Gear Riding Tips

16 Common Types of Horse Bits (A Helpful Illustrated Guide)

Written by Cathy H.

A simple horse bit guide: The 16 top horse bits for English and western riding

The world of horse bits is vast and entire books have been written about the topic. This article serves as a simplified guide to teach you all about the most common bits found in both English and Western disciplines. You can also find bits that cross over between disciplines, like our beloved Turnado, featured in our Herm Sprenger Bit Review.

There are many different components that can be combined to make hundreds of different bits for a myriad of uses. From what sits inside the horse’s mouth to how your reins attach, everything has a purpose and this guide will help you understand bits in a whole new way. 

Top 8 English Horse Bits and Their Uses

Top 8 Western Horse Bits and Their Uses

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Horse Bits 101: How Bits Work and Basic Bit Terminology

Bits attach to both the bridle and the reins and rest inside the horse’s mouth.

Horses naturally have a toothless area in their mouths at the upper corner of their lips, and the bit rests across the gums and tongue here.

Already know the basics? Jump to our top English bits or top Western bits.

When no pressure is applied to the reins, the bit should sit lightly in the mouth and cause the horse absolutely no discomfort.

When the rider uses the reins, the bit applies pressure to the tongue, gums and sometimes to the roof of the mouth as well, communicating different instructions to the horse.

Types of horse bits with “leverage” also apply pressure to the poll (the area between the ears) via the bridle, as well as under the chin due to a curb chain that goes under the chin.


Different parts of a horse bit (shown on a Kimberwick)

The mouthpiece is what sits inside the horse’s mouth. Mouthpieces come in many shapes and sizes and are also known as bars.

  • If the bar or mouthpiece has a single ring on either side, it is known as a snaffle bit.
  • If the mouthpiece is solid but has a raised bump in the middle, this bump is called a port.

Mouthpieces can be twisted, curved, or straight, can have rollers and balls for the horse to play with, and can be covered in rubber or made of copper.

The cheekpieces sit outside the horse’s mouth. The bridle attaches to the top and the reins attach to the bottom. There are many different styles of cheek pieces, including d-ring, eggbutt, and full cheek.

Certain cheekpieces can give you a little more leverage if needed. For example, types of horse bits with a full cheek piece make it easier to bump the horse’s head to the left or right if they aren’t paying attention to your gentler squeezes on the reins.

Loose ring cheekpieces require bit guards, which are round pieces of rubber that sit between the horse’s cheek and the cheekpiece. The loose rings can potentially snag a piece of the horse’s skin and pinch them, which can be startling and painful. Bit guards prevent this from happening.

Click to see top-rated bit guards at Amazon.

Shanks are long pieces that hang down past the horse’s chin. The longer the shank, the stronger the bit. Shanks provide leverage, and the longer pieces require very little movement on the reins to apply pressure to the horse’s mouth.

Shanks are commonly seen on western curb bits, and the leverage requires a curb chain in order to correctly distribute pressure through the bridle and to the poll. Curb chains can be actual chains or pieces of leather.

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How to Choose the Best Horse Bit

The wide variety of bits available are all meant to suit a specific combination of horse, rider, training goals, and discipline.

Even a small difference in the construction of the bit can affect how well the horse responds to the aids.

Already know the basics? Jump to our top English bits or top Western bits.

When choosing a bit, you need to consider five things:

  • Your hands
  • Your horse’s mouth
  • Any training problems you’re trying to address
  • Your chosen riding discipline
  • What events (if any) you want to show in

If you’re new to riding, check out our 6 best horse bits for beginners.

Your Hands

Your hands need to be able to move independently from the rest of your body. That means that even if you get a little unbalanced in the saddle, you don’t end up using more rein pressure for support.


Training yourself to achieve quiet hands is key.

You can move your hands up, down, and side to side while continuing to ride the trot or canter, or even while jumping.

If you do not yet have independent hands, you need to consider gentle bits that won’t cause your horse pain during your learning period.

Your Horse’s Mouth

Your horse’s mouth is an important consideration because some horses are more sensitive to rein pressure than others.


Some horses have more sensitive mouths than others.

A young horse or an inexperienced one (“green”) will tend to have very sensitive mouth and need a gentle bit paired with gentle hands.

