One difference between the two bits pictured above is where the rein attaches. On the snaffle bit (top), the rein attaches directly to the ring that the mouthpiece is connected to.
The shank is measured in inches from the mouthpiece to the bottom ring. Similar to a curb bit, it uses leverage action and requires a chain.
A port is a curve to the mouthpiece that changes where the bit applies pressure. The port can take quite a few different shapes: wide or narrow, low or high.
Direct pressure is typically used with a snaffle bit and is common in hunt seat riding. The horse above is being ridden in a snaffle bit with contact (no slack in the reins).
Typically, riders should maintain light contact with the bit. Indirect pressure is associated with curb bits and is more common in Western disciplines.
The amount of pressure the rider exerts on the reins is multiplied by the length of the shank. This is essential for the bit to function properly and ensures a comfortable fit for the horse.
It also limits the amount of pressure on the palate as the bit rotates. If the chain is too loose, it won’t be effective; too tight and it will be uncomfortable.
General practice says you should be able to fit the width of two fingers between the horses’ chin and the curb strap. If your horse has “more whoa than go” you probably don’t need a severe bit to control him.
It is always a good idea to involve a horse trainer in a bit evaluation and selection. If you’re experiencing behavioral issues with your current bit, it helps to have a veterinarian rule out any medical issues that could be affecting your horse ’s mouth.
This bit has copper on the mouthpiece, which has a sweeter taste and encourages salivation. Some horses really like this style, as it doesn’t have the nutcracker action of the single-jointed snaffle bit.
Written by Katherine Blockader There are hundreds of different western riding bits with many subtle variations and strange names. But you only need to remember that most are derivatives of a few basic bits that remain popular amongst Western horseback riders.
Here photos and descriptions of some of the most common Western riding bits you'll see used on horses and at your local tack shop. There was a time when it might have been desirable for a horse to graze fully bridled and saddled, such as when you were working all day with cattle.
You won't want your horse to graze in a curb bit at all anymore since there is a danger it could step on or catch the shank and hurt itself. Since it has short shanks, it appears to be a mild bit, but the jointed mouth adds to the severity.
The S shape on the shanks of this bit contributes to the weight, balance, and leverage when the rider pulls back on the reins. The port in the middle of the mouthpiece amplifies the rein aids and provides some relief to the horse's tongue.
If you have trouble stopping or turning your horse, the answer probably isn't a more severe bit, but a solid review of the basics. Correction bits have their place with trainers who want to fine-tune their horse's responses to the rein aids.
For showing in hand or specific types of competition, this snaffle bit is an attractive choice. This is often used on young horses and in the western show ring, there can be special snaffle classes.
Entire books have been written about bits and finding the best bit for you and your horse. This article serves as a simplified guide to teach you all about the most common bits found in both English and Western disciplines.
From what sits inside the horse ’s mouth to how your reins attach, everything has a purpose. Bits attach to the bridle and the reins and rest inside the horse ’s mouth.
Horses naturally have a toothless area in their mouths at the upper corner of their lips, and the bit rests across the gums and tongue here. When no pressure is applied to the reins, the bit should sit lightly in the mouth and cause the horse absolutely no discomfort.
When the rider uses the reins, the bit applies pressure to the tongue, gums and sometimes to the roof of the mouth as well, communicating different instructions to the horse. If the bar or mouthpiece has a single ring on either side, it is known as a snaffle bit.
Mouthpieces can be twisted, curved, or straight, can have rollers and balls for the horse to play with, and can be covered in rubber or made of copper. For example, a full cheek makes it easier to bump the horse ’s head to the left or right if they aren’t paying attention to your gentler squeezes on the reins.
The loose rings can potentially snag a piece of the horse ’s skin and pinch them, which can be startling and painful. Shanks are long pieces that hang down past the horse ’s chin.
Shanks provide leverage, and the longer pieces require very little movement on the reins to apply pressure to the horse ’s mouth. Return to Article Index The wide variety of bits available are all meant to suit a specific combination of horse, rider, training goals, and discipline.
That means that even if you get a little unbalanced in the saddle, you don’t clutch the reins for support. On the other hand, some horses have been ridden with rough hands and in harsh bits for so long that they have what’s known as a “hard mouth.” These horses have become desensitized to light aids and may not respond to gentle bits anymore.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to have a horse that responds quickly to a light aid conveyed through a gentle bit. If you just want to ride your horse for fun and don’t have any intention of entering the show ring, it’s okay to mix and match your tack.
