The perplexity of the BIT

We'll try to navigate the perplexity of the right bit with the good intention of not turning this article into a Netflix Mini Series or drone on incessantly in 'Bubba' style from Forest Gump. Choosing the best bit for your horse can be challenging at times (or always). However, if you have the proper knowledge and understanding of how bits work, this does not have to be the case...

The perplexity of the BIT

There are two fundamental types of bits: snaffle bits and leverage (curb) bits. These differ in the areas of the horse where pressure is applied. In addition to these two types of bits, hackamores exist, which typically lack a mouthpiece.

Horse bits, like the various materials from which they are made, come in a variety of mouthpiece styles.  Consider the size and shape of your horse's mouth, how your horse has been trained, and your level of riding ability. Ideally, choose the mildest bit that allows for clear communication with the horse.

When choosing a bit, it is important to first understand how a bit works and the pressure points on the horse that can be affected by a bit. Once this information is understood, it should be clear whether a snaffle or a leverage (curb) bit, or one of the many combination types of headgear, should be chosen. There's also the hackamore, which can be either a true hackamore (bosal) or a mechanical hackamore. A hackamore is generally thought to be devoid of a mouthpiece.

When it comes to bits, there are numerous options, and the selection at your local tack shop can be overwhelming. Consideration must be given to whether -

  • You will ride English or Western.

  • You will compete, and what discipline you will compete in.

  • What your riding ability is.

  • Your horse's training history.

  • Your horse's mouth shape and size.

Let's look at the most common English horse bits and how they are used

D-Ring Snaffle with Single Joint and Smooth Bars - D-ring bit fits comfortably within the horse's mouth and prevents pulling. This helps to compensate for a shaky grip. This also makes it an excellent option for novice riders and young horses. The fixed rings also result in a more direct and precise action than a loose ring snaffle and permit the delivery of targeted aids. D-ring snaffles may be constructed from stainless steel, copper, or rubber.

Eggbutt French Link Snaffle - When used, the center plate of a french link eggbutt is shaped and lies flat on the horse's tongue, causing little to no pressure. The double jointed mouthpiece relieves pressure on the horse's mouth bars and prevents palate pressure, making the french link one of the best bits for beginners. The French link is ideal for horses with a large tongue and a low palate mouth conformation because the bit is relatively unobtrusive in the horse's mouth.

Loose Ring Polymer-Covered Mullen Snaffle - Straight and rigid Mullen Mouth bits apply consistent and even pressure to the entire tongue. A straight bar puts less pressure on the tongue edges than a jointed bit. The more powerful the rein aid, the more pressure is applied to the tongue and lower jaw bone. Recommended for horses who evade rein aids and become strong. Mullen Mouth bits, as opposed to bridles with additional lever action on the poll (e.g. Pelham or Kimblewick), can be used for horses that dodge downwards and lean on the bit. 

Unlike fixed bits like the eggbutt or hanging cheek snaffle, loose ring bits allow the horse to position the bit where they want it. This makes the horse more comfortable in the mouth, and because the mouthpiece is moveable on the cheek, it also helps horses who are heavy or grab the bit.

Pelham with Copper Link - A pelham is a leverage bit, which means it increases force while decreasing the amount of movement applied by the rider. The curb rein, unlike a snaffle bit, can amplify the rein pressure several times over, depending on the geometry and length of the shank. The copper link prevents the nutcracker action and promotes acceptance, softness, and salivation. The Pelham cheekpiece provides versatility for a variety of horses and disciplines.

Kimberwick with Medium Port and Roller - A Kimberwick is a type of horse bit that was named after-  the English town where it was first manufactured. Kimberwicks are popular in English riding and were designed by a showjumper. Kimberwick curb bits have bit shanks, D-shaped rings, and a curb chain. Kimberwick bits typically have minimal to mild curb action, though some do have more. Kimberwicks are designed to give a rider more control by encouraging the horse to lower his head.

A medium port bit provides tongue relief without putting the majority of force on the horse's palate and bars of its mouth.

The roller plays the part of encouraging the horse to play with it. Playing with these "rollers" makes the horse's tongue and jaw relax and, in theory, helps the horse to accept the bit.

Double Bridle: Bridoon and Weymouth - The Weymouth and bradoon bits make up the double bridle. The bradoon should be the same size and shape as your horse's standard snaffle bit because it will be fitted in the same location in the horse's mouth. The Weymouth is attached lower in the horse's mouth, where the jaw is narrower.
The Weymouth bit is an unjointed bar bit that provides a lot of leverage. It has a different, sharper action than a snaffle, and experienced riders use it to fine-tune their aids and influence on the horse. This bit is used in conjunction with two sets of reins. It works in tandem with a bradoon bit.
The bradoon bit functions similarly to any other snaffle, applying pressure to the lips, tongue, and, to a lesser extent, the mouth bars. The bradoon is used in classical dressage to control horizontal flexion (bending the horse left and right) and impulsion (faster and slower).

English Shank Bit - Shank or curb bits are used on horses that are further along in their training rather than on young horses. Because this is a leverage bit, the horse will feel more than 5 pounds in its mouth when the rider applies 5 pounds of pressure to the reins. Depending on the length and shape of the shank, it may feel 10, 15, 20, or more pounds of pressure. The reins on a shank bit attach below the level of the mouth piece, as opposed to the snaffle, where they attach at the level of the mouth piece. The shank bit has an impact on four more areas of the horse's head than the snaffle bit. The shank bit, like the snaffle, affects the corners of the mouth, tongue, and bars, but it also affects the roof of the mouth, the jaw, the chin groove, and the poll.

When transitioning a horse from a snaffle to a shank/curb bit, it must be educated to the new areas of pressure so that it does not overreact and injure itself or the rider. When used correctly, this bit is used to help restrict forward motion and collect and set the horse on its haunches.

These videos by Bomber Nel, a horse bitting expert, are both informative and entertaining. For good reason, this bitter is regarded as one of the world's best... and will undoubtedly leave you feeling far more knowledgeable about bitting your horse.