Heave ho, please, WHOA!
Do you constantly find yourself on the losing end of a tug-of-war game with your horse? Whether your horse is pulling down, leaning, or simply ignoring your cues, it can be frustrating to deal with these types of issues. You need a solution to help you and your horse get back on the same page.
The first step in fixing any issue with your horse is always ruling out a physical problem. The next step might be switching out your horse’s bit. In this post, we will explore alternate bit options for situations when standard bits become incompatible with your horse. Always work with a professional trainer to correct any underlying training issues when in doubt.
If your horse has been cleared of all health and tack issues, you may need a bit more oomph than your average snaffle. But with so many bits out there, how do you choose the right one?
Here’s a quick overview of the bits we’ll discuss in this article.
- Can be used as a snaffle or as a curb (or both)
- Perfect if you need stronger brakes
- Encourages greater neck flexibility
- Price range: $50-$80
- See it at Amazon
Stubben Golden Wings
- Can be used as a mild gag or as a loose ring
- Curve forms to your horse’s mouth
- Price range: $125-$150
- See it at Amazon
Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle
- Customized for English, Western, Nylon, and Driving
- Can be customized to fit any size horse
- A bit-free system that applies painless pressure and allows for clear communication
- Price range: $80-$100
- See it at Smartpak
Neue Schule Verbindend Loose Ring
- Clarifies rein signals
- Increases shoulder freedom
- Prevents tongue evasions
- Price range: $150-$175
- See it at SmartPak
- Multiple links and joints
- Encourages your horse to play with the bit
- Prevents your horse from leaning on the bit
- Price range: $30-$50
- See it at Amazon
Horse Bits 101
When dealing with any possible bit issues, it’s best to start by calling your vet, an equine dentist, and a tack fitter to rule out any underlying causes of bit resistance or pulling.
You’ll also want to consider working with a qualified trainer to address any training or balance issues you or your horse may have.
If a stronger bit is the solution, decide why your horse needs it (biting down vs. pulling vs. leaning) and how much leverage you need.
Make sure you plan to transition back down to a softer bit (or even no bit at all).
Bits can be divided into two main categories: snaffle and leverage (curb). Which category they’re in depends on where each bit applies pressure.
There are also bitless bridles, or hackamores, which generally lack a bit.
Reasons a Horse May Pull or Lean
A horse may pull, lean, or root for dozens of reasons when riding.
Sometimes, the horse is well-trained yet simply strong.
The root cause of pulling can often be traced to a few issues: ill-fitting tack (saddle, bridle, or bit), soreness or pain, and/or incorrect training.
If your horse is pulling or grabbing on the bit, a good first step is to call out an equine dentist. Something as simple as a wolf tooth or overgrown teeth can lead to bit resistance.
Other reasons? He could be unbalanced, you could be relying too heavily on your hands for your balance, he is too much on the forehand, he is moving too fast (or too slow), or you inadvertently start a “pulling war” (hint: your horse will win).
If a horse is unbalanced, I like to work with him for a few weeks in a halter on a lunge line.
Walking in large circles (at least 20m) for at least 30 minutes (60 is better) allows him to find his natural gait, speed, and balance. Once he’s more consistent at the walk, add in the trot.
Again, ensure you’ve ruled out any medical reasons for bad bit behavior (like an ill-fitting saddle or girth, the wrong-sized bit, back pain, or tooth issues).
Right Bit/Wrong Hands
I know how tempting it can be to switch to a stronger bit when a training issue doesn’t resolve quickly.
Unfortunately, this often brings only temporary release, and you end up with a horse that pulls more than before.
Beginners and low intermediates should stick with double-jointed snaffle bits while they learn to find their balance independent of the horse’s mouth.
As riders progress upwards (once you can walk, trot, canter, trot, walk with only your leg and seat), stronger bits can be introduced without creating pulling or other resistance issues.
When in doubt, seek the help of a reputable trainer.
How a Trainer Might Help
A trainer can recommend a bit and training routine best suited to you and your horse and prevent pulling issues from worsening.
They can also do a few rides on your horse to see where any issues or gaps in his knowledge lie and may even suggest a few lessons for you on a horse with a higher level of training.
Sometimes, the issue you and your horse have can’t be resolved with you riding him.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to let a qualified professional ride your horse.
Pay particular attention to what they do with their legs, seat, and hands, and figure out how to apply that to yourself.
A versatile choice that applies pressure in three places: mouth, poll, and chin. An excellent choice for a solid intermediate or advanced rider who is light-handed but occasionally needs a stronger rein command.
- Comes with an adjustable curb
- Two rein slots to play with leverage
- Great for transitioning to/practicing with double reins
- May not be show legal (depending on the organization)
- Can be harsh if used incorrectly
Stubben Golden Wings
This bit can be used in a combination of ways, depending on where you attach the reins and the bit strap. I like that you can change these elements around as your horse progresses.
