With so many horse bits to choose from, it can be hard to find the right one for your horse, especially with so many different rules from different disciplines. This buying guide contains all the information you need about different types of bits, materials and how to get the correct size for your horse. Read on to find out more, and take a look at our Horse Bits collection if you know what you're looking for, and remember at EQUUS, you can get Free UK Delivery on all orders over £20.
Bits are available in a range of different sizes depending on the width of your horse’s mouth. A poorly fitted bit, or any item of tack, can cause your horse discomfort and pain. It can also cause your horse to act out or misbehave. The horse’s mouth is a very sensitive area meaning it is very important that you take care to get the correct size and type of bit for your horse. If your horse’s bit is to short it will pinch your horse’s lips and apply excess pressure on your horses mouth, but if your horse’s bit is too long it will slip sideways in the horse's mouth, becoming ineffective and causing soreness.
Thickness of bit
Horse bits also come in different thicknesses. The anatomy of the horse’s mouth varies from horse to horse, some have a large tongue, which creates little space for the bit. You need to make the most of the space that you have whilst it also being comfort for your horse. Thinner bits have less surface area and less pressure distribution which therefore means they are slightly stronger.
Your horse’s way of going
Different types of bits can help to improve your horse’s way of going or offer you better control. For example, a stronger horse may need a gag or a pelham or a more sensitive horse may be better suited to something like an eggbutt snaffle. All bits have different actions and put pressure on different parts of the horse’s mouth, gags provide poll pressure which can lower your horses head and give you more control, where as a snaffle does not give any poll pressure. You’ll read more about the different types of bits and their actions later on in this buying guide.
What you and your horse do
It is also important to consider what you are wanting to do with your horse, as you will not be able to use some bits at competitions. Only snaffles can be used in dressage, bit it also depends on the type of mouthpiece you are using too. Different rules also apply for children, some bits that are allowed in senior British Show Jumping are not allowed in juniors, for example, juniors are not able to use a hackamore. Make sure that you look at the updated rulebook of your chosen discipline as they can change each year.
How to measure your horse for a bit
There are 5 easy steps to measuring your horse’s mouth for the correct length of bit:
To measure your horse’s mouth, you’ll need to find something to measure it with. The easiest thing to use is a thick piece of rope or a smooth bit of wood (a wooden spoon works great)!
Mark one end so you have a starting point, this could be drawing a line or tying a knot in the rope.
Put it in your horse’s mouth, as them to take it like they would take a bit.
Hold your measuring tool on one side of your horse’s mouth where you have marked it. Use your other hand to mark the opposite side where it meets your horse’s lips.
Take your measuring tool out of your horse’s mouth and measure the distance between the two marked bits. This measurement will correspond to your horse’s bit size. If the result is in between sizes, it is recommended to size up.
How to put a bit on a bridle
The bit attaches to the bridle via the cheekpieces and the reins. Follow the next steps to learn how to attach a bit to your horse’s bridle.
It is easier to hang your horses bridle up, so it is clearer to see and does not get tangled in the reins. Hang your bridle up and undo the keepers on the end of both cheekpieces.
Pick up the bit and identify which is the front, if it is a jointed snaffle, fold it in your hands facing out in front of you. If it goes together smoothly, it is facing the right way. If it will not fold together neatly, it is backward. Turn it around and try again. If the bits a gag/pelham, the shanks/rings should curve back toward the horse, not out in front of the horse.
Make sure the bit and bridle are both facing forwards, then run the end of the cheekpiece through the highest loop on the bit and refasten the cheek piece so it is tightly closed. Do the same to the other side.
Attach the reins to the bit by opening the keepers on the end of the reins and buckling them around the bit, below the area where you attached the cheek pieces. It the bit is a ringed gag or a pelham there could be multiple choices of where you can attach the reins.
Types of Bit
A gag bit can look a bit like a snaffle bit, with added rings above and below the normal snaffle ring. You can attach the reins to a lower ring which will apply poll pressure, there are often a choice of rings that you can attach your reins too. These different rings will change the amount of poll pressure applied, the lower the reins are attached, the more poll pressure applied. Gag bits also apply pressure to the bars of the horse’s mouth and the tongue. The pressure applied will also depend on the type of mouthpiece of the bit, a single jointed bit will apply less pressure on the tongue than a single jointed bit. These bits are not dressage legal.
