Look up horse bits online, and there are countless articles, books, and videos with endless information on bits. But wading through that plethora of knowledge can be overwhelming. We’ve broken it down to make it simple for you to know what a bit is, why we use them, and what type of bit you need for your discipline.

What is a Horse Bit?

The essential question is this: what is a horse bit, and why do we use them? A horse bit is a part of riding tack connected to the bridle and rests inside the horse’s mouth. The bit is inserted inside the back of the horse’s mouth that doesn’t contain teeth. The bit should rest comfortably in the horse’s mouth. The bit reinforces riding cues by applying pressure to the tongue and hard palate and helps control speed and direction.

Horse bits have a long history. While the exact timing of bits is unknown, artifacts of early bits have been found in ancient Kazakhstan, dated around 3500 to 3000 B.C. The first bits were made of natural materials, such as bone, rope, or wood. Around 1300 to 1200 B.C., bronze bits came into use, which was then replaced by nickel. By 1940, stainless steel was being used. Since then, steel has been the most commonly used metal. However, copper and cold rolled steel have been introduced as a way to soften a horse’s mouth and relax the jaw. Other materials, such as rubber or plastic, are used for some bits.

What are the Parts of a Horse Bit?

Parts of bit

There are six main parts to a horse bit; the shank, mouthpiece, ring, joint, curb chain, and guard.


Commonly found on western curb bits, shanks are long pieces of metal that hang past a horse’s chin. Shanks provide leverage and require little movement from the reins to apply pressure to the horse’s mouth. The length of the shank corresponds with the strength of the bit: longer is stronger. Riders with heavy hands should not use shanks, as these require a very light hand to keep the horse’s mouth soft.


All horse bits have a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece sits over the tongue, resting between the horse’s incisors and pre-molars. Mouthpieces have different joints. Common joints include chain, single, double, straight, mullen (a straight bar with a slight curve to accommodate the tongue), or ported (a mouthpiece with a distinctive “U” shape over the tongue). Mouthpieces also have specific training purposes. For example, some encourage a horse to play with the bit, while others prevent the horse from getting their tongue over the bit. Mouthpieces come in a variety of materials and can even come in flavors.


The rings are the parts of the bit that lay on either side of the horse’s mouth (commonly called O Rings or D Rings). They are either attached to the mouthpiece or the shanks and the cheekpieces of the bridle and reins. There are two types of bit rings; loose and fixed.


In addition to straight, mouthpieces can also come in single or double joints. Joints allow the mouthpiece to fold in the middle when the reins are used. Depending on the pressure from the reins, the joint creates a point that presses on the horse’s palate. A single joint will fold in the middle, while the double joint will fold evenly across the tongue.

Curb Chain

Curb chains are used with curb bits. It attaches to the top of the shanks and runs under the horse’s chin. Curb chains should always be used with curb bits, as they prevent the bit from putting too much pressure on the horse’s mouth. Curb chains work with the reins to amp up rein signals.


A bit guard or cheek guard is a useful tool to keep loose bit rings from pinching your horse’s mouth. It can also provide a better horse bit fit in your horse’s mouth if the mouthpiece is too long. Guards are round with a hole in the middle and made of soft rubber.

What are the Different Types of Horse Bits

Choosing an English or Western Bit can make your head spin when you see all the available different kinds. Luckily, each horse bit has a specific purpose, so choosing a horse bit isn’t as daunting as it first appears. Below are the different types of horse bits and their uses.

Snaffle Bits

snaffle bit

Snaffle horse bits are the most popular type of horse bit, as they are used for most disciplines. Snaffle bits provide pressure on the tongue, bars, hard palate, and lips, and the rings provide pressure on the corners of the mouth. There are nine common types of snaffle horse bits.

D-Ring Snaffle: As the name suggests, the D-Ring Snaffle has fixed D-shaped rings. Because it’s a fixed ring bit, the bit won’t rotate in the mouth, which can comfort your horse.

Loose Ring Snaffle: Loose ring snaffles are most often used for training purposes. The free-moving rings allow the mouthpiece to move around in the mouth. For horses with soft and responsive mouths, this is a great choice. Many dressage riders prefer this bit, especially the specialized bradoon (also a loose ring). This bit is only used in double bridles.

Eggbutt Snaffle: Eggbutt snaffles have fixed rings that are slightly oval. The rings provide consistent contact because of their fixed position. While many horses like the comfort of this horse bit, horses that are heavy in hand are not suitable for this bit, as it will cause discomfort.

Full Cheek Snaffle: The Full Cheek Snaffle bit is best used for inexperienced horses or horses that don’t respond well to the reins. Full-cheek snaffles put pressure on the sides of the mouth, making it difficult for the horse to escape rein signals.

French Link Snaffle: French Link Snaffle bits are double-jointed bits that put gentle pressure on the tongue. These bits are named for the flat piece of metal between the joints. Because of its mild action, this bit is often used with young horses. It is not suitable for horses who pull or are heavy.

Twisted Snaffle: Horses that tend to pull, get strong, or have hard mouths can benefit from a Twisted Snaffle bit. This bit gets its name from the twisted mouthpiece. It provides a stronger signal to the horse and gives the rider more control. This type of bit is not recommended for horses with softer mouths.

Copper Snaffle: Named for the metal used in the mouthpiece, this Copper Snaffle bit encourages horses to salivate, relax their jaw and accept the bit easier. The bit is known to produce a sweet taste a horse can enjoy.

Rubber Snaffle: Rubber Snaffles are named for the material that encases this type of snaffle bit. The action on this bit is very mild, making it an ideal choice for horses with sensitive mouths or for young horses learning to accept a bit.

