Should I, or should I not invest in horse bits? This is perhaps one of the most confusing decisions for a novice horseback rider. Moreover, even if you do decide to opt for one, the countless types of horse bits for sale are bound to overwhelm you.
Well, fret no more! Be it snaffle bits, double-jointed mouthpieces, curb bits, or any other, in this article we will be exploring the usage, characteristics, and level of the harshness of the most common bits. You’ll definitely be able to identify horse bits that work best for you and your equine pal by scrolling till the end.
Factors Determining Bit Severity
Since you are on a mission to identify horse bits in order of harshness, there are a few important factors that you need to consider. These impact bit severity greatly and will therefore help you in narrowing down your choice of horse bits.
Since horse bits are fitted into the animal’s mouth for better control during horseback riding, the mouthpiece diameter needs to be apt. The mouthpiece width, which is a measure of the space between the two cheek pieces, generally measures 5 inches. However, certain equines like draft horses, light-boned and Arabian horses, and ponies, will require a horse bit that has a different sized mouthpiece.
As a matter of fact, you might have to place a custom order for bits that are wider than 5 inches. Specific sizes in certain bit styles and mouthpiece designs usually have limited availability. Overlooking this aspect, and settling for an improper mouthpiece diameter will only compel your horse into prolonged discomfort.
Typically, horse bits are made of metal, but some of them are also constructed from different materials. Thus, the texture of the mouthpiece tends to differ accordingly. Stainless steel, copper, and aluminum are more popular choices when it comes to horse-bit materials.
Stainless steel does not rust and is an appealing choice for casual riding as well as show purposes. This does not mean that rusty horse bits indicate poor quality. In fact, bit manufacturers often use sweet iron in horse-bit mouthpieces due to its highly palatable nature. Copper on the other hand leads the horse to salivate more which in turn enables the bit to rotate and slide more conveniently.
Aluminum is the least desirable metal for horse-bits because of its unpalatable taste and high oxidizing capacity. Furthermore, the lightness of aluminum horse bits may cause them to break easily, in addition to moving too much in the equine’s mouth.
In terms of horse-bit harshness, mouthpieces that are made from synthetic materials, plastic, or rubber are the gentlest. However, using these is not advisable. At times, their impact can be too mild and fail to serve the purpose if used on large and mature horses. Besides, your steed may pick up the habit of chewing on a rubber bit.
Overall Size And Shape
Not only size, but the shape of a mouthpiece too determines how harsh a particular horse-bit is. For instance, horses tend to feel a nutcracker pressure with jointed mouthpieces, whereas a mullen mouthpiece features a curvature to accommodate an equine’s tongue.
Generally, smoother and thicker mouthpieces are comparatively less harsh than the bits that are twisted, textured, or thin.
On the other hand, narrow, tall ports put more pressure on an equine’s palate. Hence, they are harsher than shallow ports. Similarly, short and curved curb bits are gentler than ones that have a long and straight shank.
Most Common Types Of Horse Bits
With so many different kinds of horse bits available in the marketing, choosing the right one may seem pretty intimidating. However, you don’t really have to complicate the process by analyzing every option available.
Most horse bits are simply subtle derivatives of the popular ones. They have slightly different features that give almost the same effect. The real difference lies in horses. Following is a list of some of the most common horse bits. Take a look and make your pick accordingly!
1. Single Joint
Our Recommendation: Myler 02 Loose Ring because of how simple and effective it is.
The best thing about single joint bits is that it enables riders to exert a specific amount of pressure on both sides of the horse’s mouth. This helps in improving the control over the steed while riding.
The downside however is the possibility of creating a nutcracker effect that is likely to pinch the animal’s tongue and bars. Regardless, single joint bits still seem to be a more comfortable choice for various horses in comparison to straight bar mouthpieces.
2. Doc Bristol
Our recommendation: The Dover Saddlery Doc Bristol Bit because no one makes Doc Bristol’s better than Dover.
This one is basically a double-joint horse bit that has two pieces connected with a link. Featuring a flat link in the center, Doc Bristol is milder than all single joint bits.
Although it looks almost the same as a French link, Doc Bristol horse bits have a slightly angled, longer link. This aids the edge of the link to exert extra pressure on the tongue. Furthermore, you may witness a slight nutcracker action when using Doc Bristol.
3. Mullen Mouth
Our recommendation: Happy Mouth’s King Dee Shaped Mullen Bit because of their flexible and soft mouthpieces.
The Mullen Mouth is a comfortable yet solid choice for your equine buddy. It is easier for the horse to carry as compared to a straight bar mouthpiece. Moreover, this mouthpiece is pretty basic and is slightly curvy over the tongue area to provide it with more space.
Nonetheless, Mullen Mouths are gentler than jointed mouthpieces. No matter how hard you pull the reins, your steed will feel pinches on either side of its mouth.
4. Ball Link
Quite similar to French links, the ball link rests directly on top of a horse’s tongue to exert desirable pressure. The bit is not too harsh, but indeed higher in severity than a French link. Furthermore, it does not consist of an edge that would keep pressing into the horse’s tongue. This feature thus makes the ball link gentler than Doc Bristol.
