How to find the right bit for me and my horse in this enormous amount of possibilities ?
We try to give you some guidance for solving that problem in this article.
But let's start with the beginning.
What are horse bits ?
A horse bit is a piece of tack that fits inside the mouth of the horse, more in particular it fits in the space between the front and the back teeth of your horse. This is the place where the bit stays.
In general, a bit is a piece of either metal or synthetic material that lies in this space and puts pressure on the back of the mouth and the tongue of the horse. It attaches to the bridle and the reins and helps the rider control the horse. Of course it is not the bit that makes the rider to control the horse, because that should be the rider's legs, but the bit will help anyhow.
Not all horses accept all kinds of bits, and some might require different types. For example, some young horses can be trained with hackamores, and some might pull too much and require a gag bit.
So when choosing a bit is important to know your horse, your needs, and find something that works well for both. But let it be clear that there is no general rule about bits suitable for any rider or any horse.
Mouthpieces and cheekpieces
Now in order to decide what bit is suitable, we have to say a word about mouthpieces and cheekpieces.
The mouthpiece is the part of the bit that goes into the mouth of the horse, while the cheekpiece is outside, attached to the reins. A mouthpiece is for instance single – jointed while an exemple of a cheekpiece is a loose ring. Indeed, they both come in different types.
First, about Mouthpieces :
They can be straight-bar mouthpieces (which, as the name says, are a solid bar of metal or other material such as rubber or plastic), jointed mouthpieces (which often give a nutcracker pressure on the horse’s mouth), a mullen mouthpiece (solid, but with a curvature that accommodates the horse’s tongue), and ported mouthpieces (also has a curve, but more pronounced; often acts on the roof of the mouth as well).
Jointed mouthpieces can be single-jointed or double-jointed, so one time broken or two times broken. The latter is actually two pieces joined by a link.
This link can also be in different styles, such as ported, French or Dr Bristol mouthpieces.
All the mouthpieces operate differently. Double-jointed mouthpieces are considered milder for the horse than single-jointed.
Then about cheekpieces :
The mouthpiece can slide on the full, loose ring. This gives the most comfortable position for the horse, rather than a fixed ring. The horse may relax its mouth and chew the bit.
The loose ring bit is a very basic bit, suitable for a lot of horses and riders.
This is how it looks like :
As the name says, the D-ring snaffles have their “rings” in the shape of a D, and not circular like an eggbut. The straight section of the bitring ensures a "limitation" and pressure distribution on the mouth and cheek of the horse. A D - ring is often recommended for young horses or horses that pull slightly and unbalanced forward as it allows a better grip for the rider. This bit is sharper than an eggbut or loose ring bit.
This is how it looks like :
Eggbutt snaffles are more gentle, because they don’t pinch the side of the mouth. The mouthpiece doesn’t rotate. This can be more comfortable for some horses.
This is also an very basic bit that allows more grip for the rider than a loose ring because the mouthpiece doesn't rotate. It has a limited lever action.
This is how it looks like :
Full cheek bit
The full cheek bit has the bit rings extended with 2 small bars at the transition bitring - mouthpiece. The sides make sure that a horse is easier to turn and that the rider can't pull the bit through the horses mouth. This bit is very suitable for young horses. It also avoids lip pincing.
This is how it looks like :
Kimblewick or Kimblehook :
The Kimblewick is a fixed cheek bit that is often used on horses and ponies that are a little too strong in a snaffle. It belongs to the category of the pelhams, but only one rein is used. It is also often used by children to help them have some control over the horse if they need it. The hanging cheek part of the bit from the cheek slot to the mouthpiece uses poll pressure and lip pressure, and various pressures in the mouth depending on the mouthpiece. The effect is softer than a pelham. The lower the rein is placed, the sharper the bit will be.
This is how it looks like :
The Pelham bit is somewhere between a snaffle and a curb bit. Unlike either, it allows for two sets of reins and thus it is almost like a double bridle. As such, it works as either a snaffle or a curb bit, although it’s generally classified as a type of curb bit. It’s also useful to transition a horse from one type of bit to another. The Pelham bit is popular for polo, as it may work like a double bridle without being one. The Pelham is suitable to control more strong horses.
This is how the Pelham looks :
These work like snaffle bits but offer some leverage, which varies according to the needs of the rider and the horse. They sometimes can support two sets of reins as well. The gag bits are popular in showjumping, cross-country, and polo but forbidden in dressage. These bits apply some pressure on the horse’s poll, depending on where the reins are attached. Usually, they consist of a mouthpiece with two rings, as in a snaffle, but these rings come with holes on either side, through which the gag cheek pieces run. Dutch (or three rings) gag bits, on the other hand, are made of three or four rings: one attached to the mouthpiece, one on top to attach the bridle’s cheek piece, and one or two more below. These give varying positions to attach the reins, according to the needs of the rider. The gag bits can be used with 4 reins : 2 will have a lowering effect and 2 a lifting effect.
