Horse bits and their uses

types of horse bit
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Horse bits can be tricky and bitting your horse with one that enhances performance can seem impossible. With horse bits, it’s important to factor in what will ensure you work well as a partnership, but not come at the cost of comfort or distress when riding. 

In this article, we take a closer look at some of today’s most popular bits for horses, their features and how they work with your horse.

Remember, bitting your horse correctly is not a simple process, as what works on paper may not work for your horse. Treat every horse as an individual and experiment with designs until you find one that suits both your own and your horse’s needs.

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Snaffle Bits

Shires Equiking Eggbutt
Shires Eggbutt Snaffle

Snaffle bits, such as the Shires Eggbutt pictured above, are a great starting point for any horse. The gentlest bits on the market, they are great for green horses, young horses and those returning to work after time off.

FUNCTION: Snaffle bits always work on the corners of the horse’s mouth and the bars of the lower jaw. Most commonly single-jointed, they function on the horse’s tongue and the roof of the mouth too, encouraging the head up.

Most snaffles have added features to help guide horses. For example, d-ring and Fulmer snaffles have longer sides on the corners of the mouth to aid with steering, meanwhile, a hanging cheek snaffle has a small lever action which acts on the poll to promote lower head carriage. Loose ring snaffles have lots of movement to reduce leaning on the bit, and eggbutt snaffles are great for horses who enjoy a consistent, stable contact.

SUITS: Young horses, green horses, sensitive horses, horses with low head carriage or lean on the bit, horses returning to work.

DRESSAGE LEGAL: Yes

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Curb Bits

Curb bits are distinct, always featuring a small chain which sits comfortably in the horse’s chin groove. The curb bit has quite a severe action, which is why the Weymouth curb bit complements the Bridoon (a snaffle bit) in a double bridle, rather than be used in isolation. Other forms of curb bit include the less severe, Kimblewick, which doesn’t have as severe lever action. Curb bits suit the more advanced horse-and-rider partnership.

Ported Weymouth Curb Bit - Horse Bits
Ported Weymouth Curb Bit

FUNCTION: Curb bits act to promote a lower head carriage and flexion in the poll, guiding the nose toward the horse’s chest. This is achieved via poll pressure created by lower rein attachment to the bit, creating a lever action. The longer the shanks, the greater the poll pressure with rein tension.

The curb bit also features a curb chain, as the name suggests. The curb chain sits in the chin groove, aiding control of the lever action, and preventing it from becoming too severe. In addition, it helps to keep the bit steady in the horse’s mouth.

SUITS: Advanced horses working in a double bridle, strong horses in experienced hands.

DRESSAGE LEGAL: Yes (as part of a double bridle)

Pelham Bits

Pelhams are known for their strong action and have the qualities of a snaffle and curb bit all rolled into one. Pelham’s should be ridden with two reins, riders majoritively relying on the bit’s snaffle function and using the curb bit qualities for added control, much like a double bridle. However, some riders prefer to use Pelham roundings which join the qualities of the bit into one rein.

Mullen Mouth Pelham

FUNCTION: Pelham’s, as pictured above, have a similar function to that of a double bridle. The snaffle qualities help to raise the head, meanwhile, its curb bit qualities act to lower and flex the poll. Not quite as refined in control as a double bridle, it can act on the tongue, bars and corners of the horse’s mouth, as well as the poll – this can be achieved simultaneously when using Pelham rounding.

SUITS: Stronger horses, introducing horses to double bridle controls.

DRESSAGE LEGAL: No

Lever Bits

Lever bits are great for horses who tend to work with their head in the air. Working on poll pressure, these bits are much less severe than a pelham or curb bit. However, keep in mind that although they may not be the most severe bit, poll pressure can cause stress and tension in horses.

Single Jointed Continental Gag
Single Jointed Continental Gag (Amazon, shop now)

FUNCTION: Lever bits apply pressure to the poll via the cheekpiece, encouraging a lower head carriage. Lever bits tend to have several options on their shank to where riders can apply the reins and pressure. The lower the reins are attached to the shank, the more severe to poll action.

SUITS: Strong horses, horses who need encouragement to lower their head carriage.

DRESSAGE LEGAL: No

Mouthpieces

Once you’ve chosen a style of bit and its intended action, the mouthpiece is the next consideration you need to make to ensure optimal performance and comfort.

This can be a little tricker and may require some trial and error testing to see which best suits your horse. You may for example be looking for the best bit for a horse that throws his head.

Mouthpieces for horses with sensitive mouths

Straight Bar, Mullen, French Link, Lozenge, Roller, Ported.

Mouthpieces for stronger horses

Single-Jointed, Dr. Bristol, Waterford.

Mouthpieces to encourage lower head carriage

Straight Bar, Mullen, Dr. Bristol, Waterford, Ported, Roller.

Mouthpieces to encourage higher head carriage

Single Jointed, French Link, Lozenge, Waterford, Roller.

Whichever you choose, remember, it’s not one size fits all. Don’t forget to choose a bit that not only works well for your horse but one that fits the horse’s mouth too.


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Abby Dickinson

Journalist and News Reporter, Everything Horse Reporting on equestrian news stories, Abby also produces a variety of engaging content for the magazine.

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