On the other hand, some horses have been ridden with rough hands and in harsh bits for so long that they have what’s known as a “hard mouth.” These horses have become desensitized to light aids and may not respond to gentle bits anymore.

Hitting the trails? Check out our 5 best horse bits for trail riding.

Training Problems

The training problems you’re trying to address can also temporarily affect your choice of bit.


Make sure your bit helps you achieve your riding goals.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to have a horse that responds quickly to a light aid conveyed through a gentle bit.

But training challenges can be overcome with the help of different bits. For example, if your horse is hard to stop, a more powerful bit can give you a great back-up option while training him to stop with lighter aids.

Riding Discipline

The discipline you want to ride/show in will allow certain bits and ban others. There are many rules surrounding bits for hunters/jumpers, dressage, and western riding.


Somes bits aren’t allowed in certain competitions.

If you just want to ride your horse for fun and don’t have any intention of entering the show ring, it’s okay to mix and match your tack.

Ultimately, you may have to try different bits to see which one will work best. You can always return the ones you don’t choose!

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Top 8 English Horse Bits and Their Uses

Dressage rider on brown horse

Image courtesy of Canva

You can find bits in dozens of combinations of mouthpieces and cheekpieces. We’ll talk about a variety of combinations to show you the most commonly used english horse bit for different scenarios in this section.

1. D-Ring Snaffle With a Single Joint and Smooth Bars

What you should know:

Because the bars are smooth versus twisted, a d ring snaffle is considered a gentler snaffle.

However, the single jointed mouthpiece means that harsh hands can put significant “nutcracker” pressure on the horse’s lower jaw and roof of the mouth, so it’s still important to have soft hands with this bit.

Click to see it on Amazon

You can also choose bars that are thick or thin in order to fine-tune the effect of this bit. The large D-ring cheekpiece provides very mild leverage in comparison to some other cheekpiece styles.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Lower level dressage
  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on Amazon

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2. Eggbutt French Link Snaffle

What you should know:

Eggbutt snaffle cheekpieces look a bit like an egg and are meant to prevent pinching of the horse’s cheeks. “French Link” refers to the two joints in this snaffle bit, which reduces the pressure on the horse’s lower jaw when both reins are squeezed.

Click to see it on Amazon

This is considered a gentle bit and can be found with a curved mouthpiece to make it even softer.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Lower level dressage
  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on Amazon

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3. Loose Ring Polymer-Covered Mullen Snaffle

What you should know:

A Mullen bit is a straight bar with no joint. Because it has little to no nutcracker action (pressure only goes onto the tongue and lower jaw, not onto the roof of the mouth), it is believed to be very gentle.

The loose ring snaffle also allows the horse a little more “play” with the bit because there is no leverage.

Click to see it on Amazon

The bit mouthpiece moves freely in the cheekpieces, so the horse can wiggle his head a little without hitting resistance from the rider’s hands.

Combine these facts with the soft (and often apple-scented!) polymer covering, and this is a very popular bit for young horses’ first rides.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Training youngsters
  • Lower level dressage
  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on Amazon

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4. Full Cheek Double Twisted Wire Snaffle

What you should know:

This is certainly a combination meant for training purposes and should be used by experienced riders with independent and forgiving hands. Full cheek cheekpieces need “keepers” to hold the bit in the correct and effective position in the mouth.

Click to see it on Amazon

These long cheekpieces are helpful for when a horse doesn’t turn very well, because they put pressure on the side of the cheek and make your request a little more obvious.

The twisted wire makes it very uncomfortable for a horse to lean on this bit, so if your horse has a habit of pulling the reins out of your hands (which could also be a sign that your hands are too rough!) or otherwise leans on the reins and ignores your aids to stop, this bit could be a good choice for retraining.

The double wires apply pressure on both the top of the mouth and the tongue.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Full cheeks are permitted in lower level dressage only if they have smooth bars (same goes for any other snaffles in dressage)
  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on Amazon

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5. Pelham Bit With Copper Link

What you should know:

Pelhams are meant to be used with two sets of reins so that you can take advantage of both direct pressure and leverage on the poll and chin. You can add a leather strap known as a “Pelham converter,” however, to use it with single reins.


Click to see it on State Line Tack

Alternatively, you can remove the bottom curb rein for beginner riders. Because it does have leverage action, it is used with a curb chain.