Roller Snaffle: Roller Snaffle bits are double-jointed bits with pieces of oval metal in the middle. This type of snaffle encourages the horse to play with the bit, which relaxes their jaw.

Kimberwick Bits

Kimberwick bit

Named for the English town it was first made in, the Kimberwick Bit is common in English disciplines. Created for a showjumper, this bit is stronger than a snaffle. It is a type of curb bit with shanks, D-rings, and a curb chain. They are designed to give the rider additional control by encouraging the horse to lower their head. This bit comes in single joint, mullen, and ported. While these bits are used in many disciplines, they are not allowed in dressage.

Pelham Bits

Pelham bit

Pelham bits have elements of both a snaffle and a curb bit. It has a set of snaffle reins and a set of curb reins and works as a Weymouth. The bit contains a mouthpiece, shanks, and a curb chain. Like a snaffle bit, it has a bit ring on either side of the mouth. The bit can be jointed or mullen and should be used by an expert or under a professional’s instruction. Like the Kimberwick, the Pelham is not allowed in dressage competitions.

Tom Thumb Bits

Tom Thumb bit

Commonly mistaken as a type of snaffle bit, the Tom Thumb is considered a leverage bit. They have a jointed mouthpiece and shanks between five to seven inches long. The bridle attaches to the top rings, and a curb chain attaches to the D-rings below. This bit should be used by an experienced rider and only on horses that tend to ignore rein aids.

Correction and Port Bits

Correction and Port bit

For experienced riders and horses, this training bit applies pressure to the horse’s tongue at the flexible joints of the port and bars of the horse’s mouth. These bits are often used in reining competitions. It has a high port, a thin mouthpiece, and copper wire wraps. Some of these bits are very ornate. The most distinctive part of the correction bit is the port, which is called a corrective mouthpiece.

Twisted Wire Bits

Twisted Wire bit

Twisted Wire bits, used in both English and Western disciplines, are meant to encourage an immediate response from horses that tend to be heavy and pull. This bit is not meant for a horse with a sensitive or soft mouth because horses can hesitate to maintain contact with the wire. When using this bit, the rider has to be careful to release the pressure the moment the horse responds correctly, as it can dull the mouth further.

Curb Bits

Curb bit

Curb horse bits are best used to provide subtle cues with the reins. It is a leverage bit, which works by amplifying pressure, which in turn helps the rider rate speed and encourages collection with minimal hand movement. In dressage, this bit encourages a horse to flex and carry their heads on the vertical. A curb only places pressure within the mouth and is not recommended for horses with hard mouths. Curbs can be mullen, ports, keys, or rollers.

Roller Bits

Roller bit

Roller Bits have small, rotating (or rolling) pieces of metal in the joint that encourage the horse to play with the bit. Playing with the roller encourages the horse’s jaw to relax, increase salivation, and accept the bit better. This bit works well for horses that get stiff-jawed when a bit is in the mouth. One or more rollers can be featured on these types of bits.

Spade Bits

Spade bit

Spade horse bits, a Western-style bit, have long shanks and a high port. It is an elaborate and complex bit that should only be used by experienced horses and riders. In fact, it can take up to seven years before a horse is highly trained enough to use this bit. It is a curb bit with a straight mouthpiece and a spoon supported by braces on either side.

Spoon Bits

Spoon bit

A Spoon Horse Bit is for advanced training or showing Western horses. They are similar to ported bits, but the ports are smoothed and flattened, looking much like a spoon. They are often used with horses who tend to ignore rein signals to stop or who tend to throw their head up. They are more gentle on the roof of the mouth, and a great alternative to high ported or correction bits. As this is a very strong bit, responsive horses, or ones with soft mouths, will not benefit from this bit.

Gag Bits

Gag bit

A Gag Bit works on a horse’s lips and poll simultaneously and is great for horses that pull hard to need retraining. The cheek pieces and reins attach to different rings, which makes it a leverage bit. It is related to the Pelham but does not need a curb chain or strap. They are common to polo, eventing, show jumping, and some Western disciplines. Gags are never used with hunters or dressage horses, as both disciplines require a horse to show a long, relaxed frame. Using a gag in these disciplines gives the impression that the horse cannot relax.

How do you Know What Bit to use on a Horse?

Armed with all the knowledge from our Horse Bits 101, how to choose the right bit for yourself and your horse? The first thing is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How experienced are you as a rider? Are you moving up in competition or starting a new one? Certain bits are made for experienced riders, while others are more general or for newer riders. Think about what kind of rider you are. Are you heavy-handed? Someone with a light touch?

  2. How experienced is your horse? Is he young and/or inexperienced? Is she a schoolmaster? Using the proper bit will ensure your horse will accept the bit properly.

  3. What is the condition of your horse’s mouth? Are they sensitive or have a soft mouth? Do they have a hard mouth? Some bits are too harsh for your horse, so you want to find one that fits your horse’s sensitivity.

  4. What is your discipline? Some bits are not appropriate for certain disciplines or specific to certain ones.

  5. If you have a trainer, consulting with them can be extremely helpful. Often they can guide you to a bit that will help you and your horse. Also, some bits are best used under the watch of an expert.

Choosing the right bit can be a long process. Understanding the types of bits and their uses means you will make careful and educated decisions regarding the right equipment. The most important thing is to find a bit that won’t worry your horse or harden their mouth. Horse bits are a crucial part of a horse’s tack, and choosing the right bit will ensure a long and happy partnership between you and your horse.

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