A bit is one of the key parts of a horse’s tack. Connected to the bridle and the reins, it plays a part in the riders’ control of the horse. The mouthpiece is placed in the part of a horse’s mouth called the bars, a separation between front and back teeth, and rings on each end connect with the bridle and reins.
As riding disciplines developed over the centuries and around the world, many different varieties of bits developed too. Here’s an overview of the more basic and popular bits used today. While not complete, it should give you an idea of the variations available.
A snaffle bit is directly reined. This means that the reins attach to the rings connected to the mouthpiece for direct pressure on the bars of the mouth and corners of the mouth, lying across the tongue. The wider the diameter of the bit, the milder the pressure on the horse. Snaffle bits are recommended for both beginning riders and horses in training.
There are several different types of snaffle bits -
- The eggbutt snaffle has an egg-shaped ring that connects each bitring and the mouthpiece, and is considered to be very gentle.
- The D-Ring snaffle gets its name from the shape of the rings.
- The loose-ring snaffle uses a circular ring that allows the mouthpiece to move around, and is more adaptable for the horse.
- The full cheek snaffle is designed to keep the bit from sliding out of position on either side.
Many snaffle bits have a two-piece mouthpiece; the mullen-mouthed snaffle has one curved mouthpiece. Considered to be one of the gentle bits, this again will depend on the skill of the rider, and whether the horse can handle the pressure on the tongue.
On a curb bit, each rein attaches to a shank, a lever that hangs below the mouthpiece. Here the pressure is on the bars of the mouth, under the chin via a chain, and over the poll at the back of the head. The longer the shank, the more leverage is applied; the diameter of the bit plays a factor in pressure here as well.
Curb bits are typically used by more experienced riders.
- The Western curb bit has a long shank and allows for greater leverage.
- The English curb bit has a shank about half the length of the Western curb bit, and is often used in tandem with a snaffle-style bit for dressage.
In addition to curb bits, others varieties provide pressure through leverage.
- The Pelham bit entails double reins, connecting to both the mouthpiece and the shanks.
- The Kimblewick bit is a variation of the Pelham that uses one set of reins.
- Gag bits are used mostly for polo, show jumping, or retraining, and only by the most expert of riders, as they can be very painful for the horse.