Adding copper to the link in this bit makes the horse find it “tasty” and enjoy having the bit in their mouth a little more.

Note: Pelhams are used with double reins, but they are NOT allowed at any level of dressage.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on State Line Tack

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6. Kimberwick With Medium Port and Roller

What you should know:

Kimberwicks are easy to identify based on the D-ring cheek pieces that have two separate spaces for you to attach reins. They are like Pelhams but are meant to primarily be used with one rein.

You can choose whether you want direct rein action (the top rein slot) or more leverage (the bottom rein slot).

Click to see it on Amazon

The port is the raised area in the bar, and it touches the roof of the mouth when rein pressure is used. Higher ports require less effort to exert pressure on the roof of the mouth, and low ports require more.

Ports sometimes have rollers, which may or may not be made of copper, which allows busy horses to play with the bit a little, rolling that metal piece with their tongue.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on Amazon

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7. Double Bridle: Bridoon and Weymouth

What you should know:

Double bridles should really be called double bits to avoid confusion! Two independent bits sit inside the horse’s mouth, each with its own set of reins.

One is always a snaffle style bit and, in this situation, is referred to as a “bridoon.”

Click to see it on Amazon

The other is a curb bit with a solid bar (with or without a port), which is called a “weymouth” when used in a double bridle.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Upper level dressage
  • Saddle seat

See this bit on Amazon

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8. English Shank Bit

What you should know:

Shank bits are characterized by the long pieces that hang down past the horse’s chin. These bits can have a variety of mouthpieces, including joints or ports.

Click to see it on Amazon

They are commonly seen with gaited horses because the extra leverage helps to keep the head up, allowing the shoulder to move freely.

Where you’ll see it: 

  • Saddle Seat
  • Gaited classes

See this bit on Amazon

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Want to see a super cross-over bit that works for English and Western? Learn more in our Herm Sprenger Turnado Bit Review.

Top 8 Western Horse Bits and Their Uses

Bay Western horse

Image courtesy of Canva

In English disciplines, you use the reins with both hands to cue your horse. In Western riding, you typically use one hand to communicate with your horse.

Therefore, most western bits are curb bits with leverage action and are typically not jointed. However, there are always exceptions to every rule.

Here are eight bits you’ll encounter for western riding.

1. Hanging Cheek Snaffle with Copper Lozenge

What you should know:

A common misconception about snaffle bits is that they are only seen in English disciplines. Because they are incredibly versatile, snaffle bits are seen virtually anywhere horses are ridden.

Click to see it on Amazon

In western disciplines, it’s more common to see cheekpieces like a hanging cheek snaffle.

These have single round (usually) cheekpieces that the reins attach to, but the bridle attaches to a piece about half an inch higher than the circle, giving the bit a very mild amount of leverage.

The copper lozenge promotes salivation, which in turn encourages the jaw to stay loose.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Training youngsters who do not yet reliably neck rein
  • Western pleasure

See this bit on Amazon

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2. Tom Thumb

What you should know:

Tom Thumbs look simple but have a lot of power. They have a single joint in the middle, and it might be easy to confuse them with the much milder jointed snaffle mouthpiece.

But, a Tom Thumb bit has shanks instead of rings. This makes it a leverage bit.

Click to see it on Amazon

The longer the shanks, the more power that your hands exert on the bit.

The fact that this leverage bit also has a jointed mouthpiece means that the pressure acts as a “nutcracker” on the horse’s lower jaw. This bit only in the hands of someone who has soft hands, because improper use can lead to an unhappy horse.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Western Pleasure
  • Reining
  • Barrel Racing

See this bit on Amazon

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3. Ported Curb Bit with Roller and Jointed Angled Shanks

What you should know:

The raised area commonly seen in many western mouthpieces is called a port.

Its primary purpose is to provide more space for the horse’s tongue, although in some cases high ports can also touch the roof of the mouth to exert pressure.

port curb bit

Click to see this bit at Amazon

An optional roller in the middle of the port helps keep the horse’s jaw loose by letting him roll his tongue around.

The angled shanks mean that the horse can become more sensitive to rein aids, because the horse can feel the tension gradually increase in the reins until pressure is felt in the bit and bridle.

Straight shanks do not provide this built-in warning system, and thus make it more difficult to create a horse who is light on the aids.

