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Racing Days Are Over: 5 Best Bits For OTTBs

OTTB-best-bit
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Written by Channing M.

Finally, a simple horse bit guide for OTTB enthusiasts.

If you’re working with a recently Off-the-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB), you’ve probably heard countless variations of: “Have you tried him with a [insert bit type here]?”

The right bit for your OTTB isn’t the same for every other Thoroughbred, but we can give you a great start towards finding the perfect one.

OTTB Bit Category Summary
Myler SS Loose Ring Comfort Snaffle Best All-Purpose Bit
  • Pressure-relieving style
  • Copper inlay
  • Loose ring
Happy Mouth Contour Double Jointed Round Eggbutt Best for Fussy Horses
  • Great for back to basics
  • Apple scent
  • Provides comfort and allows tongue movement for mouthy horses
Happy Mouth Pro King Dee Shaped Mullen Bit Best for Hard Pullers
  • Flexible but stiff mouthpiece
  • Good for hard pullers
  • Great transitional bit
Loose Ring Waterford Best for Developing Talents
  • Gentle and and good for direction control on enthusiastic horses
  • Can be a game changer for hard-to-bit jumpers
  • Helps with suppling and salivation
Copper & Steel Roller Snaffle Best for Fidgety Horses
  • Great transitional bit for Western riders
  • Good for nervous or young horses
  • D-Ring

Want to embrace your OTTB’s history? Learn what to wear to a horse race before you head to the track.

 

 

Common OTTB Behavioral Traits

Even though every horse has its own personality, sensitivities, and preferences about being handled and ridden, there are some things that most OTTBs will have in common, as a result of their racing training.

For example, they are not used to standing still for mounting: the jockey is normally tossed up while the horse is walking.

On the other hand, they tend to be quite well-behaved in cross-ties, due to being groomed in them from a young age. They are taught to expect pressure on the reins when they’re working.

By the time an OTTB arrives at your barn, they will likely have had some basic slow work in a snaffle bit as they learned to understand ring training and some basic aids.

There are more bit styles, manufacturers, and theories than you ever dreamed possible. So, which one should you try next?

Jump to Detailed Bit Reviews

How to Choose an OTTB Bit

If you’re lucky enough to have some background on your horse, find out what type of bit they raced in at the track, or have been working with in their most recent training program after they retired.

It’s quite common for Thoroughbreds to wear a simple, loose ring bit or Dee snaffle with a fat mouthpiece.

These bits are gentle and mild. Likewise, they’re a great starting point with your OTTB. Before you go bit shopping, though, make sure you know what size bit your horse will need, which is measured in inches.

An average size for Thoroughbreds is 5 ¼.”

From there, the measurements go up or down in quarter-inch sized increments. If you don’t have access to a way to measure your horse’s mouth for correct fit, start with the 5 ¼” size, and assess how it’s sitting.

You want to avoid a bit that’s too narrow that will pinch the corners of the mouth. The correct width will leave about ¼” of metal extending on each side of the horse’s lips.

With that important detail covered, let’s move on to the top 5 bits that successful owners and trainers recommend for OTTBs.

Top 5 Best Bits for OTTBs

Myler SS Loose Ring Comfort Snaffle

A Myler Comfort Snaffle is one of those common bits that every trainer likes to have around.

The design is very gentle on OTTB mouths, and it’s unlikely to cause damage even under the hands of a green rider.

Rather than the V-shaped bend of a conventional snaffle bit, the Comfort Snaffle has a curved mouthpiece that is unable to pinch the horse’s mouth, and that lets their tongue move freely.

OTTB-bit-myler

Click to see this bit on State Line Tack

At this stage in the game, it’s okay to let your horse relax a little and learn to not pull against the bit. This style lets them get the idea gently while ensuring that any sudden or accidental braking incidents won’t grab their mouth.

This loose ring snaffle has free moving rings on each side, so this an excellent model for introducing the concept of more subtle aids and to use to start transitioning to other disciplines, if needed.

