The Ultimate Guide To Horse Bits

horse bits

Horse bits are somewhat of an industry mystery. Many horse owners are unsure of what bit to ride their horse with. When a horse misbehaves, it’s usually the bit that takes the blame. 

With thousands of different horse bits for sale, ranging from different types to different makes, choosing the best bit for your horse can be a challenge. 

Function of Horse Bits

There are bits that achieve different effects with the horses being ridden in them. Some horse bits for sale are said to lower head carriage, while others improve flexion or help with stopping a strong horse (at least, that’s what the bit manufacturers claim). 

Bit features include different materials of manufacture such as sweet iron and with or without a curb chain. You can choose from a twisted wire design to an o ring snaffle or a shank bit for more leverage and supposedly more control. 

A bit can help stop a horse. It can also encourage a horse to move in a certain way such as bits that encourage elevation in dressage or help with sharper turns like roping bits do in Western games. 

Why And How Of Horse Bits

Before you purchase what you believe to be the perfect bit for your horse, some old horsemanship advice may be best considered: it’s the rider’s hands that make the bit. 

The softest bit can be harsh if the rider has clenched hands. On the other hand, a supposedly harsh bit can be kind when controlled by a rider with kind and soft hands. 

Before you choose a bit for your horse, consider what you want that bit to achieve. After all, the bit’s main purpose is to communicate with your horse’s mouth. 

Some riders prefer to ride without a bit, opting for a bitless bridle or riding in a rope halter. There are several horse riding disciplines that frown on this practice. Riding in an approved horse bit is mandatory to participate in these sports. 

Entering a tack shop will be quite overwhelming as there are usually many bits for sale of all types of configurations and designs. Keeping your wits can be hard when you look at a bit with a pretty copper inlay and an antique finish Western bit. 

Different Types of Horse Bits

There are many different types of bits, and each of the styles has its pros and cons to consider before making a purchase or paying for shipping from an online supplier. 

Snaffle Bits or English Bits

Snaffle Bits or English Bits

These bits are usually the cheaper options, depending on the materials and design as a sweet iron bit is more expensive than a regular iron bit. A snaffle bit is a general use bit that can be used for a wide variety of equestrian sports.  

There is a large selection of snaffle bits on the market, from the eggbutt snaffle and the D ring snaffle to the O ring snaffle and a twisted wire snaffle, to name only a few. Snaffle bits are used as a versatile horse bit that often suits sensitive mouths. 

With a copper inlay in some snaffle bits, this encourages the horse to mouth their bit, accepting the sweet taste and giving to the bit more readily. This helps beginner riders achieve a soft-mouthed horse with minimal effort. 

Gag bits are another English type of bit. It exerts more pressure on the horse’s tongue due to the extra leverage. This leverage is provided by the longer shank with different rings to attach the reins to. 

Searching online for “bits snaffle” may include gag bits in the search query, even though these are not technically snaffle bits. 

Curb Bits

Curb Bits

While a curb bit is traditionally a shanked bit. It is sometimes unkindly known as chain bits. There are several snaffle-type bits that also have a curb chain. 

The function of a curb chain is to prevent the bit from sliding from side to side in the horse’s mouth, improving the way the bit lays on the horse’s tongue. Curb bits also help improve the horse’s head carriage as it applies direct pressure on the horse’s chin.

Western Bits

Western Bits

There are many different Western horse bits. Some of these are technically snaffle bits, but others are shank bits, curb bits, stock bits, roping bits, and barrel racing bits. Western horse bits are often characterized by elaborate silver trim and longer shanks. 

Western bits often require different styles of reins that act in specific ways to reduce the need to pull. This accounts for the desired long-and-low head carriage that is characteristic of Western riding. 

Western bits can be considered a severe bit if used by beginner riders who don’t yet know the concept of pressure and release. 

Horse Bits in Order of Severity

horse bits

Western or Curbed Bits

It’s hard to list bits in order of severity. Traditionally, it is assumed that Western or curbed bits are the harshest on the horse’s mouth. These bits apply the most direct pressure to the horse’s tongue. 

When riding in these bits, it is important to pay attention to the horse’s mouth so you can notice any signs of rubbing or bruising. 

Gag Bits & Snaffles

Next in line of harshness are gag bits followed by the different types of snaffles. Snaffles can also be harsh if applied incorrectly or when the bit is not a perfect fit for the horse’s mouth. 

Since a snaffle bit acts on the bar on either side of the horse’s mouth, it can cause wear on the horse’s mouth and teeth. However, snaffles (except for the very narrow ones) are generally considered slightly kinder to the horse’s mouth than a shanked bit.

Bit Width

The width of the bit’s mouthpiece or bar is also a deciding factor in how harsh or soft it is. A narrow mouthpiece is more severe as it has a cutting action as opposed to a wider mouthpiece that fits across the bars of the mouth better. 

Headshaking is indeed a cause for worry. It may be a sign that your horse is unhappy with their bit and potentially in pain. 

How To Choose The Right Bit For Your Horse

bits for horses

At times, the simplest and least expensive bit is the right bit for your horse. No price can guarantee a perfect fit. Opting for an expensive bit and expecting a horse to accept that bit is often what will account for negative behavior in the horse. 

When shopping for a new horse bit, consider these guidelines.

Your Horse’s Mouth

Horses have different size mouths. You need to ensure that whichever bit you purchase, it fits correctly. When inserted into the mouth, you should be able to fit a pinky finger on either side of the bit to ensure the bit fits without pinching the corners of your horse’s mouth. 

