What is a bit? Control the head and the body will follow. The bit makes this task achievable. A horse is both powerful and large, making him a formidable animal, should he choose to do things his own way. A bit is a bit of an equalizer that allows you to guide a horse in the direction you wish and maintain control over him.
There are various styles and types of bits and they range from simple and kind to some that might be seen as a bit more aggressive. They might have their place if a horse is particularly hard to control, but most people do fine with the basic bits that are for the horse who has been trained and understands what is required of him while under saddle.
The main thing that people should remember is that bits are not made to be torture devices and they don’t need to be. When used correctly and in the appropriate manner, a bit is very tolerable to the horse and doesn’t interfere with his mouth. It’s a means of communication between the rider and his animal.
Horse Bits and How They Work
The bit is a piece of metal that fits into the horse’s mouth, between his front and back teeth. This metal bar allows you to exert pressure to steer him in the direction you wish or to make him halt.
A snaffle bit is jointed in the middle. When the rider moves the reins the horse feels pressure in his mouth that is equal to the pressure in the reigns. The gums between the front and back teeth are called ‘the bars’ of the horse’s mouth. The bit acts against them.
A curb bit is attached to a long piece outside of the mouth that acts as a lever and gives the rider more leverage. There is often a chain that attaches underneath the chin of the horse as well. This gives quite a bit more power to the rider and might be used for a horse that is not all that sensitive in his mouth and doesn’t react to other bits. These are good bits for strong horses.
Now, there are multiple types of snaffle bits as well as many types of curb bits. We’ll explore these in more detail.
Snaffle Bit Types
The Eggbutt Snaffle is named because of the egg-shaped piece where it connects outside of the mouth. This bit doesn’t pinch the cheek and is very gentle. In fact, if you are wondering ‘what is the most gentle bit for horses?’ this one is likely it. The bit that fits in the mouth can be made of any material, in fact.
The D-Ring Snaffle is like other snaffle bits but for the D-shaped rings on the outside of the cheeks where the bit attaches.
The Full-Cheek Snaffle has flat pieces on the outside of the cheeks to prevent the bit from sliding side to side in the mouth or sliding out completely.
The Loose Ring Snaffle is very self-adjustable because it allows the bit to slide around on the large side rings and lay in the place that is most comfortable for the horse and can be used on multiple animals with comfort for all.
Curb Bit Types
Western Curb bit fits gently into the mouth and the reins attach to the sides and the bit is also attached to the poll — the piece that goes over the head. When the rider exerts pressure on the reins, the poll is pushed and the bit actually works against the roof of the horse’s mouth.
English Curb bits are different only in the length of the shank, which tends to be shorter. They will be around 4 to 5 total inches in length on each side, whereas the length of the shank on the Western Curb bit is 8 or 9 inches in length on each side of the mouth.
With Dressage horses, where they are precisely fine-tuned in their gaits and movements, two bits are actually used together, with a double set of reigns. The two bits are the Weymouth, which is a curb bit. The other bit is a snaffle bit called the Bridoon. Using them together allows the rider to give more precise instructions to the horse.
What is the Best Horse Bit for Trail Riding?
There are a few common bits for trail riding and one of them is likely used most often. The Western Grazing bit is a curb bit that also has a nice shape to fit comfortably in the mouth.
They were often used by Western riders who were out working cattle all day and used to be designed in a way that allows the horse to graze. The newer styles don’t allow for grazing and you don’t want your horse to. He could accidentally step on a shank and really hurt himself. This wouldn’t be good.
Snaffle bits can be harsher than curb bits but it also depends on the rider. Often, the horse doesn’t need a harsher correction, he needs better training and the rider may also not be experienced enough. The bit you choose shouldn’t be chosen for the pain it could inflict. It should be chosen for purpose, style, and comfort.
Horses are majestic creatures who are generally quite happy to take us on a ride. They require skilled hands and proper training, especially in a variety of situations. Traffic can frighten a horse that hasn’t been trained around it, just like a dog can be a problem for a horse that has either never seen one or has had a run-in with one before.
It takes great skill, patience, and hard work to teach a horse how to pay attention to your signals and become an excellent trail horse, barrel horse, or cow hand’s horse. They require time and practice. The bit won’t do everything for you. When you shop bits, it can be confusing and you will find fifty more styles than what has been mentioned here.
Don’t hesitate to ask an experienced person if they’ve used this bit and how it worked for them. Would they recommend it? Why or why not?