Gear Riding Tips

5 Best Horse Bits for Control Without Cruelty

horse bits
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Written by Cathy H.

Does your horse have control issues? It may be time for a different bit.

Do you get into arguments with your horse? It happens. You might disagree about how many strides you’ll take toward that jump, about the life-threatening danger of that plastic bag, or about when and where to turn.

We can’t always anticipate when we’ll feel out of control in the saddle, but if you’re feeling like your horse is constantly, well, “taking the reins” instead of listening to you, a stronger bit could help him to refocus on you and remember that you call the shots.

In the meantime, check in with a trainer about your power struggle. There’s always more you can do in any situation besides change the bit. Horses are just too big to not listen politely, no matter what.

As a general rule of thumb, a bit with leverage can often tip the scale back in your direction when you need to regain control. Remember to keep your hands soft and to try other attention-getting strategies – like circling – regardless of which bit you use.

How to Choose a Horse Bit

When choosing a bit for control, keep in mind these three tips from Warwick Schiller:

  • The horse ultimately has to learn to control himself.
  • “Big” bits are for pulling less, not more
  • Complicated bits are meant for well-educated horses

In other words, if you’re facing a difficult problem with your horse, you probably need to go back to basics. A little extra “oomph” doesn’t hurt, however, in situations such as:

  • Beginner or timid riders matched with a strong (but safe) horse
  • Horses with a tendency to get fast in certain situations (outside the arena, toward jumps, etc.)
  • Horses who lean on the forehand or buck
  • Well-trained horses who need a tune-up

The end goal, however, should be to use a stronger bit on a temporary basis. Focus on light hands and gentle aids to improve the horse’s response, and then carry those lessons over to a milder bit. Your horse will appreciate this, especially during those “oops” moments when you accidentally yank his mouth (it happens)!

Popular Bits for Added Control

Wonder Bit

Also called a gag bit, the Wonder Bit adds poll pressure to the typical action of a loose ring snaffle.

equisential horse bit

Click to see this bit at Amazon

What you should know:

  • Can be purchased with numerous mouthpieces
  • Attach reins to largest rings for least amount of leverage
  • Attach reins to lowest rings for greatest amount of leverage
  • Can be used with two sets of reins simultaneously

Best suited for:

  • Temporarily adding more control in new, high-energy situations
  • Giving a small beginner rider a stronger connection to the bit
  • Horses who need to keep their heads raised

Try this bit at Amazon

Cathedral Spoon Bit

When the “control” you’re looking for is actually “refinement,” try a cathedral spoon bit.

bob avila bit

Click to try this bit at Amazon

What you should know:

  • Primarily applies pressure to jaw and roof of mouth
  • Helps teach horses to lift through the shoulders while keeping poll soft
  • Has the potential to be quite severe in the wrong hands

Best suited for:

  • Western horses
  • Horses already well-trained to curb bits
  • Advanced riders with light hands

Try this bit at Amazon

Full Cheek Snaffle

Full cheek snaffles

are a go-to option when a horse stops well, but isn’t always willing to turn.

full cheek snaffle

Click to see this bit at Amazon

What you should know:

  • Can be paired with any snaffle mouthpiece
  • Cheekpieces apply pressure to the side of the horse’s face for added control
  • Slip the top of the cheekpieces into leather “keepers” on the bridle to hold it in the correct position

Best suited for:

  • Horse and rider pairs struggling to turn
  • Beginners

Try this bit at Amazon

online horse courses

Kimberwick

Kimberwicks

are versatile bits that apply pressure to the poll, the sides of the mouth, and the chin.

kimberwick bit

Click to see this bit at Amazon

What you should know:

  • Must be used with a curb chain
  • Can be used with any type of mouthpiece
  • Attach reins to lower slots for more leverage
  • Can be used with two sets of reins

Best suited for:

  • Strong horses
  • Beginner riders who need a stronger connection to the bit
  • Horses who tend to lift their heads to evade the bit

Try this bit at Amazon

Pelham

A Pelham bit has short shanks and two rings where reins can be attached.

double jointed copper lozenge bit

Click to see this bit at Amazon

What you should know:

  • Can be used with one set of reins or two
  • Reins attached to top rings apply direct pressure to mouth
  • Reins attached to lowest rings will apply pressure to the poll
  • Use a curb chain when reins are attached to lowest ring
  • Can be used with numerous mouthpieces

Best suited for:

  • Advanced horses who need a tune-up
  • Horses who tend to lift their heads to evade the bit
  • Both beginner and advanced riders, with reins adjusted accordingly

Try this bit at Amazon

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best bit for a horse that pulls?

A horse may try to pull the reins from the rider’s hands if the bit is causing discomfort. Try a very mild bit like a PeeWee or Mullen mouth, or even a bitless bridle, to see if the problem ceases. If it continues, practice holding on to the front of the saddle so the horse “self corrects” this behavior.

What is the best bit for a horse that leans?

A Waterford bit with loose rings is uncomfortable for horses to lean on because they can’t easily grab hold of it. It is not for beginners.

online horse courses

What is the best bit for a horse that bolts?

A bolting horse cannot be brought under control by pulling straight back on the reins – no matter what type of bit is in its mouth. You can also use an emergency stop if you’re in danger. 

Learn to sharply turn the horse into a one-rein stop as soon as he ignores your cues to slow down – even well before a “bolt.” To execute this incredible maneuver swiftly and forcefully in the heat of the moment, practice, practice, practice. It can be accomplished in any type of bit. Learn how to do an emergency dismount as well.

What is the best bit for a horse that bucks?

A horse theoretically cannot buck unless their head lowers. To prevent a horse from bucking, you’ll need to keep your hands strong and high. A leverage bit can give you some extra lifting power if the horse still manages to yank the reins from your hands and buck. Try a Pelham, wonder bit, Kimberwick, or grazing bit.

Note that this solution is best for horses who buck in an effort to intimidate their rider and get out of work. Ideally, you’ll be able to work through the problem and return to a gentler bit. If the bucking is caused by pain or confusion, the leverage bit may help keep you momentarily safe, but it won’t address the cause of the problem. Keep looking for answers with your vet and trainer.

What is the best bit for a horse that rears?

Take care not to use severe bits on horses that rear, as they may rear in response to a bit that causes pain or confusion. It’s critical to teach such a horse to soften and yield to all kinds of pressure, whether in their mouth, on their poll, or elsewhere on their body.

Rearing is very dangerous, so engage a trusted trainer to work through this behavior.

What is the best bit for a horse that crosses his jaw?

A loose-ring snaffle is difficult to grab onto, especially with a loose chain or Waterford mouthpiece. Try a figure-8 noseband too. For western show disciplines where this noseband is not allowed, consider teaching your horse how to respond to a hackamore instead.

Parting Thoughts

Remember, sometimes a stronger bit is just a Band-Aid. If you feel like your horse takes control of a situation or takes advantage of you, don’t hesitate to work with a trainer. Even if your horse is usually quite well-behaved, horses are clever and sometimes they play games!

Due to their size, though, their shenanigans can lead to danger. Don’t be embarrassed to admit the problem to a trainer. It’s all part of learning how to be a horseperson.

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Sources/References (if needed):

https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/lifestyle/horse-nosebands-11817https://www.thesaddleryshop.co.uk/howto-choose-bits

 
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About the author

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Cathy H.

The only thing I love more than blogging about horses is hanging out with my Appoloosa gelding Chacos. (I also have a soft spot in my heart for OTTBs, thanks to my first childhood horse!) Chacos and I enjoy training across multiple English and Western disciplines. #varietyisthespiceoflife