Breaking Down Bits, What is the Right Choice for You?
By Kelly Sheehan
Few pieces of horse riding gear instill quite as much overwhelm as bits. They come in a variety of options: English bits, western bits, snaffle, d-ring, curb with many variations among these categories. Reins connect to the bit, but how these reins connect makes a difference, as well as differences in how a specific style of bridle works. With so many options and variations how can you decide what the right one for you is? Let us break down the world of bits, a bit, to help you decide.
When you figure out what type is best for you, head over to Horse Tack Co. where there is a vast selection of bits for all types of riders and horses. Plus, use the promo code “LoveTheRide” upon checkout to receive 15% off your order, all-the-time and anytime.
Trimming down the options- How to choose?
The use of horse bits varies widely depending on the purpose of your ride. If you are planning to compete within a specific breed organization or other organized competition, be sure to review the rulebook for legal bits that can be used during competition. The rulebooks also offer guidelines on safety and appropriate bits to use in specific events. Otherwise, how to choose? The options can be overwhelming and aren’t always clear on what each bit does. While some online bit guides can be helpful and free resources are available, the best way to choose the right one is to simply try several options on your horse and learn through trial and error.
The Basics on Bits
Bits come in many variations and styles and have developed quite a bit from the original bits utilized thousands of years ago. Modern bit styles have been around the last several hundred years with differences in design that impact the function of the bit. By putting pressure on different points inside the horse’s mouth, bits allow a rider to communicate intent to the horse. While some bits are very mild, a rider should be able to recognize a more severe bit and consider alternatives, as a severe bit that causes pain or discomfort may create a safety concern instead of supporting a safe, and enjoyable, ride.
Generally, thicker mouthpieces are considered to be more mild than thin, narrow bits, but a horse’s preferences may vary. Most horses are started in a basic snaffle with other bits tried from that starting point. While many widths of bits are available, depending on the size of the horse’s muzzle, a 5-inch bit is standard width. Ideally, you want a bit wide enough that it looks appropriate for the size of the horse’s muzzle and doesn’t pinch in the corners of the mouth.
As horses have different size mouths and may have their own preferences, there are very few hard and fast rules for selecting a bit. Horses should be monitored for comfort and signs of unhappiness may suggest that another bit be tried. Signs of unhappiness can include lifting the bit, swishing the tail, shaking the head, excessive mouthing of the bit, and failure to accept contact. Bits are generally named for their components, which makes even complicated names break down easily into the parts described.
Snaffle bits come in English and Western styles. When using a snaffle bit, the rein is connected so that the horse feels contact that is equal to the pressure the rider puts on the reins. Thick snaffles with smooth mouth pieces are considered to be very mild and can be effective for many horses. Unjointed mouthpieces and double-jointed mouthpieces (French-link snaffles) reduce pressure into a horse’s palette and tend to apply equal pressure on the sides. Single-jointed mouthpieces can apply pressure to the horse’s palette and may be an issue for some horses. A D-ring snaffle provides pressure on the side of the horse’s face when the opposite rein is used and is considered a safer alternative to full-cheek snaffles as it is less likely to get caught on other equipment or tack.
Curb bits are also available for both English and Western riders and are bits that utilize a curb chain. Curb chains provide additional pressure under the chin and work with leverage bits, or bits that utilize shanks on the side of the mouthpiece. Curb bits are often preferred by Western riders, who tend to ride on longer reins and need to exert the same pressure as English riders with much shorter reins. When a curb bit is used, the rein attaches to a shank, or side piece, that leverages the pressure the rider puts on the reins and increases the contact felt by the horse. In general, the longer the shank, the greater the pressure. Curb bits also often have higher ports, which put pressure on the horse’s palette (roof of the mouth). In general, curb bits should be used by experienced riders who can control their hand movements and keep quiet or soft hands as appropriate. Otherwise, the horse is receiving a significant, unyielding amount of pressure that does not help to communicate the rider’s intent.
While the bit options in any given tack store can feel overwhelming, looking at the components of a bit and considering safety and the needs of the horse and rider can make the choice a little easier. In general, a bit should never look painful (sharp edges, flaking plated metal, pinching components). When in doubt, start with a more gentle bit- one that is generally thicker with a snaffle style mouthpiece- and increase severity from there. If you aren’t sure how a bit works, ask a professional. Also, remember that a bit is used to support the other aids utilized when riding. A bit should not take the place of appropriate leg or seat aids.
To view available bit options, or to ask questions, contact Horse Tack Co. and love your ride! Don’t forget to use the promo code “LoveTheRide” upon checkout to receive 15% off your order, all-the-time and anytime!