You can activate each side of the bit on its own, which helps get the point across to a young horse or greener horse.

You’ll also be able to introduce a bit more of a jiggle into the rein aids on the loose ring, helping them catch on. The bit is also infused with copper, which encourages salivation — always a good thing with #rookiehorses.

Note: The Myler line can be a bit pricey, but they’re a well-made brand that lasts.

What you should know:

  • Stainless steel with copper inlay
  • Sizes from 4 ¾” up
  • Very gentle on the tongue
  • Loose ring style
  • Good for transitioning to other bits
  • Can be pricey

Where you’ll see it:

  • Training barns
  • Show rings
  • Pleasure riding

See This Bit on State Line Tack

Happy Mouth Contour Double Jointed Round Eggbutt Snaffle

Although the name “Happy Mouth” may seem a bit glib, they have become a staple for young horses.

The mouthpiece of this bit is made of a stainless steel core that’s covered with a thick layer of polymer… APPLE-SCENTED polymer, at that!

It’s designed to be an easily-accepted bit that will be gentle on young horses.

The design of this bit makes it very popular for starting (or restarting) horses.

OTTB-bit-happy-mouth

Click to see it on State Line Tack

That said, be aware that some horses will learn to chew on their Happy Mouth bits, and that the material won’t stand up to rigorous equine chomping.

(Ask around, and someone you know will probably have a story about their sharp-toothed beaver horse.)

When we talk about “double-jointed” or “broken mouthpiece” snaffle bits, we’re referring to bits that have a central lozenge-shaped piece on the mouthpiece, rather than just a simple single-jointed hinge action that can pinch like a nutcracker.

It gives the horse something to play with, and also spreads the bar and tongue pressure evenly across the whole mouth of the bit.

Many people report that the switch to a bit with a lozenge or “bean” is the one change that got their horse to relax and start focusing — especially if they had a tendency to set their jaw or stick out their tongue.

It also allows for independent movement of each side of the bit, like the Myler bit above. If your horse was previously worked in a Dee snaffle, this will also be a good style for their transition into “civilian life.”

What you should know:

  • Stainless Steel core with polymer overlay
  • Apple scent
  • Dee-ring style
  • Gentle and relaxing for mouthy horses
  • Can sometimes invite chewing – may need replacement sooner

Where you’ll see it:

  • Schooling sessions
  • Training barns
  • On very green horses

See This Bit on State Line Tack

online horse courses

Happy Mouth Pro King Dee Shaped Mullen Bit

Mullen bits

may not be as familiar to you, but they can also be the key that unlocks your OTTB’s capabilities.

We like the comfortable Happy Mouth version because it has better durability than the rubber-mouthed varieties.

OTTB-Bit-Mullen

Click to see it on State Line Tack

Unlike some other Mullen mouth style bits you’ve seen, this Dee-Ring version doesn’t have shanks that could add leverage to the rein action.

Instead, it’s a very gentle bit that doesn’t pinch, and provides even pressure across the mouthpiece, tongue, and bars.

If you’re planning on transitioning your OTTB to Western disciplines, the Mullen mouth bit will be a more direct transition to the curb bit, without being in the least bit harsh.

This is another excellent bit for mouthy horses that need to work their jaws and chew a bit to relax.

It lets you give straight, direct aids, and sometimes that is just the type of approach that your Thoroughbred needs. Some OTTBs develop the habit of pulling and working crookedly, and the Mullen bit can help straighten their movement.

You’ll probably want to graduate to something with a bit more subtlety down the road, but you never know — often the right bit is a case of not fixing something that isn’t broken.

What you should know:

  • Stiff but flexible mouth
  • Apple scent
  • Dee-ring style
  • Great for transitioning to other Western bits
  • Can sometimes invite chewing – may need replacement sooner

Where you’ll see it:

  • Western trainers
  • Ring work
  • On hard pullers and horses who go crooked

See This Bit on State Line Tack

Loose Ring Waterford

Another bit that may not be on your radar is the Waterford style. This is a bit for more experienced riders, but can be a valuable tool with light hands on an “enthusiastic” horse who is learning to jump.