A pelham puts pressure on the poll, tongue, bars and roof of the mouth and can be used with two reins, with one on each ring or just one by using bit roundings. You can find these bits with different length shanks to vary the severity of the bit and with different mouthpieces. Pelhams feature a curb chain that goes under the horse’s chin, the bit from rotating too far and also provides another pressure point. These bits are not dressage legal.
A snaffle is probably the most common type of horse bit. They come in lots of different varieties, including loose ring, eggbutt, and fulmer. Snaffle bits for horses are considered generally mild, however they can come more severe when changing mouthpiece, for example a Waterford.
A loose ring snaffle has two large rings that allow the mouthpiece to move, this prevents excess pressure on the tongue and poll by following the angle. Loose ring snaffles have a lot more movement and ‘play’ than other snaffles like the eggbutt or full cheek, this discourages the horse from leaning on the bit. Due to the movement, these bits can pinch at the corner of the mouth, bit guards are a god way to prevent pinching while still getting all the benefits of a loose ring.
An eggbutt snaffle features rings that are fixed, unlike the ones on the loose ring snaffle. These rings prevent pinching and movement, designed to aid a more fixed contact. An eggbutt snaffle can come with different mouthpieces including straight bar, jointed and double jointed, these different mouth pieces will place different pressures in the horse’s mouth.
A D Ring snaffle is similar to an eggbutt as they offer a fixed cheek but also provides lateral control in the same way that a full cheek snaffle does. These bits have a number of mouthpieces and materials to choose from to help you find the right one for your horse.
A hanging cheek snaffle, also known as a baucher snaffle has a fixed cheek. It can be a good option for fussy horses as there is limited movement. The fixed mouthpiece prevents pinching and the bit slipping through the horse’s mouth.
Both the Fulmer and Full Cheek are both designed to aid turning and prevent the bit from slipping through the horse’s mouth. A fulmer features loose rings at either side of the bit which make the bit more movable and help to prevent the horse from leaning on the bit. A full cheek is fixed, preferred by some horses due to its stability, an excellent starter bit for young horses.
Although called a Wilkie snaffle, this bit provides a small amount of poll pressure and is not dressage legal. This bit is ideal for more sensitive horses but need more breaking power than a regular snaffle as they promote responsiveness and a correct head carriage.
Double Bridle bits consist of a Weymouth and Bradoon which may need to be purchased separately. A bradoon is a small snaffle and sits in the horse’s mouth with the Weymouth that provides the poll pressure. They are used with two reins so the bits can act independently.
A hackamore does not A Hackamore is a type of bitless bridle that works by applying pressure to the nose, poll, and chin groove. Unlike a traditional bridle with a bit, there is no pressure or leverage on the mouth. Although this does not mean that this is kinder than a regular bit as it can apply a lot of pressure on your horse’s face.
A jointed mouthpiece is common in bits such as a snaffle, it acts on the bars of the mouth and provides greater pressure on the tongue than other bits with its ‘nutcracker’ action. As pressure is put on the bit, the single joint can put pressure by squeezing the tongue which can also apply pressure on the roof of the mouth.
A double jointed mouthpiece, such as a French link is considered milder than a singular joint as they fit more naturally to the horse’s mouth and distributes pressure more evenly over the horses tongue.
A straight bar bit puts pressure on your horse’s tongue, bars of the mouth and lips. They are available in many different styles including snaffles, pelhams and gags. The pressure from this bit is spread evenly over your horse’s mouth, and the nutcracker from the single joint is eliminated.
A bit with a low port can be used to relieve pressure on the horse’s tongue and a high port is used to place pressure on your horse is palate. They are commonly found in snaffles, pelhams and double bridle bits. Used improperly a high ported bit can cause pain for your horse.
Waterford Bits are a good choice for horses that tend to lean or take hold of the bit as they are very movable. These bits are available in different styles including, snaffles and gags, offering you plenty of choice. You need to be careful when using a Waterford bit, as a ‘see-saw’ action can cause discomfort for your horse.
Horse bits with rollers are designed for horses that lean on the bit. The rollers prevent the horse from being able to take hold or leaning on the bit which can make them lighter in the hand. The type of rollers may vary, from a few rollers or most of the bit being roller links. Roller bits can also be used to encourage the horse to play with the bit. By moving their tongue under the bit, horses can come more relaxed in the mouth, which can lead to better accepting the bit.