Return to Article Index You can find bits in dozens of combinations of mouthpieces and cheek pieces. We’ll talk about a variety of combinations to show you the most commonly used tools for English riders.
However, the single joint means that harsh hands can put significant “nutcracker” pressure on the horse ’s lower jaw and roof of the mouth, so it’s still important to have soft hands with this bit. You can also choose bars that are thick or thin in order to fine-tune the effect of this bit.
“French Link” refers to the two joints in this snaffle bit, which reduces the pressure on the horse ’s lower jaw when both reins are squeezed. This is considered a gentle bit and can be found with a curved mouthpiece to make it even softer.
Because it has little to no nutcracker action (pressure only goes onto the tongue and lower jaw, not onto the roof of the mouth), it is believed to be very gentle. The loose ring also allows the horse a little more “play” with the bit because there is no leverage.
The bit mouthpiece moves freely in the cheek pieces, so the horse can wiggle his head a little without hitting resistance from the rider’s hands. Polymer covering, and this is a very popular bit for young horses’ first rides.
Full Cheek Double Twisted Wire Snaffle This is certainly a combination meant for training purposes and should be used by experienced riders with independent and forgiving hands. Full cheek cheek pieces need “keepers” to hold the bit in the correct and effective position in the mouth.
These long cheek pieces are helpful for when a horse doesn’t turn very well, because they put pressure on the side of the cheek and make your request a little more obvious. Or otherwise leans on the reins and ignores your aids to stop, this bit could be a good choice for retraining.
The double wires apply pressure on both the top of the mouth and the tongue. You can add a leather strap known as a “Pelham converter,” however, to use it with single reins.
Alternatively, you can remove the bottom curb rein for beginner riders. Note: Pelham are used with double reins, but they are NOT allowed at any level of dressage.
The port is the raised area in the bar, and it touches the roof of the mouth when the reins are used. Ports sometimes have rollers, which may or may not be made of copper, which allows busy horses to play with the bit a little, rolling that metal piece with their tongue.
Two independent bits sit inside the horse ’s mouth, each with its own set of reins. The other is a curb bit with a solid bar (with or without a port), which is called a “Weymouth” when used in a double bridle.
They are commonly seen with gained horses because the extra leverage helps to keep the head up, allowing the shoulder to move freely. Return to Article Index In English disciplines, you use the reins with both hands to cue your horse.
Because they are incredibly versatile, snaffle bits are seen virtually anywhere horses are ridden. In western disciplines, it’s more common to see cheek pieces like a hanging cheek snaffle.
The fact that this leverage bit also has a jointed mouthpiece means that the pressure acts as a “nutcracker” on the horse ’s lower jaw. Its primary purpose is to provide more space for the tongue, although in some cases high ports can also touch the roof of the mouth to exert pressure.
An optional roller in the middle of the port helps keep the horse ’s jaw loose by letting him roll his tongue around. The angled shanks mean that the horse can become more sensitive to rein aids, because the horse can feel the tension gradually increase in the reins until pressure is felt in the bit and bridle.
Straight shanks do not provide this built-in warning system, and thus make it more difficult to create a horse who is light on the aids. Jointed shanks also allow for some lateral play, which is useful in sports like reining and barrel racing.
It typically has a jointed mouthpiece and multiple rings down the shank to allow you to determine how much leverage action you want. It can also be used purely as a snaffle if you only attach reins to the ring directly across from the mouthpiece.
Or, you can use it like a Tom Thumb and only attach reins to the lower rings for leverage. Some horses may benefit from a low port in order to have more room for their tongue.
This is a simple and mild bit, especially when paired with short curved or angled shanks. Like copper, sweet iron helps horses salivate and stay soft in their jaws.
When talking about snaffle bits, loose ring cheek pieces are believed to be the mildest choice due to the play they offer. On the other end of the spectrum, full cheek snaffles are believed to provide more control over the horse.
Mullen mouths do not have a nutcracker action, and thus they are a mild mouthpiece for a snaffle. On the other hand, a single joint snaffle can dig into the roof of the mouth and apply significant pressure to the lower jaw.
Finally, the thickness of the mouthpiece in terms of the horse ’s comfort depends largely on the size and shape individual horse ’s mouth, but generally thicker mouthpieces are believed to be gentler than thin ones. A bit is a piece of metal (typically stainless steel, copper or “sweet iron”) that rests inside a horse ’s mouth.
