When choosing tack for your horse, pay close attention to the bit. This is, arguably, the most important aspect of your riding equipment. The bit is the part of the bridle that provides close communication between horse and rider. It is the metal piece that goes into the horse’s mouth.
The bit is attached to the headstall, and the reins are attached to the bit. Proper use of the reins signals your horse when you want to stop, turn or back up. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of bits, each designed for a specific purpose. In this article, we review some of the most common choices in bits. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 The Components Of A Bit
- 2 There Are Many Variations On The Mouthpiece
- 3 Which Type Of Bit Should You Choose?
- 4 How Do You Choose
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
The Components Of A Bit
Although there are lots of different kinds of bits, most of them are made up of the same four components. They are:
1. The “purchase” is the part of the bit found above the mouthpiece. This is the ring that holds the bit to the bridle and short section of metal beneath it. A short purchase provides quick reaction to your use of the reins. A longer purchase provides a slower reaction time.
2. The shank is the part of the bit found below the mouthpiece. Shank length determines the amount of pressure your signals apply to the horse’s mouth. A longer shanked bit, used correctly, can provide greater control. If abused, a bit with long shanks can be painful and cause a horse to panic.
3. The “cheek” is the term used to refer to the purchase and the shank together.
4. The mouthpiece is the part of the bit that is placed in the horse’s mouth.
There Are Many Variations On The Mouthpiece
Modern bits are made of metal, but there have been bits made of leather and other materials in the past. Today you typically find bits made of:
1. Stainless steel is attractive, durable and rust-proof.
2. Copper promotes salivation and a soft mouth.
3. Sweet iron is meant to rust, and when it does it creates a sweet taste.
Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of styles. Here are some of the most common:
This sort of mouthpiece is also called a “broken” mouthpiece. This type of bit has one joint in the middle of the mouthpiece. This causes the bit to apply pressure upwards and toward the front of the mouth. When you apply pressure to the reins, the bit folds into a “V” shape and applies pressure to the lips, tongue and the bars of the mouth.
This type of mouthpiece is similar to a single jointed bit, but it folds into a “U” shape, rather than a “V” shape when pressure is applied. For this reason, this is a gentler bit.
This is a solid mouthpiece with a gentle curve. It applies even pressure and provides more comfortable space for the tongue.
4. Triple Mullen
This is a very flexible mouthpiece that is generally comfortable for the horse but can apply strong tongue pressure when engaged.
This sort of bit is made of chain link and is quite severe and unnecessary. The least severe of these is made of rounded, linked chain. The most severe is made of chain that resembles a bicycle chain. Either way, the bit works by applying painful pressure to the corners of the mouth. This type of bit can cause severe injury and is not a good choice in any circumstance.
Which Type Of Bit Should You Choose?
For most types of riding a simple curb bit or a simple snaffle will suffice.
A curb bit is a shanked bit that works through leverage. If you are going to use a shanked bit, you must have light hands because leverage produces more pressure when you engage the reins. Curb bits are available with many different sorts of mouthpieces.
Snaffle bits do not have purchase or shanks. Instead, a snaffle bit is made up of a mouthpiece with “D” rings or “O” rings on the sides of your horse’s mouth. Another variation is the “Eggbutt” which is a more oval shaped ring.
This type of bit does not have leverage power, so the amount of pressure you apply to the reins is the amount of pressure your horse will feel. This is “direct” pressure which your horse will feel instantly.
The signals you can convey with it are instantaneous and not nuanced. For this reason, the snaffle bit is mostly used for training. Snaffle bits typically have a jointed mouthpiece, but they may also come with a double-jointed or Mullen mouthpiece.
How Do You Choose
Generally speaking, you should always start out with the gentlest bit (or bitless) option possible. When you first acquire a horse, it’s a good idea to stay with the type of bit he is used to, unless that bit seems to be causing a problem.
If you find that the gentlest option or the bit the horse is accustomed to do not render the results you want, try out a few different types of bits in a safe, enclosed area to see how your horse best responds.
Seven Essential Horse Bits
HoofNotes Infographic: Bit Basics – The Snaffle
Frequently Asked Questions
Most of the time, yes you can, but it is worth noting that some horses don’t like to be led with a bridle and have learned that you really don’t have as much control on the ground with a bridle as you do with a halter. Generally speaking, a bridle is for riding. A halter is for leading and groundwork.
It is not a good idea to tie a horse wearing a bitted bridle or a bridle with a mechanical hackamore bit using the reins. This can cause discomfort for the horse. Also, leather reins are intended for guidance, not tying. You could ruin your bridle and/or lose your horse if you tie him with leather reins. You could tie your horse in a bosal with mecate (rope) reins for a short period of time, and a bosal can be used as you would use a halter to do groundwork and lead your horse about.
You can hurt a horse with any bridle if you are heavy handed. It’s very important to learn to communicate with and control your horse using a combination of light hands, leg and seat cues, spoken word and intention. When you do this, you will not hurt your horse.
With a bit or an English (mechanical) hackamore, a curb chain or strap applies pressure under the horse’s chin when you pull back on the reins. It also helps hold the bit in place. A curb chain (or strap) gives you more control and makes it possible for you to be more light handed because it takes very little pressure to convey your meaning to your horse through the curb chain or strap.
It is a Spanish word that means “muzzle”. The word can be used to refer to the entire bosal style bridle, but it is literally applied to just the nosepiece. The bosal style bridle is actually a type of hackamore.
If you are light handed and neck reining with a bit or hackamore, there isn’t much difference. A light handed rider who uses legs, seat, voice and intention to guide the horse is in teamwork with the horse, whether using a bosal, bit or mechanical hackamore. The difference is that the bosal is especially designed for light handed neck reining and whole body communication. Direct reining and pulling the horse in the direction you intend will not work with a bosal. It is simply not designed to work that way. With a bit or mechanical hackamore, you can direct rein and haul away on your horse to get him to do your bidding, and it can work. It’s not good horsemanship, though. No matter what kind of bridle you use, your goal should always be to join up with your horse so that he or she will gladly pay attention to you and want to do as you ask.