The Chifney bit is a prime example. Most often seen in the racehorse world, it’s a bit used to better control an otherwise fractious horse that is ready to rock and roll. It’s a ring bit, often known as an anti-rearing bit, and used when handling horses not riding them.

It’s most frequently seen in the thoroughbred sales ring. A racehorse trainer friend of mine told me these bits are more about distraction than discipline and are attached to the three lower halter rings. They are, “Jingly, jangly and keeps the young horses busy. This bit is more like a toy,” she said. However, as with many things in the horse world, the Chifney bit is only severe if misused. 

The Creator

Samuel Chifney (1753-1807) created the bit and found himself in debtors’ prison for his efforts. He was regarded as one of the greatest turf jockeys of his time and rode, on retainer, for George, Prince of Wales and later King George IV. He was the first jockey to employ riding tactics and he became famous for his late “Chifney rush,” though his race riding was open to suspicion with allegations of fixing races. 

Chifney was also noted for his confidence, or what some may call arrogance. He had been quoted as saying, “I can ride horses in a better manner in a race to beat others than any person ever known in my time.” 

“The Escape Scandal”

In 1791 Chifney rode the Prince of Wales’ horse Escape at a race in Newmarket; a horse Chifney proclaimed as “the best horse in England.” However, Escape and Chifney, who were the race favourites with the low odds of 1-2, finished last in the 2-mile race of only four runners. 

Oddly, Chifney rode Escape the following day in a 4-mile race against similar horses where they managed to win with the better odds of 5-1. 

Rumours started swirling that Chifney held Escape back in the first race to improve the odds for the second, some even felt the prince was aware of this plan. But nobody knows for sure. 

Chifney explained to the Stewards of the Jockey Club that he had used the first race as a bit of a pipe opener for Escape as he hadn’t run in a few weeks. To muddy the waters, Chifney hadn’t put any money on his first race but laid down 20 guineas on the second. 

The stewards didn’t buy the story and claimed that Chifney was dishonest. It’s thought that Sir Charles Bunbury, a steward, may have lost money when Escape finished last in the first race. Bunbury also informed the Prince of Wales that if he continued to have Chifney ride for him that no one would ever race against his horses moving forward.

The prince, instead of laying blame on Chifney, sold all his horses and left the racing scene but continued to pay Chifney’s yearly income, stating that Chifney had “been a good and honest servant.”  

Baronet with Samuel Chifney up – 1791 George Stubbs

The Bit

Chifney ran into financial difficulties after inventing and patenting the ring bit. He was rather hoping the Jockey Club would give him money for his creation, which he stated, “I believe never can be excelled, for their light weights to hold horses from running away.”

The Jockey Club, run by Sir Charles Bunbury, whom Chifney had run-ins with during the “Escape Scandal” declined his request. Chifney, undaunted, went ahead with the bit, was unable to pay certain bills and subsequently found himself in debtors’ prison for several years and died shortly after his release. 

Though the usefulness of his bit lives on, I fear the memory of Chifney has not. So, here’s to you Mr. Chifney for creating a bit that is still well-used today. 

As an aside

Samuel Chifney wrote his autobiography in 1804 entitled Genius Genuine in which he explains the race-fixing allegations set against him, his slack rein style of race riding, why turf horses degenerate and why there are so few good runners, amongst other things. 

Here’s a link to the book should you feel so inclined.

Feature Image: Escape with jockey Samuel Chifney, wearing the Prince of Wales’ colors – (1790-1820)

Sources: Michaelchurchracingbooks.com ; Rct.uk