Bit selection is a critical area of consideration for riders of all disciplines and levels. Bit selection is often regulated by various breed and/or horse show associations. For many horse enthusiasts lack of knowledge about bit types and functions as well as common misconceptions held in the horse industry, can make choosing an appropriate bit a difficult process. Utilize these tips to understand and select the correct bit for you and your horse.
Type: The first consideration is to determine the appropriate or desired type of bit (snaffle or leverage). The two basic types of bits are snaffle bits and leverage (curb) bits. These differ in the areas on the horse where each applies pressure. In addition to these two types of bits, there are hackamores, which generally do not have a mouthpiece. Hackamores may either be true hackamores (bosal or sidepulls), which are direct pull devices, or mechanical hackamores, which employ leverage.
Size: Bit width is the distance between the two cheek pieces. Standard bits are 5 inches wide and are the most common. Pony bits are generally 4 1/2 inches wide, and bits that are designed for Arabians and other lightboned, refined horses are 4 3/4 inches wide. Material- They are often composed of some type of metal, although bits made of other materials like leather and rubber can also be found. Stainless steel is commonly used to manufacture bits today because it doesn’t rust. However, a rust covered bit does not necessarily indicate decreased quality. Bit makers often use sweet iron when designing quality bits because it is very palatable to horses and thus is often a popular choice among experienced horsemen. Copper is often included in bit mouthpiece because it causes the horse to salivate to increase contact.
Mouthpiece: The more broken (jointed) the mouthpiece is, the more it will conform to the horse’s mouth. A mouthpiece that is broken in several places will conform around the tongue more than a mouthpiece that is solid or only broken in one place. A mouthpiece that is solid will place more pressure across and over the tongue while one that is broken in the middle will take some pressure off the center of the tongue when the reins are pulled, thereby placing pressure more on the bars of the mouth and the sides of the lips. When using a snaffle bit, the main factors that affect severity are diameter and mouthpiece texture. A larger diameter mouthpiece results in the pressure applied to the tongue and bars being diffused over a larger surface area. For
curb bits, the length of the shank contributes to severity.
Although there are many different factors to consider when selecting a bit, it is important to understand that there are always exceptions and modifiers to most rules. For more information view the full UGA publication, Bits 101.
Adapted from the University of Georgia Bulletin #1379: Bits 101