Jointed shanks also allow for some lateral play, which is useful in sports like reining and barrel racing.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Western Pleasure
  • Barrel Racing
  • Reining

See this bit on Amazon

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4. Chain Bit with Port and Cavalry Shanks

What you should know:

Chain bits have a mouthpiece made of chain, which allows the mouthpiece to be very flexible and to exert less pressure on the lower jaw than bits with single joints.

Some chain bits consist of a couple links of chain on either side of a port, which can be low or tall.

Click to see it on Amazon

Trainers often use chain bits to encourage lateral flexion. The cavalry shanks are also called S-shanks due to their shape and, like angled shanks, allow for more refinement of the rein aids.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Reining
  • Roping

See this bit on Amazon

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5. Gag Bit

What you should know:

A gag bit, also known as an elevator bit, is like a combination of a curb bit and a snaffle bit. It typically has a jointed mouthpiece and multiple rings down the shank to allow you to determine how much leverage action you want.

Click to see it on Amazon

It can also be used purely as a snaffle if you only attach reins to the ring directly across from the mouthpiece.

Or, you can use it like a Tom Thumb and only attach reins to the lower rings for leverage.

Finally, it can be used like a Pelham by attaching two sets of reins: one to the snaffle rings and one to the curb rings.

This is definitely a powerful bit, and is primarily used when a horse gets too heavy on the forehand or leans on the bit, especially when ignoring stop cues. It raises or “elevates” the horse’s head.

This bit should be left to experienced riders!

Where you’ll see it: 

  • Ranch riding
  • Roping
  • Barrel Racing
  • Hunter/jumper

See this bit on Amazon

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6. Correction Bit

What you should know:

Contrary to what you may be thinking, correction bits are actually meant for horses that need very little disciplinary correction.

This bit is reserved for horses who are already well-trained and ready to respond to the subtle cues that a correction bit can transmit.

Click to see it on Amazon

Correction bits are leverage bits with ports that have a joint on either side. The shanks are also jointed and are s-shaped.

Where you’ll see it: 

  • Reining
  • Ranch riding

See this bit on Amazon

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7. Mullen Mouth Curb Bit with Grazing Shanks

What you should know:

A Mullen mouth curb bit has a straight mouthpiece with no port. Some horses may benefit from a low port in order to have more room for their tongue.

This is a simple and mild bit, especially when paired with short curved or angled shanks.

Click to see it on Amazon

Shanks that are angled back are sometimes called grazing shanks, because one of the original uses was to prevent horses from chewing on the shanks when grazing.

Where you’ll see it:

  • Western pleasure
  • Barrel racing

See this bit on Amazon

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8. Cathedral Bit or Spoon Bit with Sweet Iron

What you should know:

Cathedral bits have a tall, narrow port with a flat addition to the top. A spoon bit is a slightly less extreme-looking version of a cathedral bit. They sometimes have rollers below the port.

These bits are intended to help a horse stay soft at the poll and are meant for horses and riders with advanced training. Like copper, sweet iron helps horses salivate and stay soft in their jaws.

Click to see it at Amazon

Sweet iron does rust easily, but this rust is usually not a problem because horses still love the taste.

Where you’ll see it: 

  • Reining
  • Ranch riding
  • Barrel racing

See it on Amazon

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Horse bits in order of harshness

It’s necessary to group bits together before comparing them. For example, we cannot compare all the different types of curb bits to all the different types of snaffle bits.

Due to the incredible variability, we also have to look at each characteristic of the bit as well.

  • When talking about snaffle bits, loose ring cheekpieces are believed to be the mildest choice due to the play they offer.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, full cheek snaffles are believed to provide more control over the horse.
  • Mullen mouths do not have a nutcracker action, and thus they are a mild mouthpiece for a snaffle.
  • On the other hand, a single joint snaffle can dig into the roof of the mouth and apply significant pressure to the lower jaw.
  • French links offer a middle ground.
  • Smooth mouthpieces are gentler than twisted or textured mouthpieces.
  • Finally, the thickness of the mouthpiece in terms of the horse’s comfort depends largely on the size and shape individual horse’s mouth, but generally thicker mouthpieces are believed to be gentler than thin ones.

Bits with ports can be evaluated based on the size of the port. Shallow ports are milder than tall, narrow ports because they act on the tongue rather than the bars of the mouth.

