Bits are one of the most basic types of tack out there. But there are a lot of choices out there: snaffle bit, curb bit, double bridle… in this article, we’ll explore the different types of horse bits and what they are for.
A Guide To Horse Bits Types And Styles
If you’re new to horseback riding and horse ownership, horse bits can be one of the most confusing subjects you’ll encounter. This is because there are a lot of them. Like, a lot. Different types, styles and even designs inside a given type or style. These all have different functions, pros and cons, and ways they work. Picking the right one might be a daunting thing to do, so in this article, we’ll explore some different types and designs of horse bits and their different usages and characteristics.
What are horse bits?
First, let’s define what a bit is. The horse bit is the piece of tack that goes inside the horse’s mouth. Horses have a space between their front and back teeth, and that’s where the bit rests. Usually, a bit is a piece of either metal or synthetic material that rests in this teeth-less space and puts pressure on the back of the mouth and the tongue of the horse. This piece attaches to a bridle and the reins and helps the rider control the horse.
Not all horses adapt to all sorts of bits, and some might require different types. For example, young horses may be trained with hackamores, and some might pull too much and require a gag bit. As always, it’s important to know your horse, your needs, and adapt to both.
Independent on the type of horse bits, mouthpieces themselves come in different types. These 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 may be single-jointed or double-jointed. The latter is actually two pieces joined by a link, which itself may come in different styles, such as ported, French, Dr Bristol and ball double-jointed mouthpieces. Each operates differently, with double-jointed considered milder than single-jointed.
Snaffle bits is one of the simplest bit designs. They consist of a mouthpiece and rings, which attach directly to the reins. This means that pressure on the reins translates directly into pressure on the mouth, in equal proportion. While often jointed, the mouthpiece doesn’t have to be so — a common mistake is to believe all snaffle bits have joints in them. This is not necessarily the case, as straight-bar and even mullen mouthpieces may also be part of snaffle bits.
It’s also a mistake to believe a snaffle is any mild bit. This isn’t quite the case. While the pressure is more direct in the snaffle, a sharper or rougher made snaffle may be harmful, and a heavy hand on the reins will also make it harsher. Some mouthpiece designs also make the bit more severe. Rather, snaffle refers to the mechanic used (direct pressure) and the absence of shanks, rather than to mildness or any other characteristic. The snaffle bit is more popular in English riding but used in Western as well.