- Copper metal encourages a soft mouth
- No palate pressure
- Not show legal
Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle
I know what you’re thinking: “If my horse is pulling, won’t taking away the bit mean he’ll run away with me?” Quite the opposite. Even the gentlest bit in the hands of the most experienced rider can still be used incorrectly or accidentally cause pain or discomfort.
This bitless bridle encourages a natural head position. It allows you to communicate with your horse through an intuitive pressure system that he’ll pick up on super-quick.
Plus, your horse can’t bite down on, grab, or evade the bit since this bridle doesn’t have one.
- Encourages a lighter forehand
- Helps eliminate unwanted behaviors like headshaking
- Safe for all ages and levels of riders
- Requires careful measurements for best fit
- Can be complicated to put on at first
Where to buy it: Here
Neue Schule Verbindend
An extremely versatile bit, it’s available as a snaffle, in pony sizes, and as a bradoon. It’s a great choice if you want your horse to learn to be lighter in your hands.
- Gentle u-shape more comfortable for many horses
- Dressage legal
- Perfect for forehand-heavy horses
- May not work well for higher-level training or very heavy horses
This bit may be worth trying if you need to re-train your horse to be sensitive to the bit. It can be either mild or harsh, depending on how you use it — so talk with your trainer first.
- Made for horses that grab the bit and run
- Flexible design that prevents bit grabbing
- Suitable for horses that pull before/after fences
- Not suitable for beginners
- Not show legal
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How does getting your horse’s teeth floated help with bit fit?
Floating a horse’s teeth is the process of filing down sharp points or ridges that may cause pain, discomfort, or irritation.
This helps provide an even surface for the bit so it will fit comfortably in your horse’s mouth and not pinch or squeeze sensitive areas of its mouth.
Q: How often should you get your horse’s teeth checked?
Ideally, a horse should have his teeth checked every 6-12 months. But this time frame can depend on the age of the horse.
Before age 5, horses undergo significant changes in their teeth and may need more frequent visits. Likewise, older horses may need more attention to ensure optimal chewing surfaces.
Similar to humans, horses can also develop abscesses or other dental issues that can cause significant pain and interfere with the ability to use a bit.
When in doubt, it’s always best to have your horse’s teeth checked out to ensure there aren’t major issues.
Q: How do you measure for the correct bit size?
There are two common ways to measure for correct bit size. The first is to buy a bit sizer, which is a plastic cylinder with measurements marked on it.
Simply put the bit sizer in your horse’s mouth and take note of the appropriate size. Depending upon the type of bit, you may need to add 1/4 or 1/2 inch to ensure the best fit.
The other option involves putting a piece of string in your horse’s mouth where the bit would sit. Mark each side, and remove and measure the length with a ruler.
Q: What’s a good Dressage bit for a strong horse?
A Kimberwick bit often works. This bit isn’t suitable for a beginner or any heavy-handed rider.
If you’ve ruled out all health and training issues and your horse still leans on your hands quite heavily, this bit does the trick.
It’s not legal for shows, but it is perfect for training or trail rides.
Q: What’s a good pony bit for strong ponies? Kid-friendly?
If you’re looking for a bit for a strong-mouthed pony that’s also kid-safe, look no further than the Neue Schule Verbindend Loose Ring.
It’s not severe, helps prevent tongue evasions, and encourages a softer mouth.
Q: How do you stop your horse from pulling on the bit?
Make sure your horse has been (correctly) taught that pressure is followed by release.
If pressure is applied with both reins, the horse stops, and the pressure is immediately released. The same goes for one rein (you apply, they respond, and the pressure disappears).
If your horse has learned to pull because of inconsistent or overly aggressive rein use, you may need to switch tactics for a while.
Ride on a loose rein with no contact, giving as many cues as possible with only your seat and leg.
Slowly reintroduce rein contact, over-emphasizing pressure, and release. Give ample praise when your horse responds.
If your horse is pulling, don’t immediately switch to a stronger bit, as this could make the problem worse and harder to fix.
Q: What’s the difference between a snaffle and a curb bit?
Curb bits have a shank, meaning the pressure put on the reins is intensified.
Snaffle bits don’t have a shank and, therefore, no intensified pressure when the rein is pulled.
If you’re confused about which type of bit to use, always consult a professional trainer.
Most of the time, your horse pulling on the bit is a sign of pain or improper training. Take the time to address these issues before turning to a harsher bit.
If a stronger bit is necessary, try to choose the least severe of the available options.
Make sure you take the time to properly measure the bit and consider working your horse on the lunge line first to let him adjust to it.
Don’t be afraid to try more than one bit to find the perfect fit for you and your horse. The right combination can make all the difference.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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- 5 Best Bits for Your Arabian Horses (English & Western)
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