The severity of curb bits can be judged on the length of the shank. Shorter shanks are milder than longer shanks because they offer less leverage.

Curved or angled shanks are more gentle than straight shanks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a horse bit?

A bit is a piece of metal (typically stainless steel, copper or “sweet iron”) that rests inside a horse’s mouth. Horses have teeth in the very front of their mouths and in long rows alongside their cheekbones, but naturally have no teeth at the corners of their mouth.

This is where the bit rests, on top of the tongue. Depending on the style of bit, the horse feels pressure on their lower jaw, tongue, and roof of their mouth, chin or poll when the rider uses the reins.

Q: Do bits hurt horses? (i.e. Are horse bits cruel?)

The goal of any bit is to communicate through it in a light and easy way. This is also the goal of any riding – to make working with a horse look effortless!

Therefore, bits themselves are not cruel when used by experienced and compassionate trainers and riders.

Regardless of their purpose, they come in contact with a highly sensitive part of the horse’s body.

Even the gentlest bits can cause pain and discomfort when the person on the other end of the reins is using them unpleasantly.

It’s important to remember that bits, like many other tools used in horse training, operate on the principle of pressure and release.

During the training process, the bit puts pressure on the horse’s mouth or face and causes the horse to move or react a certain way to avoid that pressure.

Although this pressure is meant to be uncomfortable enough to elicit a response, the right training approach will never cause the horse to be in pain.

For example, when the horse responds correctly, the pressure should be released by the trainer as a reward.

Good trainers know to apply only the lightest pressure needed to get a response and to release the pressure in a timely manner.

It doesn’t take long for a horse to associate light pressure as a request to do a certain thing, like bend, stop, back up or even lower their nose.

Q: How do you measure a horse bit?

Lay the bit flat on a table with the cheekpieces out to the side (if the cheekpieces are mobile). Using a ruler, measure the space between the cheek pieces.

Common bit sizes are 5, 5.5, or 6 inches.

Q: Is a French link stronger than a snaffle?

It may depend on which snaffle you’re comparing a French link to, but generally, a French link bit is milder than a snaffle bit.

French link bits don’t have the nutcracker effect that a single-jointed snaffle does and so lays flat across the tongue. This minimizes any pinching and can be more comfortable for a horse with a lower palate.

Of course, the relative strength of any bit depends as much on the rider’s hands as the design of the bit. A French link snaffle is mild and can create a softer, rounder partner, provided you don’t apply heavy pressure with your hands.

Q: What is an Eggbutt snaffle used for?

An Eggbutt snaffle is one of the most commonly used snaffle bits. It’s great when training a young or green horse and is a perfect choice for riding in general.

Many dressage horses will start in an Eggbutt snaffle and many Western horses will begin their training in this bit, as well.

This type of bit is perfect for training and general riding because it prevents pinching and allows for clear, uncomplicated communication with the horse.

It sits quite securely in the horse’s mouth and is a mild bit with gentle curves. An Eggbutt snaffle does have a thicker mouthpiece, so not all horses will like it.

Q: Broadly speaking, what are some different types of western horse bits?

  • Hanging Cheek Snaffle: Very mild leverage and often used with young horses
  • Tom Thumb: Stronger leverage bit for experienced horses and riders
  • Ported Curb: Room for tongue relief, but still for experienced hands
  • Chain Bit with Port: Flexible and less pressure than single-joint port bits
  • Gag: Multiple rings allow you to adjust amount of leverage
  • Correction: Only for well-trained horses who respond to subtle cues
  • Mullen Mouth Curb: Simple and mild option with straight mouth piece
  • Cathedral: Tall and narrow port that’s appropriate for advanced horses and riders

Q: Why do horses chew on the bit?

Wouldn’t it be kind of weird to hold something in your mouth without trying to move it around? It’s a natural response for horses to chew on the bit, although some do it far more often than others.

In fact, horses who busily chew on their bits might be less obvious about it with a roller to play with instead.

Chewing on the bit could also be a sign of discomfort that the horse can’t find a way to avoid.

Take into consideration the horse’s other body language to know if he’s chewing because he’s playful or because he’s upset, and don’t be too quick to apply a tight noseband to make the behavior go away.

Q: Where can I find a horse bit severity chart?

Check out the best bits for Quarter Horses, which features a severity chart of common snaffle bits.

