An Introduction to Bits

Why buy a good bit.
Scared to try try something new?

Imagine a monkey perched on your back with two cords tied to a rusty screwdriver stuck between your teeth. Chrome plated bits, like screwdrivers, will rust and chrome plating will chip off inside a horses mouth. These bits, though inexpensive, will cost you time and ease of riding. Even if your horse performs acceptably with a chrome bit, imagine what could be accomplished if the horse was more comfortable.

The bit is a critical point of contact between horse and rider. For best results, it should taste OK and have no rough surfaces on the mouthpiece. The bit should be felt by the horse for direction from the rider, without hampering the desired performance of the horse.


Stainless steel will not chip or pit, has very little taste. Sweet or black iron will rust a little for a sweet taste, but will not chip. Copper tastes sweet; causing a horse's mouth to salivate, which allows the mouth to stay soft and usable to the rider. But, there are questions about the use of copper with pregnant mares. Rubber is the softest, is not very tasty at first, but taste improves with use.

A rider should begin with bits of lesser severity and gradually use bits of greater leverage and contact until one is found to control the horse with the least possible discipline in his mouth.

A snaffle bit is a bit designed to be used with direct contact from the rider. Reins attach directly to mouthpiece ( no shanks). Snaffles may have broken or solid mouthpieces.

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A curb bit uses leverage contact from the rider. Reins attach to a point on a side shank, lower than the mouthpiece. Curb bits work best with a curb strap or chain attached. Curb bits may have solid or broken mouthpieces. Curb chain pressure varies from one bit to another. It sets the timing of a bit. Loose curb chain - slow timing. Tight curb chain - faster timing. Curb action includes pressure on poll.

Bosals and mechanical hackamores work on the nose and curb of the horse. Bosals use a direct contact like a snaffle. Mechanical hacks use leveraged contact.

  • Cheeks are the sides of the bit. (Includes both purchase and shank)

  • Purchase is the part of the bit above the mouthpiece. With a long purchase, the bit will act quicker in a horse's mouth when the rider pulls the reins. With a shorter purchase, the bit is slower to react

Shank is the part of the bit below the mouthpiece. It will give you leverage on the mouthpiece. The shorter the shank, the less control - the longer the shank, the more control.

Mouthpiece is the part of the bit that goes in the horse's mouth.

Types of mouthpieces are:

  1. Snaffle- broken in the middle and one of the most common mouthpieces.

  2. Three-Piece Snaffle- broken in two places so as to work more on the outside corners of the bars and add some tongue pressure.

  3. Double Twisted Iron Snaffle- made up of two small snaffles which are broken off-center from each other

  4. Chain Mouthpiece- works lightly on the bars, corners of the lips while adding some tongue pressure.

  5. Solid Mouthpiece- any mouthpiece that is not broken.

Bars are the portion of each side of the mouthpiece that rests on the horse's bars (gum area between front and back teeth)

Port is the center portion of the mouthpiece. Both the height and width are important in creating the amount of tongue pressure or tongue relief

Mullen Relief is a forward curve added to the mouthpiece that gives even pressure across the bars and tongue.
Timing is the amount of time required from the point when the reins are pulled until the bit has done as much as it can do.
The "Feel of the Bit" is not only what the horse feels when the rider pulls on the reins, but, also what the rider feels, for example, suppleness or stiffness.
Poll is the top of the head behind the ears joining the neck

Introduction to Bits  |  General Rules for Choosing a Bit  |  Try Something New

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