Types of Horse Bit and How Different Horse Bit Really Works

Mar 18, 2024 | Super Equestrian


Isn't your horse picking up on your cues? Don't worry, it happens to the best of us! Building good communication with your horse takes time and practice, first, make sure you're using the right bit for your horse.

A proper fit and type of bit can make a huge difference in how they respond. Snaffles are common for beginners, but there are tons of options like curbs, pelhams, and even hackamores that work in different ways. Likewise, the right tool for the right job. Every horse is an individual with their quirks. Some are super sensitive, while others need a bit more oomph. So their needs also differ.

To find the perfect match for you and your four-legged friend, it's important to understand how they are different from each other. We are going to give you overall guidance about their variations so that you can choose the perfect one without any doubt.  

Why are bits important in horse riding?

Imagine, you're on a horse, ready to ride. Now, you've got this thing called a bit—it's a crucial part of the horse gear. It connects to the bridle, which is like the headgear for the horse, and you pop it into the horse's mouth. Now, here's the deal: you can't just use your hands to steer the horse like you're driving a car.

Here's where the bit comes in. When you connect the rein to the bit and give it a little tug, you're basically telling the horse, "Hey, let's go this way or slow down a bit." The horse feels that nudge in its mouth and responds accordingly. 

It's not just about steering, though. The bit also helps manage signals from your legs, like when you want the horse to speed up or pay attention.

So, in a nutshell, when you're riding a horse, that bit in its mouth is like your steering wheel and speed control all rolled into one. It's pretty darn important to make sure you and your four-legged friend are on the same page!

Types of bits we use every day

There are various types of horse bits, each with its unique design, shapes, sizes, and functions. Just like people, every horse is different, and they may prefer different types of bits. The choice of a bit can also depend on the individual horse, with what suits a trained horse not necessarily being suitable for a younger one. Another factor to consider is the material of the bit, as horses may react differently even if the bits are made of the same material.

Choosing the perfect bit for your horse can not only improve performance but also make your riding experience more enjoyable. Horse trainers and owners often use different types of bits, taking into account the individual needs and preferences of each horse.

I. Snaffle Bits

Let's talk about the snaffle bit, also known as the snaffle bridle. This bit is super common and comes with a mouthpiece and rings on each side. Now, that mouthpiece can be unjointed, single-jointed, or have two joints.

What's cool about snaffle bits is that they're kind of gentle on horses. They put pressure on the bars of the horse's mouth but without any fancy leverage. This helps create a smooth line of communication between the horse and the rider. And you know what? Among all the horse bits out there, snaffle bits are softies – perfect for those young, budding horses.

The bonus? Snaffle bits won't break the bank. You can snag one for as low as 10 bucks, and even the high-quality, fancy ones will usually hang around the $100 to $500 range or more. So, whether you're on a budget or ready to splurge, there's a snaffle bit waiting for you and your four-legged friend.

Subtypes: 

So we covered the snaffle bit, but guess what? There's a whole bunch of variations out there in the market. Some have different cheekpieces, and others come with various types of mouthpieces. Let's dive into the details, shall we?

a. D-ring snaffle: Alright, check this out – there's this D-shaped snaffle bit with fixed rings, and it's pretty nifty. Those fixed rings mean less sensitivity inside your horse's mouth, but here's the cool part – the shanks on the side give you some sweet sideways control. So, when you want your horse to do a smooth turn in a particular direction, this bit's got your back.

It's not super touchy, which makes it awesome for young horses or even the less experienced ones.If your horse is into high-energy stuff like racing or jumping, this D-ring snaffle bit is the MVP. It gives extra support and prevents any uncomfortable pinching of your horse's lips and bars. You can snag one of these for around $7 to $49, depending on how fancy you wanna go.

b. Loose ring snaffle: Now, let's talk about this other bit that's got loose rings– they're the free spirits of the bit world. Unlike the fixed ones, these rings aren't attached to the mouthpiece. This means your horse gets some real freedom of movement inside its mouth, keeping things all calm and relaxed.

And these bits offer sensitive contact through the reins, which can make your horse all energetic and playful. Perfect for those dressage shows or any fancy events your horse might be strutting into.

But hey, before you go on a bit of a shopping spree, keep an eye out for the ring thickness and hole size. Too thin or too big can spell discomfort for your horse. Heads up, though – this bit isn't for the rookies; it's more of a pro-level thing. You can grab one of these bits anywhere from 10 bucks to 200 depending on how boujee you want to go.

c. French link snaffle: This is another snaffle bit that comes with a mouthpiece that has two joints. Each side of the bit moves independently, which ensures great control. A flexible mouthpiece prevents harming the mouth area from the nutcracker effect. 

It distributes pressure on the tongue area, lips, and bar without making any interference with the roof of the mouth.  So, horses feel comfortable inside the mouth area. This horse bit is perfect for sensitive horses because of its flexibility. 

d. Mullen Snaffle: This type of snaffle bit comes with a mullen mouthpiece. This mouthpiece has no joint, it is curved so that it allows more space for the tongue and fits comfortably inside the horse’s mouth. 

Traditional mullen snaffle has a single bar in the mouthpiece but myler version comes with a curved design. Myler version also has a design that comes with independent movement.For the variations it has, this bit often is used in dressage.

II. Curb Bits

Let's chat about the curb bit – it's a go-to for a lot of Western riders. So, this bit is packing a curb chain, plus a ring on each side of the purchase arm shank and another one at the bottom of the lever arm shank. 