Q: How do you fit a horse’s bit correctly?

First, use a bit sizer to help you measure your horse’s mouth so that you know what size bit to get. A bit that’s too small might pinch the corners of your horse’s mouth, and a bit that’s too large won’t be effective.

Next, with the bridle on and the bit in your horse’s mouth, take a look at the wrinkles that form at the corners of his mouth.

Approximately 2 wrinkles indicate that the bit is sitting in the right spot and won’t interfere with the horse’s teeth.

Pull at the bridle’s cheekpieces (the leather straps connecting the bit to the bridle) to make sure they are not too slack; if you can pull them quite far away from your horse’s face, the bit is sitting too low.

On the other hand, if you can barely tug the cheekpiece away, the bit is sitting too high.

Take a look at the joint where the bit’s mouthpiece connects to the bit’s cheekpiece. It should sit far enough away from the horse’s skin to avoid pinching.

If you have questions about whether a particular bit is well-suited to your horse, an experienced trainer or bit fitter are great resources!

Q: What is the best Tennessee Walking Horse bit?

It totally depends on your Tennessee Walking Horse and on your own hands. Gaited horses are typically shown in double bridles or in curb bits.

But if you’re just on the farm having fun, there’s no reason you can’t ride your Tennessee Walking Horse in a D-ring snaffle. See “How to Choose the Right Bit” above for more information.

Q: What is the best all-around horse bit?

You can use snaffle bits in virtually all horse competitions. They are the most universally accepted bits and many horses like them.

If you have an all-around horse and want to go from one discipline to the next without fussing with a different bit, try a snaffle.

Q: What is the best quarter horse bit?

It definitely depends on your quarter horse’s training, the discipline you want to show in, and your own ability as a rider.

Quarter Horses are very versatile and compete successfully in Western pleasure, barrel racing, hunters, and even dressage, but all of these disciplines have different rules about which bits are allowed in the show ring.

If you just like to ride around the ranch, consider whether you like riding with one hand or two, and how your horse seems to prefer being ridden as well.

Choose a mild Western or English bit accordingly and go from there.

See our article about the best bits for quarter horses for more information.

Q: What is the best gaited horse bit?

Gaited horses can be ridden in many different types of bits, but choosing the best one depends on several different factors. You need to consider your individual horse and even your own abilities and preferences.

See “How to Choose the Right Bit” above for more information.

Q: What is the best barrel horse bit?

You typically need to communicate with the reins using just one hand when barrel racing, so a Western bit is ideal. The exact style of the bit depends on how well the horse responds to your cues to turn and to stop.

Curb bits are commonly seen during barrel races, but that doesn’t mean you have to use these bits. It depends on each individual rider and horse, and sometimes experimentation is the only way to make a final decision.

See “How to Choose the Right Bit” above for more information.

Q: What is the best gentle horse bit?

Mullen mouths with thick, smooth bars tend to be the gentlest option, especially when the cheekpieces are loose rings. For a western option, choose short shanks with the Mullen mouthpiece.

Q: How do you clean a horse bit?

The best way to clean a horse bit is with warm soapy water (Dawn dish soap is fine), a scrubby brush (old toothbrushes work well), and some elbow grease.

Let the bit soak in the water for a few minutes before you start scrubbing. When it looks clean, rinse it off in clean water and dry it with a towel or let it air dry.

For fancy show bits with silver cheekpieces, carefully apply polish without getting it on the mouthpiece.

Q: How do you clean a rusty horse bit?

This may sound odd, but horses actually like the taste of a rusty bit! Bits with a small amount of rust are fine to use as long as the joints are still strong.

But if it just seems too weird to allow rust to hang around, use steel wool to rub it off.

rusty horse bit

Source: Canva

Q: How do you put a horse bit in the mouth?

There are several ways to put a bit in your horse’s mouth, and some of the methods depend on your horse’s training and cooperation.

This is a common way to put a bit in a horse’s mouth:

  1. Stand on your horse’s left side. Hold the reins and the crownpiece of the bridle with your right hand. Support the bit with your left hand.
  2. Place your right hand on the horse’s forehead and guide it up between the ears while your left hand holds the bit in front of your horse’s lips.
  3. At this point, a well-trained and cooperative horse will open his mouth. You just help guide the bit into place while your right hand keeps the bit in position. Once the bit is in the horse’s mouth, proceed to put the bridle over his ears. Then, you can do up all the necessary buckles.

