Bits 101 (English & Western)

Plus, How to Wash & Clean Bits

Choosing the right bit for your horse can feel a little overwhelming, especially with so many different styles of horse bits available, from Western bits, English bits, and more. We have put together this helpful guide to explain the differences between various types of equine bits, what they are often used for, and how to maintain a clean bit with a show-ring shine.

1. English Bits

English bits are generally snaffle bits. They work without putting any leverage on the mouth and instead through direct pressure on the tongue or bars of the mouth. English bits are usually designed to control a horse through subtle cues in English disciplines such as Hunt-Seat, Jumping, and Dressage. They do not have shank pieces on the cheek, and instead usually come in an O-ring, or Loose-ring, D-ring, Full-Cheek, Eggbutt, and Pelham or Curb bit.

Bits 101 - English Bits

2. Western Bits

Western bits stand out from most English bits as they usually have long shanks on the cheek piece, or an O-ring style. Western disciplines usually use looser reins with single-hand control of the horse, as compared to English riding, which depends on using both hands independently to give aids to a horse. Western bits may have a port (gentle curve at the center of the mouthpiece) or twisted mouthpiece on the snaffle styles. Different styles of shanked Western bits allow for a rider to give various amounts of leverage to aid the horse while riding with the single hand and draped rein. Western bits allow for minimal movement of the hand, while still providing the needed assistance for cues.

Bits 101 - Western Bits

3. Snaffle Bits

Snaffle Bits are a category of bit used both in English and Western disciplines. Some snaffle bits are jointed in the center, but they do not have to be jointed to be considered a snaffle bit. The Mullen mouth for example is a straight bar type bit. Snaffle bits are the most common type of bit for riding horses. They put less pressure overall on the mouth of a horse, and instead offer direct pressure without the leverage when compared to a shank-style bit. An Eggbutt snaffle is considered as one of the gentlest designs, for a way to offer smooth aids and no pinching the corners of a horse’s mouth. Full-Cheek snaffle bits utilize lateral pressure on a horse’s mouth and are a good middle of the road bit for most horses.

Bits 101 - Snaffle Bits

4. Curb Bits

A curb bit can be found in both English and Western styled bits. In English bits, the curb is typically low offering of ample leverage without being severe. Western bits with a curb are usually gentle, but custom bits can feature different shaped ports at the center of the mouth when more leverage and control is needed. The design of a curb bit uses lever action, increasing the pressure applied by the rider. You will often see curb bits in the Dressage ring as they are a bit more severe than a snaffle, quickly transmitting the cues from the rider, with a wide range of severity to choose from based on the shank length and port size.

Bits 101 - Curb Bits

5. Tom Thumb Bits

Tom Thumb bits are a type of curb bit with a shorter shank. The short shank allows the horse to respond to a rider’s cues sooner, as compared to long shank bits. Experienced riders with what are known as “soft hands”, can often get away with a longer shanked bit, whereas a less experienced rider may require the benefit of having a horse respond to their instruction in a faster manner.

Bits 101 - Tom Thumb Bits

6. Myler Bits

Myler bits were created by Ron, Dale, and Bob Myler, third generation horsemen that created a line of bits based on their theory of tongue relief and pressure. Their unique custom designed bits allow riders to solve a variety of communication needs with their horses, in both English disciplines and Western disciplines. Myler bits offer different styles of cheek and mouth pieces, including some bits with set attachments for the reins to ensure the design of the bit works properly, regardless of the rider’s variation of cues. Myler bits are created based off a Level System, where you can choose the level needed based on your horse’s experience and what you are trying to solve with choosing a bit. Based on that level, the options within each category make it easy in choosing the right bit for you and your horse.

Bits 101 - Myler Bits

7. How to Clean Your Riding Bits

Keeping your bits clean not only keeps your horses healthier when sharing bits but can extend the life of your bit and make it easier to add the show-ring shine when the competition starts. Scrubbing your horse bits with plain hot water and a rag, rough washcloth, microfiber cloth, sponge, or toothbrush can get most grime off your bits, especially if you wash them after each use. If you need a bit more assistance in cleaning a bit, adding a bit of bit cleaner or white vinegar to water can really get your bit clean. Taking time to scrub the joints of your bit are important in ensuring the bit functions properly and continues to swivel at the joints, just as it did the day you purchased it. Vinegar is also a great way to shine up your copper bits. Be sure to rinse your bits well after cleaning to ensure any residue of soap, cleaning products, and vinegar have disappeared.

8. How to Polish Your Riding Bits

When it comes to competition, attention to detail can sometimes be a deciding factor between placings. Having a clean and polished bit is an easy way to go that extra step and show the judges you have not missed a thing when preparing for the show ring. You can buy a cleaning solution such as our Ultra® Bit Cleaner and Freshener not only cleans your bit, but it can give you the shine you are looking for while leaving a peppermint taste your horse will love!

You can also purchase special polishing paste or compounds made for metal and polish the sides and cheek pieces or shanks using a soft cloth, for your steel bits. A sweet-iron bit is meant to have a “seasoned” taste to encourage the horse to salivate, so we suggest just washing those bits, and only attempt to polish any silver on the cheeks.

9. How to Prevent Grime Build-up on Your Bits

Show bits with enhanced shanks, silver, etching, and more need extra care. Following care instructions from the manufacturer to care for your shows bits is recommended. Using a soft cloth to buff the bit can keep it looking show ring ready between use as well.

10. How to Care for Silver Show Bits

Getting into the good habit of rinsing your bits with water and wiping them off with a damp towel after each use is an excellent way at protecting your investments and working on the wall-of-bits so many see in barns. Bits can last an exceptionally long time when cared for properly.

Finding the right bit can be a fun experience, shopping with your trainer, stopping by our retail store or calling and chatting with someone from our customer service department can help guide you in the direction of a great new bit to try for you and your horse. From Bit Accessories, Myler Bits, Specialty Bits, and more, Schneider Saddlery has something for all styles of riding and levels of experience for both horses and riders.