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Mastering Horse Bits: Understanding and Choosing the Right Type

Understanding Horse Bits

Horse bits are essential for controlling a horse when riding. However, many riders do not understand how bits work.

In this article, we will explain the basic principles of horse bits and guide you on how to choose the right bit for your horse.

How Do Horse Bits Work?

The horse bit works as a communication tool between the rider and the horse. The pressure applied to the bit by the reins affects the horse’s jaw, tongue, and roof of the mouth.

The bit’s action is levered to amplify the force applied by the rider’s hands. Horse bits are available in several types, including snaffles and curbs.

Snaffles are simple bits that work mostly with direct rein pressure. Curbs have a shank, which applies leverage to the horse’s mouth when rein pressure is applied.

The most common parts of a horse bit are the mouthpiece, cheekpieces, and rings. The mouthpiece is the part that goes inside the horse’s mouth.

It can be jointed or solid. The cheekpieces hold the bit in place and have an attachment point for the reins.

The rings are usually found in snaffles, and they serve as the attachment point for the reins. When the reins are pulled, the bit applies pressure to the horse’s mouth.

The pressure can be more or less severe, depending on the type of bit and the rider’s hands’ force. To slow down or stop, the rider pulls back on the reins, putting pressure on the horse’s mouth, signaling to stop.

Upon release of pressure, the horse understands they should stop, and they stop.

How Do I Choose the Right Bit for My Horse?

Choosing the right bit for your horse depends on their needs and your riding discipline. The right bit should provide enough control without hurting your horse’s mouth.

Here are some things you should consider when choosing a bit:

  1. Discipline: Different riding disciplines require different bits. For example, dressage riders usually use snaffle bits, while Western riders use curb bits.
  2. Shows: If you show your horse, make sure you check the show regulations on bits. Some shows have restrictions on the types of bits you can use.
  3. Problems: If your horse has problems accepting the bit or is uncomfortable, you may need to change the bit. A vet or equine dental specialist can identify any problems and recommend suitable alternatives.
  4. Reins: The length of your reins will affect the choice of your bit. Long reins require a mild bit, while short reins need a sharper bit for better control.
  5. Mouth: Every horse is different, and some may prefer a gentler bit. Consider a softer bit if your horse has a sensitive mouth.

Gentle Horse Bits

Many riders prefer a gentle bit for their horse to reduce the risk of mouth injuries or discomfort. Here are some types of gentle horse bits:

  1. Mullen Mouth with O-Rings

    The Mullen mouth bit is a straight bar that lies flat in the horse’s mouth, avoiding the palate’s upward pressure. The O-ring design makes it gentle as there is no leverage applied, and there is no risk of the bit sliding too far into the horse’s mouth.

  2. Colt Bit

    A Colt bit is also known as a grazing bit and has short shanks with mild curb action.

    It is ideal for new or young horses to aid in prepping and carving out the mouth’s muscles.

  3. Loose Ring French Link Snaffle

    A French link snaffle is a jointed mouthpiece that reduces the pressure applied in the horse’s mouth. The loose ring design allows the bit to move more freely and avoid pinching of the horse’s cheeks.


Knowing how horse bits work and how to choose the right one for your horse can make a significant difference in your riding experience. Always consult with a vet or equine dental specialist if you have any concerns about your horse’s mouth health.

By selecting a gentle bit, you can ensure your horse’s comfort and confidence, leading to a better riding experience.

Intermediate Horse Bits

Intermediate riders may require horse bits that provide more control than gentle bits but are not as severe as advanced bits. Here, we will explore three intermediate horse bits that are tailored to perform a role in between gentle and advanced horse bits.

Single Joint Snaffles

Single joint snaffles are a popular choice for intermediate riders. They are milder compared to many bit options, making them ideal for horses that require consistent contact to keep comfortable.

The mouthpiece is a simple jointed snaffle bit, commonly made of metal, rubber or plastic. When the reins are pulled in a single joint snaffle, it exerts pressure on the jaw, the tongue, and the bars of the mouth.

However, the pressure exerted can be harsh, making the horse uncomfortable. The nutcracker action tends to create a pinching sensation, making it unfriendly to some horses.

Waterford Snaffles

The Waterford mouthpiece is a ball and chain design composed of interlocking metal bubbles. The balls prevent the horse from leaning on the bit while eliminating the nutcracker action.

Pressure gets distributed evenly throughout the horse’s mouth, significantly reducing the likelihood of injury or discomfort. Waterford snaffles are ideal for horses that like to lean on the bit or those who tend to be strong pullers.

Beginner riders should avoid using Waterford snaffles until they develop independent hands that are consistent in contact.


A Kimberwick is a curb bit with a port in the middle. The port varies in height, with lower ports favored in shows and higher ports popular in dressage.

Kimberwicks allow the rider to use either the upper or lower rein slots to control the horse. Pulling in the lower slot exerts more pressure compared to the upper slot, making it a more aggressive option.

The Kimberwick’s leverage design offers more control compared to a snaffle, making it ideal for intermediate riders who want more control on the horse’s head carriage. The horse’s mouth’s pressure gets applied through the port on the Kimberwick mouthpiece; hence horses with sensitive mouths should avoid this bit.

Advanced Horse Bits

Advanced horse bits offer increased control and finesse to experienced riders, but they require a high level of expertise to use. Here are some of the advanced horse bits that experienced riders use.

