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DELAWAREHORSE.COM   Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001 by Holly A. Covey. All Rights Reserved

Hollihorse Index | Recycle Racehorses | Harness Racing Update | Horseride


By Jasmine Cave

Used with permission from the Recycle Racehorses Mail List - Artwork courtesy of Bit O'Horse Clipart

I thought that I should give you all some of my background before I start giving advice. I am an equine science and anthropology student at southern Illinois University and I have been taking riding lessons for 12 years. I started with an eventing instructor who also ran the local pony club and have recently switched to Cindy Choate who is the equestrian team coach for SIU. She is a certified instructor in dressage, reining, and saddle seat up through advaced/Olympic level. Most of her clients now are Arabian show hunters. She is a very knowlegable person whose specialty is bits, so all SIU riding students take her bit class. Now on to bits.

The type of bit is only part of what makes a bit "severe" or not. A single joint is the most severe because of the breakover or nutcracker action. The joint can also jab the soft roof of shallow mouthed horses. Next is the double jointed bit. This type follows the shape of the horses mouth and does not have the severe breakover that the single joint does. The mildest is the unjointed bit that has no breakover at all. These designs can come in snaffles (non-leverage) or curb (leverage) bits.

artwork from

A thick mouthpiece is usually milder than a thin mouthpiece unless the horse has a large tongue or a shallow mouth which gives little room for a bit making a thin mouthpiece more comfortable for these horses. Mouthpiece style is the next factor. The single joint is most severe and many horses will shake their heads with this bit if it is causing pain, usually due to a shallow mouth or bit to large making breakover uncomfortable. The french link is a double jointed bit that has a contour piece in the center. This is a mild bit that most horses like. It does not have the breakover that the single joint does and it follows the shape of the mouth making it more comfortable for the horse, esspecially those with a shallow mouth. Don't confuse the french link with the Dr.Bristol which is a severe mouthpiece because it digs into the tongue. The double jointed port bit is also fairly mild and horses with large tongues seem to like this as it leaves lots of tongue room. The mullen is the mildest because it has no breakover and follows the contour of the mouth applying even pressure to bars and tongue. The port mouth is good for horses that don't like tongue pressure.

Mouthpiece texture is next. The smooth mouthpiece is the mildest. The slow twist is useful for horses that lean or push on the bit. Wire bits are also for pushy horses, but are more severe than the slow twist. Mouthpiece material is also important. The stainless steel bit is very popular and is found in the most styles. The copper bit promotes salavation and a soft mouth as do the aurigan bits. Bits that contain nickel like german silver should be avoided as sensitive horses can be allergic to it. Sweet Iron has a sweet taste and creates a soft mouth and is the easiest to find in western curbs or english bits made by western bit manufacturers like Reinsman. Synthetic flavored plastic is nice for the sensitive horse and as an added benefit it does not get as hot or cold as metal and does not "clang" on teeth when bridling.

The cheeks also affect the bit. Loose ring cheeks encourage flex and softness for stiff necked horses. Eggbutt cheeks give lateral stability for head tossers. Full cheeks(with bit loops) and Dee rings give lateral control and help with steering. Elevators and gags elevate and flex the front end.They are usful for horses that "root" or push their head down and nose out. The gag is more severe than the elevator and they both use lots of poll pressure. The Kimberwick is a mild curb that encourages the horse to lower and flex his head and neck and comes in to types: standard and uxeter. The standard does not do much as the curb chain rarely come into contact. The uxeter allows a mild effect(on top rein slot) or a stronger effect(on bottom rein slot). This puts pressure on the poll, bars and chin. The Pelham has a snaffle ring and a curb ring. It allows snaffle or curb pressure to be used at the riders descretion giving more control. The longer the shanks the more severe. Many western bits are "pelhams" because they have a snaffle slot (even with the mouthpiece). Curb bits apply pressure to the poll, bars and chin causing the horse to lower and flex his head and neck. Two common english curbs are the kimberwick and the weymouth. The severity depends on the shank length (below mouthpiece) and the puchase length (above mouthpiece). The longer the shank the more severe and a shank bent towards the rider is less severe than one bent towards the horse. The longer the puchase, the more poll pressure.

This is a guideline only and some horses may favor a "severe" bit over a mild one because of the conformation of their mouth.

Snaffle bits

Thank you, Jasmine!