Bits are measured in inches. Not all horses will take a five-inch or a five-and-a-half-inch bit. Some horses need a six-inch bit to accommodate a fleshy tongue. 

When testing a bit, be sure to adjust it to lie at the correct height in the mouth. A snaffle bit should rest with one and a half a soft wrinkle at the corner of the mouth. A curbed or shanked bit should barely wrinkle the mouth. 

Your Horse’s Communication Needs

Consider what you want the bit to do. If your needs are to only ask your horse to bend, turn, and gently slow down, then a snaffle bit is ideal. Should you need to ask for elevation and collection, then a curbed bit would be a more effective communication tool. 

Don’t buy a stronger bit to stop a “hot” horse. Go back to basics instead. Train for obedience and softness instead of opting for harsh bits. A curb bit is a tool of finesse. It is not always suitable for beginner riders. 

Type of Riding

The next question will be what type of riding you will be doing. Some sports only allow certain bit types. Dressage only allows snaffle bits at the beginner levels with curb bits only allowed in a double bridle for the upper levels where collection and elevation are sought after. 

Barrel racing and Western games will have their own requirement of which Western Bits are allowed. Roping bits may not be permissible in other disciplines and barrel racing bits may not be appropriate for the Western pleasure classes. 

Budget

Bits can range from a few dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the make, materials, and design. Hand-made bits can be the most costly as will precision-engineered pieces. Bit features may also influence what the final price will be. 

A more expensive bit won’t fix a “problem” horse. Instead, try a simple snaffle bit and work on the training the horse has received as you improve your communication with your horse.

3 Best Horse Bits From Each Classes

Best Snaffle Bit: Weaver Leather Ring Snaffle Bit

Weaver Leather Ring Snaffle Bit
  • 5" sweet iron dog bone mouth with copper inlay
  • Features 3" O-rings
  • Black steel finish offers a modern look
  • Item Package Dimension: 3.4L x 1.9W x 0.1H inches
  • Item Package Weight - 0.4 Pounds

The Weaver Leather Ring Snaffle Bit is an ideal snaffle bit for everyday riding. The center piece provides relief to horses with a busy tongue, while the sweet iron helps moisten the mouth. This bit is suited to most forms of English and Western riding, offering good value for money. Bit provides stability and flexion.

Pros

  • 3-inch O rings
  • Ideal transition bit to higher levels of training to a curb bit
  • May be used with a leather curb strap

Cons

  • Exposure to water will lead to rust; clean and dry the bit after use
  • Cheekpieces are reported to rust; applying vaseline prevents this

Best Western Bit: Myler 43LP Black Seven Shank

Myler 43LP Black Seven Shank (5-Inch) by Myler
  • Myler 43LP Black Seven Shank (5-Inch)
  • 5-Inch

If you have the budget for a Myler Black Seven Shank precision bit, it will serve well for roping, barrel racing, and also Western pleasure classes. This is also an ideal bit for trail riding and ranch work. This bit offers ideal flexion and bend with movable shanks.

Pros

  • Mild ported action at level 2-3
  • Side movement of each shank is independent
  • Compressed and wavy shanks; helps reduce harshness 
  • Copper inlay mouth piece; softer mouth
  • Port allows better movement of the tongue under the bit
  • Suited as roping bit and barrel racing bit

Cons

  • Not suited to beginner riders; beginners may pull or hang on the reins
  • Higher price point than cheaper models in the same design

Best Curb Chain Bit: Spire Stainless Steel Kimberwick Bit

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The kimberwick design bit is a short shanked bit that is suited to most types of riding. There is greater control of shanks combined with a low port for extra mouth space. 

Most horses happily go on a kimberwick bit, and it is a good transition from a snaffle to a Western bit. 

Pros

  • Swivel shanks
  • Short shanks that offer slight pressure
  • Two rein settings for strong and medium leverage

Cons

  • This bit can cause beginner riders to hang on the bars of the horse’s mouth
  • Not all horses enjoy a ported bit

Horse Bits FAQs

horse bit faqs

How Do You Know A Bit Is Too Small For Your Horse?

When the bit pinches or rubs the corners of your horse’s mouth, it is too small or narrow for your horse’s mouth. Common bit sizes are 4, 5, 5.5 inches, and even a 6 inch bit for large breed horses. Be sure you check bit placement by seeing if you can insert your little finger on either side of the bit before the side of the bit. 

What Bit Is The Best All-Round Bit?

Horse bits aren’t all allowed in different levels of competition. A simple snaffle bit is the most versatile as most horses happily go on it, while it is also allowed in most forms of equine sport. 

What Is The Gentlest Horse Bit For A Sensitive Horse?

A mullen mouth bit is a gentle bit that has a kind shape. With the large rounded shape of the bit bars, it is soft in the horse’s mouth and uncomplicated as it doesn’t hinge or enforce a nut-cracker action as some snaffles do. 

Should You Clean A Horse Bit?

Yes, you should clean your horse’s bit. The metal of your horse’s bit will react to the enzymes in their saliva, and if they are grazing or enjoying treats with the bit in their mouth, it will lead to the bit rusting or discoloration. 

Dried food and other particles that cling to the bit will make it taste funny, and it can prevent your horse from readily accepting the bit

To clean your horse bit, rinse with water when you untack your horse. Once a week, rinse with warm soapy water and dry with a soft cloth.

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