Stainless steel is the most common material of horse bit. This is because they are durable, easy to clean and will not rust. Stainless steel horse bits are available in many different styles so you can find the one you need for your discipline and are suitable for a wide range of horses. Some stainless steel bits will feature sweet iron or brass links/lozenges to encourage acceptance of the bit through promoting salivation and creating a warming sensation.
Sweet Iron horse bits are designed to oxidise in your horse’s mouth, this produces a warm and sweet taste, encouraging mouthing and acceptance of the bit. It also encourages salivation and palatability which will help your horse to be softer in the mouth.
Rubber and Plastic bits are generally softer in comparison to metal and are designed to be gentler in the horse’s mouth. The rubber or plastic covering usually makes the mouthpiece thicker, this helps to further soften the action on the mouth by providing a greater distribution of pressure. However, you need to make sure that these bits are suitable for your horse. As they are generally thicker, they may not comfortably fit in the mouths of horses with larger tongues. They are lighter and more flexible, particularly suited to young or more sensitive horses.
Leather is a much softer material than stainless steel or sweet iron. A leather mouthpiece encourages the horse to salivate which makes the material even softer. A leather horse bit is an excellent choice for horses that do not like metal mouthpieces or for horses with a sensitive mouth.
Nathe horse bits are soft and gentle on the horse’s mouth. Made from high quality Thermoplast with a flexible steel inner core that ensures safety. Nathe bits are soft and flexible and not as bulky as rubber, an ideal choice for more sensitive horses.
Brass alloy bits are warm and durable, liked by a lot of horses. This material encourages the horse to salivate and is an ideal for horses that need encouragement to accept the bit. Available in a range of styles including snaffles, gags and pelhams.
Copper encourages salvation and acceptance of the bit. It is a material commonly used for lozenges and rollers. It is warm and liked by most horses.
Bit guards are used to stop pinching from the bit, often seen from loose ring snaffles. Bit Guards come in different styles including gel, silicone and rubber and are soaked in hot water to enable you to fit them over the bit rings.
A1. There are many options for bridles and bits that do not act like a normal bit, for example, take a look at our hackamore bits and bitless bridles. However, this will depend on your horse and also the discipline that you take part in. Some disciplines will not allow you to use a bitless bridle, for example dressage.
Q2. What bit should I use?
A2. What bit you choose will depend on your horse, his anatomy, his way of going and also the discipline that you compete in. If you are unsure of where to start, consult your riding instructor or a bit specialist.
Q3. What is the most gentle bit for your horse?
A3. A snaffle is generally considered the most gentle bit for your horse. However, there are lots of different snaffles to choose from and what's best for your horse will vary from horse to horse. You need sure it is anatomically correct for your horses mouth. Also, a lot of bits can be gentle in the right hands, if the rider has soft hands then any bit should not cause harm to your horses mouth.
Q4. What bit can I use for dressage?
A4. The rules for dressage can change each year so make sure you check an up to date membership rulebook. Generally, you can use a single material snaffle with a single or double joint for dressage but once you get to the higher levels you can also use a double bridle.
Q5. How much do bits cost?
A5. Bit costs can vary, at EQUUS we have bits to suit every budget. More expensive bits may be higher quality and made from specialist materials.
Q6. What bits can I use for British Show jumping?
A6. There is a lot more bit options allowed for show jumping compared to dressage, you can even use a hackamore (for senior jumping only). Make sure to check the British Show Jumping member handbook.
Q7. Are horse bits cruel?
A7. In short, it depends on the riders hands. Any bit can be cruel with harsh hands, some bits are more severe than others that's why it is important to find a bit that suits your horse.
Q8. What size bit does my horse need?
A8. Use our guide to measure your horses mouth, if your horse is in between sizes it is recommended to size up, especially if wanting to use bit guards.
Q9. What is a nutcracker bit?
A9. A nutcracker bit has a single joint. When pressure is applied to the bit it pinches the tongue, creating a nutcracker action.
Q10. How do I know what bit I can used for my chosen discipline?
A10. You need to made sure you look at an up to date role book from your governing body.
There are so many bits to choose from, and you might have to try a couple of different ones until you find the one that is best for you and your horse. It is important to find a bit that fits your horse and is allowed in your chosen discipline, otherwise you risk being disqualified from your event.