Now,the curb bit is a bit more intense than the snaffle. When you, as the rider, put on the pressure, this bit cranks it up a notch. And get this – the height of the shank plays a role in how much pressure you're dishing out. 

Subtypes: 

Now, as we know about curb bit, there are multiple variations around it. Let's dive into the world of curb bits and we’ll share some facts to consider:

a. Pelham bit: Pelham bit – it's a kind of combination bit because it combines the effects of both a snaffle and a curb bit. It's got curb reins and snaffle reins, plus a mouthpiece, shanks, and a curb chain to keep things in check and prevent too much rotation. It comes with a mullen, tom thumb, or jointed mouthpiece.

But don't get it twisted with a double bridle. They might look similar, but they're not the same deal. This Pelham bit isn't exactly beginner-friendly; it's more of a pro-level choice. If you're rolling with a Pelham, you gotta master that hand-control game first. Otherwise, you and your four-legged buddy might end up with a few bumps and bruises.

Pros and trainers often rock the Pelham, especially in jumping, eventing, and hunting scenes. Now, here's the catch – you won't spot these in dressage because some folks think they're a bit on the harsh side. But, if you can handle those reins like a pro, they can be pretty useful and humane.

b. Kimberwick bit: Kimberwick bit – is a popular choice in English riding. So, it's got this D-shaped ring, bit shanks, and curb chains, and here's the twist – you use just one rein with it. The idea behind the Kimberwick is to give the rider some extra control by getting the horse to lower its head.

Now, the catch is, because there's a fair bit of rein pressure involved, you've gotta know how to handle the Kimberwick. If you're not careful, it could spell trouble for your horse. But hey, if you use it right, the Kimberwick lets you have the kind of control you're after. Some events might not be cool with the Kimberwick bit, so always check the rules before you head to a show.

Oh, and here's an interesting bit (pun intended) – the Kimberwick has shorter shanks compared to the Pelham bit, making it a bit gentler on the horses. Plus, it comes in three mouthpiece options – there's the mullen, single-jointed, and ported mouthpiece. 

c. Tom Thumb bit : Tom Thumb bit – it's got a jointed mouthpiece and a medium shank length, usually around five to seven inches. You gotta hook up a curb chain with this bit. Now, because of those joints on the mouthpiece, it's got a bit of a nutcracker effect on your horse's mouth. When you, as the rider, put some pressure on the bit, the horse feels it on the head, right over the poll (area between ear) and under the chin as the curb chain gets pulled down.

But if you pull the reins too hard, your horse might start tossing its head, and that's not the safest situation. This bit is often a go-to for younger or smaller riders, especially when dealing with a horse that's not too sensitive. It is the training wheels of bits for those who are still getting the hang of things. Just keep in mind, go easy on those reins to keep it safe and smooth!

★ Curb chain: Curb chain is an essential part of the bit. Though it's not a bit type, you have to buy it additionally for your curb bits. You can use a curb strap of synthetic material or rubber if you don't want to use a chain. This will prevent the chain rotating inside the horse's mouth. No matter what, you must adjust the curb chain with the horse bit properly to get your desired control. 

III. Leverage Bits

The purpose of leverage bits is to provide sophisticated cues to horses depending on degrees of pressure. Leverage bit is a type of that bit that uses leverage to amplify pressure given by the rider. For example, if the rider put one pound of pressure on the rein, the horse will feel more than one pound of pressure on the pressure points. 

How much pressure the horse will feel depends on the shank length and pressure applied. In the leverage bit, shank rotates with applied pressure, this rotation increases the pressure ratio. It does not involve direct communication with the horse’s mouth. 

Subtypes: 

There are many kinds of leverage bits available in the market. If you  visit a tack shop for leverage one you will see some of these bits —

a. Gag bits: Gag bits are known for their precision. This type of bit not only puts rein pressure but also they apply appropriate poll pressure. There are curb gag bits and snaffle gag bits out there. They are different from normal snaffle bits and curb bits.

Mostly they also apply focused pressure on the chin area of the mouth. Gag bits are for strong and energetic horses. Sensitive horses may not like it. 

b. Hackamores: 

Ever thought of not using a horse bit? Yes, that’s also possible. You can use hackamore, a bit less headgear for your horses. Instead of a bit, you've got this unique noseband that works its magic on pressure points around the face, nose, and chin. 

In English, Spanish or western riding, hackamores are widely being used. It's for those who want to get rid of the bits, still ride horses and have great control over them. 

Choosing the Right Bit

When it comes to our four-legged buddies, they've got their own opinions, right? Sometimes they're cool with any bit you throw their way, no complaints. Other times, they're a bit picky and need some time to warm up to a new piece of gear. And hey, age matters – the youngsters might have a different taste in bits compared to the seasoned veterans. 

Now, here's the deal when you're on the bit hunt – take a good measure of your horse's mouth, and think about what kind of riding you're into. Young ones might lean towards one type, while the experienced ones can handle the more intricate designs and functions. You can take the help of a skilled horse trainer for the right bit. No matter which bit you go for, the key is to make sure it fits just right. Happy horse, happy ride, right?

Conclusion

We’ve come to the end of our discussion. Bit creates the connection between horse and rider. You can communicate with your horse with the right bit, give your horse direction, and train them the way you want. 

All you need to do is choose a horse bit suitable for your horse. Whether it's snaffle bit, curb bit, or leverage bit, if it fits properly on your horse mouth, you have nothing to worry about!

The discussion over horses and bits has no end. However, share your experience, stories about the bit you are using now, or any purchasing experience with us. You can also share this article with your friends concerned about types of bits. 

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