Types of Horse Bits + Their Purpose

By Ariana Curcio

Whether you are a seasoned equestrian or a novice rider there is always some sort of confusion regarding horse bits. What is the difference between them?  What is best for your discipline or goals? In reality there are SO MANY types of horse bits that the mere thought of it can make your head can spin. We will cover the main groups of bits, how they are used to try and help you sort out what is best for you and your horse. When you are ready to purchase the bit that is right for you, head over to Horse Tack Co. and save 15% off your order by using the promo code “LoveTheRide” upon checkout, all-the-time and anytime.

Snaffle Bits

Copper and Steel Rollers Eggbutt Snaffle by Coronet

Snaffle bits are divided into several groups.  The jointed mouth piece, with either a single central joint or with a link joining the two sides of the mouthpiece together and the straight-bar or mullen mouth which has a curve that is generally curved up and away from the tongue. Further groups occur regarding the cheeks or rings employed such as loose rings or eggbutts. Of these groups the mullen mouth is the mildest in its affect especially if it is thick and made of rubber or plastic. The straight bar is far more salutary in its action and can act strongly on the edges of the tongue and the bars. When a centered link is added to the mouthpiece, it will lay on the tongue which will reduce the “nutcracker” action. These bits are called Dr. Bristol or French link snaffle bits.

Loose rings of various sizes are employed on the cheeks on snaffle bits. . These rings pass through holes in the mouthpiece. Larger rings are most generally used when turns at speed are intended. 

Multi Ring Bits

Jointed Corkscrew Pelham Bit

To add to some confusion on snaffle bits a more recent subdivision of the snaffle bit group are bits with multiple rings cheeks. They overlap with Pelham and curb bits, because they do not have curb straps they must be classified as snaffle bits. What confuses most people is that they are called gag bits, elevators and American gag bits.   These bits generally come with two or three rings. If the rein is placed on the top ring (center) you will have a snaffle. Almost, because there is an additional top ring it is possible to get slight downward pressure on the poll. This will cause the head to lower. If the rein is placed on the lower ring, there will be increased pressure on the poll as well as pressure to the lower jaw thus even with the lack of a curb chain you will have curb action.  It is also possible, on some of these bits to add a second rein creating the effect of a weak Pelham.

Bradoon bit

German Silver Dressage Bradoon

This bit is also a snaffle but is used on a double bridle. It is a light bit with small rings that can be either loose ring or eggbutt styles. It is used along with a curb bit by the most sophisticated riders today. The Bradoon acts to raise the head when it it is necessary to elevate the head. Used in conjunction with the curb bit it will cause an “up and in effect.”

Mouthpieces of Snaffle Bits

Dave Robart Pinchless Copper Barrel Full Cheek Bit

Most snaffle bits are generally round with a joint in the middle and allow the horse to move forward in a natural motion. They are what is called strong snaffles. Roller snaffles, sometimes called Cherry Rollers bits, encourage relaxation in the lower jaw and while are strong are not very severe. The Magenis snaffle features rollers set across the tongue that is affective in keeping the horse from crossing the jaw in an attempt to evade the bit. The Scurrier bit has a serrated mouthpiece and employs a squeezing action that is considered a stopping bit. The double snaffle sometimes called the Y or W bit can cause bruising and or pinching and should not be used by any novice rider. The patented Dave Robart bits seeks to eliminate pinching that is inherent with most snaffle bits by allowing the center joint to rotate which allows it to lay flatter on the tongue thus reducing the chance of the center joint pinching the tongue.  The Waterford snaffle is a series of balls that look severe but really is not . This mouthpiece helps with horses that tend to lay on the bit. All of these mouthpieces can be used in any of the cheeks mentioned above.

The Pelham Bit

Cyprium Jointed Pelham Bit, Short Shank Pelham

This bit employs one mouthpiece, a curb chain, and two pairs of reins. It Combines the elements of the double bridle which attempts to achieve the result of a double bridle (bit and Bradoon.) Pelham bits apply pressure to the tongue, bars, jaw and poll when the reins are attached to lower ring. When reins are attached to the center ring it acts more like a snaffle.  If double reins are attached, it could be said, that it acts like a double bridle if the wrists are used properly. The action of this bit is also subject to the type of mouthpiece used. 

Gag Bits

Jointed Rubber Mouth Gag Bit by Coronet

This bit employs the use of a rope or round leather placed through the “gag runners” which are a pair of holes on each cheek piece. This will cause the rope that passes over the poll to draw the bit upward in the horses mouth. Used correctly it is not considered severe and is used universally in the sport of Polo and event horses. It will cause the head to be placed in the correct position for the activity at hand. The most commonly used gag bit used in the USA is called the Cheltenham which is an Eggbutt snaffle with holes at the top and bottom of the cheek for the runners to pass through. There are also Full Cheek gags and loose ring Gag bits, each employing a number number of different mouthpieces.

Hackamore or Bitless Bridles (Aka Nose Bridles.)

Nurtural Horse Bitless Ranchman Western Bridle Black

The term hackamore refers to bits that do not use a mouthpiece. As currently used, hackamores are a purely American device although it has been adopted by some European show jumpers. The action is quite simple as it gains control of the horse by pressure applied to the nose which  is gained by leverage. Hackamores lack lateral control of the head and require opening of the hands. Fitting of hackamore bits needs some care because if not set up properly you can callous the nose and cause chafing under the jaw. If hung to low you will inhibit the ability of the horse to breath.  

Overall, the right bit for you will be determined through trial and error and individual horse/rider needs. We communicate with our horses through the use of these bits, think about what you are saying and say it well. Horse Tack Co. has all of your bit needs to ensure the best ride for you and your horse, don’t forget to use the promo code “LoveTheRide” upon checkout to receive 15% off your order, all-the-time and anytime.

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HTC 2016
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