The Waterford has a series of round balls along the mouthpiece that discourage a horse that pulls strongly, but in a way that isn’t overly harsh.

The sensation seems to stimulate the different areas along the bit in a way that gets the horse’s attention without man-handling them. It seems to prevent them from locking their jaws, so it doesn’t create stiffness when you need turning ability.

OTTB-Bit-Waterford

Click to see it on State Line Tack

This is not an everyday bit. It is best suited for schooling, jumping, and cross-country courses, and won’t be permitted in a dressage ring.

What you should know:

  • The mouthpiece is a series of round balls
  • Loose ring style
  • Great for horses who set their jaw or pull on the jump course
  • Will work best as an occasional bit – alternate it with others

Where you’ll see it:

  • Jumping rings
  • Cross-country courses
  • Eventing barns

See This Bit on State Line Tack

Copper & Steel Roller Snaffle

This is another classic bit

that has a lot of crossover between the English and Western disciplines.

Think of it like a pacifier for the young and fidgety OTTB.

OTTB-Bit-Copper

Click to see it on State Line Tack

As the name would imply, the standard snaffle mouthpiece is set with copper and steel rollers that many horses enjoy playing with.

The jointed mouthpiece will provide a little more action on the tongue than some of the other bits that we’ve covered, but is generally mild and well-liked by green horses.

The Dee rings will keep it from shifting too much in your OTTB’s mouth and will help improve their lateral movement in schooling sessions.

Many horses will continue to wear this sort of mild bit throughout their show careers. It’s one of those reliable classics that anyone can try. If your horse is particularly mouthy and anxious, this may be the one for you.

This is also a favorite bit for Western horses, and you’ll see it frequently with Western tack and in snaffle bit classes.

One warning: some horses have a real dislike for copper and will react poorly to any bit with copper. This one has more copper than usual.

Watch for signs of head tossing and discomfort, and replace any bit with copper with these horses. They can be just as individual in their tastes as we can be!

What you should know:

  • Jointed snaffle with copper and steel rollers
  • Dee ring style
  • A classic that may continue to be a winner for your OTTB
  • Some horses may react poorly to copper in their bits

Where you’ll see it:

  • Training barns
  • Pleasure riding
  • Western snaffle classes

See This Bit on State Line Tack

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best bit for an OTTB that carries its head high?

Often a high-headed OTTB is avoiding the bit, and the simple answer is to go with the gentlest bit possible. Try one of the comfort snaffle designs or a softer Mullen mouth type.

Once there is nothing to fight against, horses can relax and start dropping their heads down.

online horse courses

What is the best bit for a fussy mouth?

Check out Double-Jointed Snaffles like the ones we talked about above. Those with a lozenge or “bean” shaped centerpiece are often terrific for horses with busy and fussy mouths.

Bits with rollers, like the copper and steel model we talked about, are also good for horses who are fussy and prone to head-tossing or chewing on the bit.

What are the best bits for beginners?

We have an entire article about this! Check out the 6 best horse bits for beginners.

What are common thoroughbred racing bits?

Many Thoroughbreds race in versions of the single-jointed snaffle. However, there are some interesting-looking bits that are used on some racehorses.

You might see the Dexter ring bit, which combines a regular snaffle with a second ring-shaped bit that goes around the lower jaw, or a Houghton bit, which has a solid curved mouthpiece and squared-off wire piece that extends from the sides of the bit and goes around the lower jaw.

Both of these are used on hard pullers. You’ll also see a lot of bits with “spoons” used: these are high attachments on the center of the mouthpiece that are designed to keep horses from getting their tongue over the bit and blocking their airway.

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About the author

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Channing M.

When I'm not using my equine anatomy, physiology, veterinary care background to educate other equestrians, you'll find me volunteering with retired racehorses or vacationing in the Gulf of Mexico with my hubby and beach-loving lab.