Let’s start describing what are horse bits.
The horse bit is the piece of tack that goes inside the horse’s mouth. Horses have a space between their front and back teeth, and that’s where the bit stay. Usually, a bit is a piece of either metal or synthetic material that rests in this teeth-less space and puts pressure on the back of the mouth and the tongue of the horse. This piece attaches to a bridle and the reins and helps the rider control the horse. Not all horses adapt to all sorts of bits, and some might require different types. For example, young horses may be trained with hackamores, and some might pull too much and require a gag bit. As always, it’s important to know your horse, your needs, and adapt to both.
Independent on the type of horse bits, mouthpieces themselves come in different types. These can be straight-bar mouthpieces (which, as the name says, are a solid bar of metal or other material such as rubber or plastic), jointed mouthpieces (which often give a nutcracker pressure on the horse’s mouth), a mullen mouthpiece (solid, but with a curvature that accommodates the horse’s tongue), and ported mouthpieces (also has a curve, but more pronounced; often acts on the roof of the mouth as well). Jointed mouthpieces may be single-jointed or double-jointed. The latter is actually two pieces joined by a link, which itself may come in different styles, such as ported, French, Dr Bristol and ball double-jointed mouthpieces. Each operates differently, with double-jointed considered milder than single-jointed.
First of all you need to decide on what you are wanting to achieve with your horse before selecting your bit, then you have enough information to choose the most appropriate to suit the job required :
– Snaffle or Curb
– Cheek Style
The mouthpiece may slide on the full, loose ring, so that it rests on the most comfortable position for the horse, rather than fixed. The horse may relax its mouth and chew the bit.
As the name says, the D-ring snaffles have their “rings” in the shape of a D, rather than circular. The shape does not allow the bit to rotate, and also applies some lateral pressure on the horse’s mouth.
Eggbutt snaffles are gentler, as they do not pinch the side of the mouth. In these, the mouthpiece does not rotate, and this may be more comfortable to some horses
Full cheek bit
The full cheek bit has long arms on either side and the ring attached to the arms. This helps with lateral guidance and fixes the bit in the mouth.
The Kimblewick is a fixed cheek bit that is often used on horses and ponies that prove a little too strong in a snaffle; it is also often used by children to help them have some control should they need it. The hanging cheek part if the bit from the cheek slot to the mouthpiece uses poll pressure and lip pressure, and various pressures in the mouth depending on the mouthpiece. When the rein is used, the curb chain should come into play, but not straight away, there should be some give in the rein before the curb chain tightens.
The Pelham bit is somewhere between a snaffle and a curb bit. Unlike either, it allows for two sets of reins and thus is almost like a double bridle. As such, it works as either a snaffle or a curb bit, although it’s generally classed as a type of curb bit. It’s also useful to transition a horse from one type to the other. The Pelham bit is popular for polo, as it may work like a double bridle without being one.
These work like snaffle bits but offer some leverage, which varies according to the needs of the rider and the horse. They sometimes can support two sets of reins as well. The gag bits are popular in showjumping, cross-country, and polo but forbidden in dressage. These bits apply some pressure on the horse’s poll, depending on where the reins are attached. Usually, they consist of a mouthpiece with two rings, as in a snaffle, but these rings come with holes on either side, through which the gag cheek pieces run. Dutch (or three rings) gag bits, on the other hand, consist of three or four rings: one attached to the mouthpiece, one on top to attach the bridle’s cheek piece, and one or two more below. These give varying positions to attach the reins, according to the need.
Hackamores & bitless bridles
The hackamore works through a noseband, which puts pressure on different areas of the horse’s face — except the mouth. Hackamores are often not allowed in competitions, excepting endurance riding, trail riding and some showjumping and cross-country competitions.