Our recommendation: The Bob Avila Collection by Professionals Choice Port Bit because of how cool they look.
If you’re looking to reduce pressure on your horse’s tongue when using a bit, go for one with ports. Port has a raised space shaped like an upside-down ‘U’ at the center of the mouthpiece. This way the equine finds it difficult to soften the bit’s impact with its tongue. Be it English bit or Western bit, both can feature low ports that have a slight rise and high ports that put more pressure on the animal’s palate.
6. Wire Bit
Any kind of wire bit you plan to use is going to be the harshest amongst the other choice of mouthpieces available. Wire bits come in various shapes and sizes. They can be jointed, twisted, or straight and are likely to feel cruel to horses, especially younger ones. The reason for this is the thinness of the wire bit. It exerts pointed pressure in the horse’s mouth and can even cause sores and cuts on the corners.
7. French Link
Gentler than any other jointed mouthpiece, French link bits are double-jointed and consist of a large plate in the center. The double joints function together to lower the nutcracker effect of the bit in the mouth. Despite this, it gives a rider ample control over their horse from both sides of the horse’s mouth. Some horse owners prefer using the lozenge which is the rounder and gentler version of French links.
Roller bits offer ideal relaxation to a horse’s jaw and tongue. It encourages the equine to toy around the rotating pieces of metal on the mouthpiece. This helps a horse to quickly adapt to the horse bit. Furthermore, rollers are commonly available in stainless steel or copper, which keeps them from rusting. A combination of both metals is also available.
One disadvantage of roller bits is that they tend to increase bit severity and certain designs cause painful pinches.
9. Twisted Mouthpiece
Falling amidst the severest varieties of horse bits, twisted bits exert extreme pressure inside a horse’s mouth. Different metals or a combination of materials is used to construct them. Their mouthpiece is most often either straight, jointed, or mullen. These are popularly used for equines that are non-responsive to rounded bits. Naturally, a bit with more turns is harsher than one that has fewer turns.
If you are at the initial stage of training your horse to respond to bits, or introducing mouthpieces to young horses, opt for keys. The three elongated metal beads are fixed to the middle ring on the mouthpiece. This leads the horse to play with it. However, a lot of trainers do not favor using keys because it tends to encourage horses to toy with it a little too much. This results in the horse losing focus on the actual training.
11. Eggbutt Snaffle
Eggbutt snaffles have the least bit severity because the rounded cheekpiece prevents pinching on the sides of a horse’s mouth. Due to their low level of harshness, Eggbutt snaffles can easily be paired with a variety of mouthpieces; the single joint being the more popular version.
12. Quarter Or Half Moon Link
Another gentle variety of horse bits, the half-moon link has a double joint that lowers the impact of nutcracker action better than a single joint would do. Furthermore, its shape provides ample room for the tongue, hence reducing the level of discomfort a horse may have to face otherwise.
Although some people may find this horse bit to be more decorative, its appearance does not affect its functionality or efficiency at all. Quarter or half-moon links are snaffle bits that are ideal for young horses and equines in the Western show ring.
13. Hollow Mouthpiece
Horse owners often prefer using hollow mouthpieces for their equines. This is because the equine can carry such lightweight bits comfortably. Their weight and mild pressure are what sets hollow mouthpieces apart from horse bits made from solid materials.
14. Chain Mouthpiece
Chain bits are hardly preferred by any equestrian due to their unnecessary level of severity. The mouthpiece uses either a chain link or bicycle chain, both implying extreme discomfort and pain at the corners of the horse’s mouth. Moreover, chain bits can cause severe injury and damage that goes beyond an equine’s mouth, and hence not a recommended choice in any case.
15. Thick Or Thin Bit
Primarily, it is seen that the thicker the horse bit, the softer its impact will be in the horse’s mouth. However, horses that have a large tongue or low palate are likely to encounter discomfort when using thick bits. This is when the need for using thin horse bits arises. Thinner horse bits however deliver pressure to one narrow area in the mouth, which makes the overall impact harsher for the horse to bear.
16. Spade Bit
It is advisable to use spade bits only after extensive training as it is certain to damage a horse’s mouth otherwise. The horse’s palate feels immense pressure as soon as it comes in contact with the spade. Hence, you cannot and should never opt for spade bits for correcting horse habits such as head tossing and pulling.
17. Western Grazing Bit
This one is perhaps one of the best horse bits available, and most popular as well. Originally the shanks of the Western grazing bit were angled back. This enabled horses to graze easily regardless of the bit still in their mouth. Moreover, this bit suits a lot of horses including ponies. You are likely to come across horse owners who invest in decorative shanks as well as different kinds of ports and tongue releases for the Western grazing bit.
18. Western Correction Bit
Don’t let the name mislead you. Western correction bits facilitate in reinforcing rein aid responses to a horse that has already completed its training period. What this means is that rather than correcting an undesirable behavior of an equine, this bit will help you stop or turn your horse better, without increasing bit severity. The bit consists of a high port and long shanks and needs to be used properly or else it will do more harm than good.
