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Finding the Right Horse Bit: A Comprehensive Guide

Introduction to Horse Bits

Horse bits are an essential piece of equipment for horse riders. These small but mighty tools have been around for centuries, and their purpose has remained the same – to provide communication, control, and direction to the horse.

In this article, we will explore the history of horse bits and their function in more detail. We will also delve into the different types of horse bits and the purpose of their various parts.

History of Horse Bits

The use of bits dates back to the Botai people, who inhabited present-day Kazakhstan over 5000 years ago. These early bits were simple and made of bone or horn, and their primary function was to control horses during hunting and gathering.

As time went on, more sophisticated versions of these primitive bits were developed using metal, which provided greater control over the horse’s direction and speed.

Function of Horse Bits

The primary purpose of horse bits is to provide communication, control, and direction to the horse. By doing this, it creates a symbiotic relationship between horse and rider and improves the horse’s performance in various equestrian disciplines.

When the rider uses the reins, it sends signals to the horse’s mouth, which, in turn, helps the horse understand what the rider wants. Bits also help in controlling the horse’s speed, which ensures a safe and enjoyable ride for both horse and rider.

Horse Bit Terminology

Now let’s move on to the essential vocabulary used when discussing horse bits. When shopping for a bit, you’ll come across several terms, so it’s vital to understand their meaning to make the right choice for your horse.


The mouthpiece is the central part of the bit that goes into the horse’s mouth. It comes in different sizes and shapes, and the chosen type of mouthpiece will depend on the horse rider’s preference and the horse’s sensitivity.

The joint type, attachment, material, smoothness or texture of the mouthpiece are essential factors to consider when selecting the bit.


The rings are the part of the bit that slides through the bridle and connects to the reins. The rings are available in two types – loose or fixed.

The loose ring is ideally suited for horses with sensitive mouths as it offers more movement, reducing the likelihood of pinching, and allowing for better communication between horse and rider. In contrast, the fixed ring is more suitable for horses that require more control.


The cheekpiece or shank is the side of the bit that extends from the mouthpiece. The length of the cheekpiece determines the level of leverage action.

A longer shank will provide more leverage making it preferable in Western riding disciplines whereas, in English riding and dressage, shorter shanks are preferred.

Curb Chain

The curb chain is a crucial part of curb bits, which provides a safe action. It is fitted below the horse’s chin and provides a direct line of communication between the reins’ pressure and the bit’s pressure.

The curb chain also prevents the bit from sliding too far up the horse’s mouth and into their hard palate, providing a more comfortable experience for the horse.


The types of horse bits are prone to potential injury if overused, and bit guards can help to prevent this. The cheek guards prevent the cheekpiece or shank from pinching the horse’s cheek, while rubber bit guards prevent the horse’s lip from getting caught in the gap between the mouthpiece and the rings.


In conclusion, the history of horse bits has been driven by the horse-human relationship, as riders sought ways to improve communication, control, direction, and speed. The difference in the types of bits and their parts provides riders with a wide range of options that cater to specific preferences and requirements.

Understanding the terminology of horse bits will help riders make informed decisions when selecting a bit that ensures a comfortable and safe riding experience for the horse.

Types of Horse Bits

Horse riding disciplines vary, and riders need different types of horse bits to ensure the best performance from their horse. In this section, we will explore three types of horse bits – snaffle, curb, and combination bits – to help riders make informed decisions.

Snaffle Horse Bits

Snaffle horse bits are the most common and straightforward type of horse bits. The mouthpiece of a snaffle rotates freely, applying direct pressure on the horse’s mouth when the reins are pulled.

It is a mild bit, making it useful for young or inexperienced horses. The pressure on the horse’s mouth is regulated by the rider’s hand movements, providing a more comfortable experience for the horse.

The most common snaffle bits are loose ring snaffle, D-ring snaffle, eggbutt snaffle, hanging cheek snaffle and full cheek snaffle. Riders can choose between different mouthpieces, including straight, single-jointed, double-jointed, and mullen.

Curb Horse Bits

Curb bits have shanks that hang below the horse’s mouth, providing leverage action when the reins are pulled. Curb bits have a mullen mouthpiece, which is straight with a slight curve, and when the rider applies rein pressure, the bit tightens against the horse’s chin, mandible, and poll, providing better control.

The length of the shank determines the amount of leverage the bit provides, making it essential to choose the right one for your horse. Some popular curb bits are the Weymouth, Tom Thumb, Western correction bit, and Western grazing bit.

Combination Horse Bits

Combination bits are a mix of snaffle and curb bits, providing both direct pressure and leverage action. This combination of features makes it vital to use it correctly, as it’s one of the most severe types of bit available.

The Pelham, Kimberwick, and gag bits are popular examples of a combination bit. The Pelham is made up of two bits – a snaffle bit and a curb bit – and provides double rein control.

The Kimberwick is a modified version of a Pelham, and a gag bit is a bit that can provide two types of pressure on the horse’s mouth and poll.

Choosing the Right Bit for Your Horse

Selecting the right horse bit depends on various factors that a rider needs to consider. Being mindful of the horse’s age, temperament, experience, preference and the discipline they ride in can guide the rider in making an informed decision, ensuring a comfortable and safe experience for the horse.

