How to Choose an English Horse Bit

by Michelle Drum February 24, 2020 4 min read

English Horse Bits

A horse bit is an important device a rider uses to communicate with their horse. Selecting the right bit is a balance of comfort for the horse with the right level of control for the rider. There are a lot of choices, and it can be overwhelming to know where to begin to select the right bit. Here’s a simple process you can use to select the best English horse bit for you and your horse.

How Does a Horse Bit Work?

A bit is a metal piece that fits inside a horse’s mouth and rests between the incisors and molars where there are no teeth. When a rider pulls on the reins, the bit, bridle, and reins work together to give the rider control of the horse’s head by applying pressure to its mouth. This mechanism is used in combination with other control signals from the rider communicated using their legs and voice commands.

English Horse Bit Types

There are two primary types of horse bits: snaffle bits and curb bits. These two types of bits differ in where they apply pressure to the horse and how they do so.

Snaffle Bits

A snaffle bit may have a solid mouthpiece, a two-or-three-piece mouthpiece, or multiple links like a chain. The key to identifying a snaffle bit is that it operates with a direct pull from the reins. The reins attach directly to the mouthpiece.

One of the most common snaffle bits is the eggbutt, considered a gentle bit as it doesn’t pinch the corners of the mouth. Some other snaffle bits are the loose-ring bit, which can pinch, the D ring snaffle bit, whose rings are shaped like a “D”, and the full-cheek snaffle bit, that exerts lateral pressure on a horse’s mouth.

Curb Bits

Curb bits, also called leverage bits, work through rotation or leverage. The reins are attached to a shank, and a curb strap is used under the horse’s chin. The shanks can put pressure on the top of the horse’s head, pull down on the bridle crown, or pull the strap or curb chain forward against the horse’s chin. When the rider pulls back on the reins, the top part of the shank moves forward as far as the sub-strap allows, creating leverage. The longer the shank, the more severe the bit — and the more intense the effect.

Curb bits may vary widely according to the design of the shank and mouthpiece. They are available in both English and Western styles. English curb bits generally have shorter shanks than Western curb bits, and they are generally used with two reins — one connecting to the snaffle, and one to the shank.

A curb bit enables a rider to convey more nuanced directions to the horse through the shank, which acts as a lever. But because curb bits have the potential to injure the horse if used improperly, it’s best if you have experience before trying this type. To perform correctly in a curb bit, the horse must first learn how to submit to bit pressure and to being guided willingly.

Snaffle bits are more commonly used than curb bits due to the amount of pressure curb bits apply. Of course, which one is best depends on the rider and how the horse is being ridden.

Choosing an English Horse Bit

Selecting the right bit for your horse entails some trial-and-error. Before you start the process, spend some time working with your horse learning how to handle him and how best to communicate. You need to be able to control your horse without a bit using only a saddle and reins before finding a bit to enhance that communication.

Some considerations for selecting the right bit for your horse include the age and temperament of the horse, level of training, and what kind of riding you will be doing. For example, are you riding dressage where you need finely-nuanced communication? You also want to consider the prior training the horse has had and your skill and experience level. Here is how to select the best bit for your horse:

  1. Find out what bit style the horse is used to. If a horse is already comfortable with a particular type of bit and you have no reason to change it, you may want to stick with that style of bit.
  2. Consider what you’re trying to accomplish. The type of bit you need will greatly depend on what you’re trying to do with your horse. For example, if your horse is too strong, if he’s too fast, etc. While bits are never a substitute for good training methods, they can supplement them.
  3. Start off gently and work up from there. If the horse isn’t used to a bit or if you need to change the style from what the horse is used to, begin with the most gentle bit possible that facilitates communication between you and your horse. Gradually introduce a stronger bit if you need it.
  4. Try it before you buy it. It’s best to try out a style of bit before you settle on a final choice that you’ll use regularly. By trying it out, you can establish the fit as well as the receptiveness and responsiveness of your horse when you use it. While it’s not possible to return newly-purchased bits due to sanitation issues, if you’d like to try a bit style before purchasing, you could borrow a bit from a fellow rider.

Beginner Horse Bits

If you’re just starting out riding, then you’ll want to start with a snaffle bit. Inexperienced riders may lack the hand control needed to use a curb bit, and you don’t want to risk injuring your horse’s mouth. Also, an inexperienced horse may not have learned the expected responses to bit cues and may not know how to respond appropriately to a more severe bit.

An eggbutt snaffle bit is a good place to start as it’s considered gentle on the horse and does not pinch the corners of the mouth. See how your horse responds and experiment with bit selection to determine which will work best for you and your horse. Try other types of snaffle bits if you’re not getting the right response.

A horse bit is one of the most important communication tools in your relationship with your horse. When you select the right one that balances your horse’s comfort with its responsiveness, you have a powerful way to effectively communicate with your horse.



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