What if the horse has other ideas about (NOT) accepting the bit? Try this:

  1. Stand on your horse’s left side. Hold the bridle in your right hand by grasping it around both of the cheekpieces. Support the bit with your left hand. Let the reins hang out of the way over your left shoulder.
  2. Place your right hand on top of the horse’s nose (where the noseband sits) and apply pressure as needed in case the horse decides to toss or twist his head.
  3. While holding the bit close to the horse’s lips, wiggle your left thumb into the corner of the horse’s mouth. Press down on his gums if needed to encourage him to open his mouth.
  4. As soon as he opens his mouth, raise both your hands so that the bit is guided into place (left hand) and held there (right hand).
  5. If you miss, try, try again!
  6. An extra tip: If you’re short and your horse likes to lift his head in the air, stand on the mounting block to bridle.

What do you do if you’ve tried both of these methods and your horse still fights you like crazy and you start feeling super frustrated?

Employ the tried-and-true cookie method:

  1. Stand on your horse’s left side. Hold the reins and the crownpiece of the bridle with your right hand.
  2. Grab a chunk of carrot, a piece of apple, or a peppermint (or maybe all three) and place this in your left hand. Next, hold the bit in your left hand too.
  3. Some horses won’t need much persuasion and will happily eat the treat. You just need to be ready to push/pull the bit into the horse’s mouth at the opportune moment (i.e., as soon as he opens his mouth to eat the treat).
  4. Other horses will be mighty suspicious about this tactic and may need to eat a treat out of your hand without having the bit pushed in at the same time. Let them warm up to the idea!
  5. Once they get a little more cooperative, you can give the treat after the horse has already accepted the bit. Eventually, you can keep your horse guessing by giving a treat sometimes, but not all the time.

Q: Who are the top horse bit makers?

Some of the most common names in bit making include Myler, Happy Mouth, Reinsman, Sprenger, and Korsteel. Of course, there are hundreds of bit brands to choose from, making it easy to find one that suits your horse and your budget.

When in doubt, read reviews about the brand.

Speaking of customer insights, read our Herm Sprenger Turnado Bit Review here.

Q: What are the top 10 WORST horse bits?

Of course, if you ask 10 horse pros for their opinions, you’ll get 10 different responses for this question.

Some bits that are universally acknowledged as just plain wrong include:

  • Bicycle chain bits
  • Anything with sharp points on the bit intended to poke the horse

Q: Are chain bits harsh?

Like the name implies, a chain bit has a mouthpiece that is either a complete chain or a chain interrupted by a port.

Chain bits look like they really dig into a horse’s mouth–and of course with rough hands, this could definitely happen.

But many riders and trainers find that horses relax and are willing to become laterally flexible with this very flexible bit.

It’s considered a mild bit that has a little more power than single jointed bit or French link bits.

Q: How does a correction bit work?

Although the name might make you think that this type of bit is meant for young horses who need a lot of “corrections,” a correction bit refers to a bit that Western horses wear once they have reached a high level of training.

The correction bit allows the rider to make very subtle hand movements while still communicating to the horse.

Correction bits often have tall ports and long jointed shanks so that very little effort is required to send a signal to the bit.

These same qualities make a correction bit inappropriate for a beginner rider, whose unbalanced hands can be too rough on the horse’s mouth in combination with this bit.

Q: Can you ride a horse without a bit?

Absolutely! A hackamore is a type of bitless bridle that exerts pressure on the nose through modified shanks, but other bitless bridles exist that simply attach the reins to a regular noseband instead of to a bit.

Some riders attach reins to either side of a halter (which can be leather, nylon or rope).

In fact, it’s also possible to ride a horse with a neck rope or nothing on the head and neck at all! However, both the horse and rider need to be trained to ride this way so that the horse listens well to other cues, such as your seat and voice.

Check out (Bit)Less is More: Bitless Horseback Riding for Beginners for more information.

Return to Article Index

Voila, Horse Bits Explained!

Actually, there’s plenty left to learn about all the different bits for horses. But this article gives you a solid introduction to the most common English and Western bits and their uses. 

When in doubt, consult a trusted trainer, try several options, then pick the bit that works best for you and your horse.

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About the author


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