This is a Gag bit :
A hackamore works by pressure on the nose through a leverage. The pressure on the nose depends on the length of the sides. A hackamore is basically a tool for riding bitless, but it can also be used in combination with a snaffle. A hackamore can be quite sharp because of the leverage and the pressure on the nose and chin. If a curb chain is used, the hackamore is even sharper. Hackamores are often not allowed in competitions, except in endurance riding, trail riding and some showjumping and cross-country competitions.
This is a hackamore :
There are many more cheekpieces but these are the most common. You will find more info about more particular cheekpieces at their respective product pages.
How do you determine the correct size of the bit ?
You will see that there are bit in different sizes, like 10,5, 11,5, 12.5, 13.5, 14.5 centimeters. How can you find the correct size for your horse ?
You have to know that, like with humans, two horses are not the same. There are horses with a broad and horses with a narrow jaw. A horse with a wide lower jaw will easily be able to put its tongue in the mouth, while a horse with a narrow jaw has the tongue often a bit higher in the mouth compared to the teeth. When you have a horse with a narrow jaw it is more likely to have problems. Indeed, with the wrong bit your horse will be troubled by its tongue that is pinched or by its palate because the bit presses against it. In this case the tongue will be somewhat higher in the mouth of your horse.
When you want to know if your horse has a wide or narrow jaw, you can easily check it yourself. You can check this by placing 1 or 2 fingers between the 2 bones of the lower jaw at the level where the bit is normally located.
For horses with a wide jaw, 2 fingers fit between them and for a horse with a narrow jaw, 1 finger.
A second thing you need to know, is whether the horse has a thick or thin tongue. You can see this by separating the lips on the side and looking into the mouth.
Choosing the right size is very important because the wrong size can destroy the mouth of your horse. When the bit is too small it will pinch the mouth, make the horse feel uncomfortable and even hurt it. When it is too large, the action will be unprecise.
In general 10,5 and 11,5 is for poneys with a small head (10,5 upto size B, 11,5 upto size C and D), the 12.5 is for horses under 1.65 m, the 13.5 is for between 1.65 m and 1.75 m while the 14,5 is for more than 1.75 m or horses with massive heads.
The layers in the horse's mouth are also not equally sensitive with every horse. Some horses are very sensitive, others not so much. You can also test this by pushing with your finger on the layers in the mouth. You will soon notice what your horse accepts. You could also see how far you can push the tongue down in this way. If your finger stays on top of the layers in the mouth when testing, the horse will not be able to hurt or bite you.
Finally also the experience and style of the rider are very important.
If you have a quiet hand and you can give subtle aids, you can use a bit that distributes the pressure less over the mouth.
If you don’t have such a quiet and sensitive hand, you better go for a bit that distributes the pressure over the entire mouthpiece.
Keep in mind that a horse also needs time to get used to a new bit. It happens that a horse sometimes doesn’t repsond pleasantly to a new bit, but this can still change after using it a few times.
Also, sometimes it happens that a horse runs very well with a new bit, but not after a few days. Give your horse time to get used to it. If your horse shows severe resistance the first time you ride it with a new bit, it is best to change the bit, because in that case it will not be this is not the right choice for your horse.
The choice of material for a bit is also important.
It can be made from different materials.
The most famous and common material is a stainless steel bit.
Stainless steel has in general a lower price than for example a copper bit. We have stainless steel bits from Stübben.
A rubber bit can be flexible, but can also contain a hard core. The flexible variant usually contains a steel wire in the core to prevent the bit from breaking. The flexible variant is of course softer.
We have rubber bits from Trust and Poponcini.
This is a rubber bit :
Sweet Iron bits are made from a mix of various materials, also known as alloys. These bits have a sweet taste. The mouthpiece of these bits has a blue color. When the bit is in use, the blue layer will start to rust due to the contact with saliva. This rust has a sweet taste in the mouth of your horse so that it will accept the bit better.
We have sweet iron bits from Trust.
This is a Sweet Iron bit :
Sweet Copper bits are also made from a mix of various materials as copper is a material that is actually too soft to be used as material for a bit. For that reason, another substance is added so that the bit becomes harder and lasts longer. The copper is then a main component. Copper bits encourage the horse to produce saliva through the taste of the copper.
We have sweet copper bits from Stübben.
This is a sweet Copper bit :
Leather bits are often used for horses that are sensitive on the layers or have an injury because it is soft. Leather becomes softer when it gets wet due to the production of saliva in the mouth of the horse. The inner piece of the leather bit consists of another material, like nylon. The experience learned that these kind of bits are especially very suitable for difficult mares.
We have leather bits from Trust.
And this is how a leather bit looks like :
The choice of the bit is important. It is not cheap but the cost is worth it to give you and your horse more pleasure in riding it. If you are not sure what bit to use, you can test a bit. How to do this, you can read here.
For any further questions feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.