Depending on the style of bit, the horse feels pressure on their lower jaw, tongue, and roof of their mouth, chin or poll when the rider uses the reins. Regardless of their purpose, they come in contact with a highly sensitive part of the horse ’s body.
Even the gentlest bits can cause pain and discomfort when the person on the other end of the reins is using them unpleasantly. It’s important to remember that bits, like many other tools used in horse training, operate on the principle of pressure and release.
Although this pressure is meant to be uncomfortable enough to elicit a response, the right training approach will never cause the horse to be in pain. For example, when the horse responds correctly, the pressure should be released by the trainer as a reward.
Hanging Cheek Snaffle: Very mild leverage and often used with young horses Tom Thumb: Stronger leverage a bit for experienced horses and riders Ported Curb: Room for the tongue but still for experienced hands Chain Bit with Port: Flexible and less pressure than single-joint port bits Gag: Multiple rings allow you to adjust amount of leverage Correction: Only for well-trained horses who respond to subtle cues Mullen Mouth Curb: Simple and mild option with straight mouth piece Cathedral: Tall and narrow port that’s appropriate for advanced horses and riders In fact, horses who busily chew on their bits might be less obvious about it with a roller to play with instead.
Chewing on the bit could also be a sign of discomfort that the horse can’t find a way to avoid. Take into consideration the horse ’s other body language to know if he’s chewing because he’s playful or because he’s upset, and don’t be too quick to apply a tight nose band to make the behavior go away.
Q: Where can I find a horse bit severity chart? Q: How do you fit a horse ’s bit correctly? Approximately 2 wrinkles indicate that the bit is sitting in the right spot and won’t interfere with the horse ’s teeth.
On the other hand, if you can barely tug the cheek piece away, the bit is sitting too high. Gained horses are typically shown in double bridles or in curb bits.
But if you’re just on the farm having fun, there’s no reason you can’t ride your Tennessee Walking Horse in a D-ring snaffle. It definitely depends on your quarter horse ’s training, the discipline you want to show in, and your own ability as a rider.
Quarter Horses are very versatile and compete successfully in Western pleasure, barrel racing, hunters, and even dressage, but all of these disciplines have different rules about which bits are allowed in the show ring. You typically need to communicate with the reins using just one hand when barrel racing, so a Western bit is ideal.
The exact style of the bit depends on how well the horse responds to your cues to turn and to stop. It depends on each individual rider and horse, and sometimes experimentation is the only way to make a final decision.
Mullen mouths with thick, smooth bars tend to be the gentlest option, especially when the cheek pieces are loose rings. For a western option, choose short shanks with the Mullen mouthpiece.
The best way to clean a horse bit is with warm soapy water (Dawn dish soap is fine), a scrubby brush (old toothbrushes work well), and some elbow grease. Let the bit soak in the water for a few minutes before you start scrubbing.
Bits with a small amount of rust are fine to use as long as the joints are still strong. But if it just seems too weird to allow rust to hang around, use steel wool to rub it off.
Once the bit is in the horse ’s mouth, proceed to put the bridle over his ears. An extra tip: If you’re short and your horse likes to lift his head in the air, stand on the mounting block to bridle.
What do you do if you’ve tried both of these methods and your horse still fights you like crazy and you start feeling super frustrated? Grab a chunk of carrot, a piece of apple, or a peppermint (or maybe all three) and place this in your left hand.
Some horses won’t need much persuasion and will happily eat the treat. Other horses will be mighty suspicious about this tactic and may need to eat a treat out of your hand without having the bit pushed in at the same time.
Some of the most common names in a bit making include Tyler, Happy Mouth, Reins man, Springer, and Steel. Of course, there are hundreds of bit brands to choose from, making it easy to find one that suits your horse and your budget.
Chain bits look like they really dig into a horse ’s mouth–and of course with rough hands, this could definitely happen. The correction bit allows the rider to make very subtle hand movements while still communicating to the horse.
A sycamore is a type of witless bridle that exerts pressure on the nose through modified shanks, but other witless bridles exist that simply attach the reins to a regular nose band instead of to a bit. Some riders attach reins to either side of a halter (which can be leather, nylon or rope).
Return to Article Index Actually, there’s plenty left to learn about all the different bits for horses. But this article gives you a solid introduction to the most common English and Western bits and their uses.
When in doubt, consult a trusted trainer, try several options, then pick the bit that works best for you and your horse.