Choosing the Right Bit for Your Horse

Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-273


By Jessica Jahiel

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$4.99 CAD


ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $3.99 $4.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 15, 2001. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Jessica Jahiel explains everything you need to know about the different types of bits and how they work so that you can decide which one is best for your horse, your goals, and your budget. She also shows you how to position and adjust bits correctly and goes over the options for riders who prefer not to use a bit at all.


The Rider

Honesty is an essential part of horsemanship. Be honest with yourself about your ability, experience, and skill. In the hands of an experienced rider, a bit is an effective communication device, but it easily becomes a torture device in the hands of one less skilled. “Good hands” are not a gift — riders develop them over time through hundreds of hours of correct riding. And it’s not possible to develop good hands without a strong, supple, balanced seat, which also takes much time and work to acquire. Whether you have a good seat and good hands or are working hard to reach that level, always choose the mildest bit suitable for the horse and the job.

The Horse

A horse’s mouth is unique, and the conformation of a horse’s head, muzzle, and mouth varies by breed. To select an appropriate bit, you need not be familiar with all types of conformation, but you should be well aware of the physical characteristics of your own horse. A good bit choice will fit and suit your horse’s mouth, be accepted by him, and facilitate (not impede) the “riding dialogue” between you and your horse.

Other physical characteristics to bear in mind include your horse’s age, the width of his jaw, the length and depth of his mouth, the height and texture of his palate, the width of his bars, the thickness of his tongue and lips, and the general health of his mouth and teeth. No bit will be comfortable for a horse who has a scarred tongue, injured gums, an abscessed tooth, or sharp points and edges on molars in need of floating. Routine dental care and owner attention are essential to maintaining the overall health of your horse’s mouth.

What Does a Bit Do?

Many riders — and some people who have never been near a horse — mistakenly believe that the bit and reins are used, often suddenly and violently, to stop and turn a horse. That’s simply untrue. A good rider always uses seat, leg, and weight aids before making gentle use of the bit.

A bit is an instrument of communication. The gentle, educated use of a well-selected bit allows a rider to communicate to a horse subtle requests concerning the position of his nose and also gives context to requests made with seat, legs, or weight aids. Neither the rider nor the horse should put strong tension on the reins or rely on the reins for balance. The ultimate aim of a rider should be to acquire “educated hands”— which are even better and rarer than the coveted “good hands”— so that the bit is always used with clear, gentle finesse. In the meantime, the rider should allow the horse to accept the bit calmly, with a soft mouth and relaxed jaw.

A rider with a good seat and educated hands uses leg and seat aids before making gentle use of the bit.

How Does a Bit Work?

A bit works by applying pressure to sensitive points in a horse’s mouth and on his head. Inside a horse’s mouth, pressure points include the bars and tongue (where the bit mouthpiece rests), the corners of the mouth, and the palate. On the head, the points of contact are the poll, the nose, the lower jaw, and the chin groove, where the curb strap or curb chain is positioned. Depending on its design, a bit or a bridle without a bit puts pressure on one or more of these points. The amount of pressure depends partly on the bit’s design and partly on the amount of force used by the rider.


The bars are the toothless areas of a horse’s gumline, located between the incisors and the premolars, where a bit rests. The bars, which consist of skin that covers a thin layer of nerves and tissue over bone, are extremely sensitive, much like the shins of humans.

Pressure points on a horse’s head and inside his mouth

A snaffle bit rests on the bars and the tongue, even when there is no pressure on the reins. If the horse bends at the poll and carries his head more vertically, he can remove pressure from the bars. A leverage, or curb, bit puts pressure on the bars that increases whenever pressure on the reins increases.


Every bit, no matter how its mouthpiece is designed, puts some pressure on the horse’s tongue. Center links in double-jointed snaffles, and ports in ported snaffles and curb bits, are intended to provide room for the horse’s tongue and, thus, some relief from pressure. A straight mouthpiece puts a great deal of pressure on the horse’s tongue. A thick, straight bit, such as the “gentle,” rubber-covered snaffle, can exert painful pressure in a horse having a thick tongue and low palate or small mouth. Such a horse may need to keep his mouth open if ridden in a rubber bit, which does not leave sufficient room for the tongue.


On Sale
Aug 15, 2001
Page Count
32 pages

Jessica Jahiel

Jessica Jahiel

About the Author

Jessica Jahiel is an internationally renowned lecturer, clinician, and award-winning author who answers equine-related questions in her online newsletter, Horse-Sense. She also responds to questions about horse behavior, riding matters, and anything else readers want to discuss in Horse & Rider, Equus, and Dressage Today, as well as in her best-selling books The Horse Behavior Problem Solver and The Rider’s Problem Solver. Jahiel lives in Illinois.

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