19. Western Pelham Bit
The most popular use of a Western Pelham bit is for horse training, but you will never find it on a horse participating in any Western competition. Combining the actions of snaffle bits and curb bits, the Western Pelham bit uses two sets of reins along with a curb chain. This particular mouthpiece only helps an equestrian in fine-tuning their steed’s responses to rein aids and has a mild level of harshness.
20. Western S-Shank Curb Bit
Featuring a prominent ‘S’ shape on its shanks, this Western curb bit offers more leverage when the reins are pulling back. Moreover, the ‘S’ shape also contributes to the overall balance and weight of the bit, making it a more severe option as compared to bits that are similar in size but have straight shanks.
Also, you need to use the Western S-Shank Curb bit with utmost care to avoid hurting your equine buddy. A noticeable advantage is the existence of a port in the middle of the mouthpiece. This tends to provide the horse’s tongue with some relief and also strengthens the rein aids.
FAQs Regarding Types Of Horse Bits
Understanding horse bits can undoubtedly be daunting with the huge variety they come in. This is why we have set out to resolve some most common questions that might be trotting across your mind. Check them out below:
A horse bit is meant to put pressure on the back of a horse’s mouth and tongue through reins that allow riders to control the animal. This can be cruel since it enables a rider to control their steed through the threat of pain. However, the animal will be more responsive and less in pain if you use the right horse-bit correctly.
Severe horse bits, and even gentle ones that are used incorrectly, can cause cuts and sores in the equine’s mouth. In fact, research by Dr.Cook indicates that the damage can go deeper and sometimes be fatal.
You will find hundreds of varieties in horse bits in the market. Nonetheless, to understand horse bits better, this horse gear can be put into three main categories:
Snaffle Bits – These are the most common horse bits around the globe. A snaffle bit can include mouthpieces like single jointed, French link, and a lozenge. Moreover, it works by putting pressure on the space between a horse’s front and back teeth, its tongue, and mouth corners as well.
Gag Bits – These tend to feature the same mouthpieces as snaffle bits. Besides, the ‘American’ style gag bit has a long shank and can conveniently aid in achieving a ‘lift’ in the animal’s mouth. This is done with the help of the long shank and the mouthpiece that slides on a curved cheek. Overall, Gag bits are pretty strong and need to be handled with care as there is no limit to the extent to which they can be raised in a horse’s mouth.
Curb Bits – these can be divided further into three types, i.e. Pelhams, Kimblewicks, and Weymouth. The Pelham allows the use of two reins for additional pressure on the poll. Whereas, Kimblewicks have more common usage in disciplines like hunting, and are best for younger riders due to the extra control they provide over horses through four pressure points. On the other hand, Weymouth horse bits are predominant in disciplines like horse showing and high-level dressage.
The gentlest kinds of horse bits are snaffle bits that are made from rubber. They provide a smooth fit in the horse’s mouth without any discomfort or pain on pinching. The Eggbutt snaffle bit is the most popular and least harsh for horses due to its thick mouthpiece that delivers less pressure and hence no pinches on the corners of the horse’s mouth.
Thin, twisted wire bits are the harshest as they often tend to give a painful cut in the mouth, especially if not fit properly. Apart from this, any bit, including those with a rubber mouthpiece can be harsh and inflict pain to the horse if used incorrectly.
Choosing the right horse-bit can call for some trial and error. You can start with the gentlest bit available and move on to experiment with different bits gradually until your horse gives an ideal response to one. Besides, the type of bit you should opt for also depends on the animal’s temperament and the equestrian discipline you want your steed to participate in. Other factors to consider are the shape and size of the horse’s mouth and your own riding skill level.
A lot of people engage in horseback riding without using any mouthpiece on the animal. Thus, it is definitely possible to ride a horse without a bit. As a matter of fact, you can train your steed to be ridden without a horse bit from its early days with you.
Investing in quality tack and accessories is imperative to your horse’s comfort and well-being. This is why it is important to identify horse bits in order of harshness among the numerous horse bits for sale. Besides, different horses may require different mouthpiece sizes and materials according to their temperament, training level, and purpose.
When classifying horse bits in order of harshness, the Eggbutt snaffle bit is the gentlest as it exerts minimal pressure and no pinches on a horse’s mouth. D-ring snaffle bits and the Mullen Mouth too are gentle options. French links are relatively harsher but offer more control to the rider without putting too much force or causing pain to the horse. The Ball link bit is also a good option, but with a higher bit severity than French links.
On the contrary, twisted bits, spade bits, and port bits top the bit severity chart as the harshest ones available. They exert greater pressure on the horse’s mouth. Only experienced riders should use these bits as they offer more control to riders. Improper usage can cause them to damage the animal’s mouth in the long run.
Nevertheless, the right horse bit, when used correctly, will not only create a safe riding experience but also last much longer than cheaper or uncomfortable options.