Age: For young horses, a mild bit such as a snaffle would be more appropriate as it protects their mouths from being pulled on too much. Temperament: A more sensitive horse may respond better to a bit with less pressure, while a stronger or more challenging horse may require a bit with more pressure.

Experience: Experienced horses may need a more drastic bit to maintain control to match their level of training. Preference: Some horses have personal preferences for a certain type of bit used throughout their riding lives and are more comfortable with it than they are with other bits.

Discipline: Certain bits are designed for specific disciplines, and riders must choose a bit that suits the particular discipline they participate in. For example, dressage riders use mild bits that communicate precise movements to the horse, while eventing riders use versatile bits that suit different types of riding.

Importance of Proper Fit

The correct fit of a bit is essential to ensure that the horse is comfortable and able to perform tasks effectively. A well-fitted bit provides the right control and communication between rider and horse.

An ill-fitted bit can cause discomfort or even pain to the horse, leading to adverse effects such as evasions and lack of responsiveness. For dressage, the bit should fit correctly in the horse’s mouth, and the horse should only use one hand.

Eventing horses need a strong bit that provides sufficient control when jumping over obstacles. Reigning horses perform various figures and turns and require a gentle bit that provides subtle instructions on direction.


Choosing the right bit for your horse can enhance the horse’s riding experience and performance. As riders, we have a responsibility to ensure that we select the appropriate bit for our horses, emphasizing the importance of proper fit and understanding various bit types along with their functions.

Horse Bit Severity Chart

Selecting the right bit for your horse is essential as a rider, and knowing how severe a bit is can help you make an appropriate choice. This section focuses on a horse bit severity chart, explaining how it works, its significance and how to use it effectively.

Explanation of Chart

The horse bit severity chart provides a visual representation of the degree of severity of different types of bits. The chart presents bits in three categories: mild, moderate, and severe.

Bits placed in the mild category feature a straight design, a soft mouthpiece, and a minimal amount of leverage action. In contrast, bits classified as severe have an intricate design with a more substantial lever arm and a joint mouthpiece that applies more pressure to the horse’s mouth.

The chart also has the status of hackamores and bosals as separate entities because they do not involve a bit like other traditional bridles. Hackamores and bosals belong to the mild category as they apply pressure on the horse’s nose.

How to Use the Chart

It is imperative to keep in mind that choosing a bit for your horse should be based on various factors, not just their level of severity. Before using the chart, assess your horse’s level of experience and training.

Younger horses or horses with less experience require a gentler bit, preferably in the mild category. For experienced horses with extensive training, a bit that falls into the moderate or severe category is more appropriate.

When choosing a bit, remember that one’s activity level and level of experience of the rider should also be taken into account. When riders and horses share equally low levels of experience, or when one or both are trying a new discipline or activity, the mild category is the best option.

Additionally, consult with an equine expert or trainer when making a final decision. It’s also important to note that some horses may have a mouth structure intolerant of certain bits, which can cause discomfort, pain, and irreparable damage.

Therefore, when using a bit, monitor your horse for signs of pain or discomfort. The chart is an excellent reference tool for beginners who may not be familiar with the types of bits available, and with varying degrees of severity.

If you are unfamiliar with bits, start with those in the mild category and gradually work your way up as your horse gains more experience and training.


The horse bit severity chart is an essential tool for riders to help choose the right bit for their horse. The severity of a bit depends on various factors, including the mouthpiece design, shape, material, and amount of leverage action provided.

Riders must assess their horses’ level of experience and training when selecting a bit. The chart can be used as a supplementary reference tool and guide, but the final decision on which bit should depend on the horse’s needs, mouth structure, and level of training, under the guidance of a qualified equine expert or trainer.

Horse bits play a critical role in communication, control, direction, and speed. Understanding the various types of bits, their components, and how to use them is key to choosing the best bit for your horse.

The article covered the history of horse bits, the different types, their terminology, and the importance of proper fit. It also introduced the horse bit severity chart as an essential reference tool for riders.

The article’s takeaways emphasized that the proper selection, fit, and use of a bit can enhance the horse’s riding experience and performance. Finally, working with equine experts or trainers when choosing a bit is critical to ensuring the horse’s comfort and safety.


Q. How do I choose the right bit for my horse?

A. Consider the horse’s age, temperament, experience, preference, and the discipline you ride in.

Q. What factors should I consider when choosing a snaffle bit?

A. Look at the mouthpiece’s joint type, attachment, material, smoothness or texture.

Q. What are curb bits, and when are they useful?

A. Curb bits have shanks that hang below the horse’s mouth and provide leverage action that is useful for experienced horses in disciplines like Western riding.

Q. What is the horse bit severity chart?

A. The horse bit severity chart provides a visual representation of the degree of severity of different types of bits to help riders choose the right one for their horse.

Q. Why is proper fit crucial when choosing a bit?

A. Proper fit ensures that the horse is comfortable and able to perform tasks effectively while providing the right control and communication between rider and horse.

Q. Can using an ill-fit bit cause discomfort or pain to the horse?

A. Yes, an ill-fitted bit can cause discomfort and even pain, leading to evasions and lack of responsiveness from the horse.

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