Twisted and Double Twisted Wire Snaffles

Twisted and double twisted wire snaffles are advanced versions of the single-jointed snaffles. They have a thin mouthpiece and a jointed mouthpiece.

The mouthpiece has wires twisted around it that exert pressure on the horse’s mouth. The wires can be either single or double twisted.

Experienced riders with independent hands typically use twisted and double twisted wire snaffles. It is essential to note that using this type of bit on a horse without the necessary requirements can be detrimental to their health.

Cathedral, Spoon, Spade, and Correction Bits

Curb bits such as the cathedral, spoon, spade, and correction bits require a high level of skill to use. They are designed to be used with advanced riders in Western disciplines.

They have a narrow port in the middle to prevent the horse from leaning into the bit. Most of these bits come with a ball and chain for enhanced contact and control.

Advanced riders use these curb bits in shows and working cattle. They are not recommendable for beginners or intermediate riders, primarily due to the bit’s severity.

Elevator Bits and Gag Bits

The elevator bit is a variation of the gag bit. They exert pressure on the horse’s poll, chin, and mouth by elevating the bit’s headpiece.

Gag bits have sliding cheek pieces, which significantly reduce the pressure on the horse’s mouth when the horse’s head is pulled upright. These advanced bits are generally used by experienced riders who need more leverage and control over the horse.

Due to their severe nature, inexperienced riders should avoid them.


When selecting the right bit for your horse, it is imperative to assess their comfort, needs, and level of training. Intermediate riders will benefit from using a bit that harmonizes pressure and comfort.

On the other hand, advanced riders require experience and expertise to use the right bit for their horse’s needs. As such, always consult with a professional trainer or vet before selecting an advanced bit for your horse.

Horse Bit Severity Chart

Selecting the right bit for your horse is critical for safety and control. It is imperative to understand the different categories of horse bits on the severity chart.

Here, we will provide an overview of the severity chart for horse bits.


Mild bits are generally the preferred option for beginners, as they restrict the amount of pain that a horse can feel. These bits typically get used in foundational training, as they provide good control without causing discomfort.

Examples of mild bits include loose-ring snaffles, eggbutt snaffles, and Mullen mouth snaffles.


Control bits sit in the middle of the severity chart, providing more control than mild bits. These types of bits usually have leverage features, which make them useful for experienced riders.

Examples of control bits are the Kimberwick, the Pelham bit, and the full cheek snaffle.


Advanced bits are for experienced riders who have honed their skills in using control bits. They provide the highest level of control, precision, and finesse.

These bits usually have curb and ported designs, with a high level of leverage. Examples of advanced bits include the cathedral bit, the spade bit, and the gag bit.


Leverage bits exert a larger amount of pressure on horse mouths than other types of bits. They can cause significant discomfort and should only get used by experienced riders with outstanding horses.

Examples of leverage bits include the curb bit, the Pelham bit, and the gag bit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Best Horse Bit for Trail Riding

Each horse has unique needs. The best bit for trail riding should be something that is comfortable and suitable for the terrain and length of your ride.

A milder bit like a loose-ring snaffle or a simple Eggbutt snaffle can help a horse maintain a relaxed gait on flat terrain during longer trail rides. For rougher terrain or more spirited horses, consider a slight leverage like a Kimberwick or a Waterford mouthpiece bit, which can offer better control of faster gaits.

Best Horse Bit for Control

The best bit for control varies depending on your horse’s discipline, temperament, and mouth. Snaffles are standard control bits for beginners.

The double-jointed, loose-ring snaffle provides control with less pressure on the horse’s mouth. The Pelham bit is a more advanced control bit that provides more braking power, while the traditional curb bit has the most advanced level of control and finesse.

Best Horse Bit for Beginner Riders

Beginner riders are usually better off using mild bits until they develop an independent seat and hands. If the horse is not well-trained, then a mild bit like a Mullen mouth snaffle is recommended.

It is a simple, gentle bit that applies directly to the horse’s lips and bars of the mouth, causing little discomfort. Intermediate riders can use a low port Kimberwick, a curb-style bit that offers slight leverage to the rider for more control.

Best Bit for a Horse That Pulls

A horse that pulls requires firm control, and using leverage to control them can be an effective option. A bit with a Waterford mouthpiece can be the best option in this scenario as it offers a ball-shaped design, providing excellent control while spreading the pressure evenly throughout the horse’s mouth.

Placing the reins higher or lower depending on your horse’s preference can also reduce the pulling and provide more control.

Best Bit for a Green Horse

A green horse is a horse that is still learning the foundational skills of being ridden. Green horses require gentle bits that ease them into the training process.

As a result, a Mullen mouth snaffle may be the best option as it encourages the horse to keep their head down and relax their jaw. The low port Kimberwick is also suitable as it allows for slight leverage without causing too much pressure in the horse’s mouth.

As always, a professional trainer’s advice should be sought about what’s best. In conclusion, selecting the right bit for your horse is critical for safety and control.

The severity chart for horse bits categorizes them into four main groups: mild, control, advanced, and leverage. When choosing a bit, it is essential to understand your horse’s needs, training, and temperament and seek out professional help if necessary.

Frequently asked questions have been addressed in this article, including the best bit for trail riding, control, beginner, green, and a horse that pulls. By following these guidelines, you can ensure a positive and comfortable riding experience for both you and your horse.

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