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A Bit Confused About Bits?

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There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different bits on the market. Deciding which bit is best for your horse and chosen discipline can be a confusing and frustrating process. To assist you, we have partnered with Korsteel to explain how the different cheek types, mouthpieces, and materials work so you can more quickly find the right combination to meet your horse’s needs and preferences.

There is no one perfect bit for every horse, which is why there are so many different styles available. But the best choice for your individual horse provides maximum communication and comfort. In addition, if you choose to compete, the bit you use must conform to various association rules for your discipline, and those rules can change over time.

Table of Contents

Types of Bit Cheeks

Dee-Ring

Named after the letter it resembles, the dee-ring has fixed cheek pieces to prevent the mouthpiece from pinching the horse’s lips and sliding through his mouth. It is a good, basic cheek piece for starting a new or green horse. A hunter dee-ring typically has a thicker mouthpiece and rounder edges than a racing dee-ring.

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Full-Cheek

Full-cheeks have narrow “arms” that project above and below the rings to keep the mouthpiece from sliding in the horse’s mouth and to help emphasize the turning aids. Keepers attach the upper arms to the bridle to help stabilize the bit and prevent the bars from catching on anything. Full-cheek bits are good for horses who need help turning.

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Eggbutt

Eggbutts are fixed rings similar to dee-rings but oval shaped. They are slightly more likely to move sideways in the horse’s mouth but overall are a great choice for a green horse.

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Loose Ring

Loose rings are not fixed like dee-rings and eggbutts but can move freely through holes in the mouthpiece. Try loose rings if your horse braces against the bit to evade the rider’s rein aids.

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Gag

A gag bit employs rein attachments that thread through the cheek piece and attach to the bridle’s side pieces to exert pressure on the poll while lifting the mouthpiece, to encourage the horse to lift his head. A gag bit can be a good option for a strong horse, but only in the hands of an experienced horse person.

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Kimberwick

Like the Pelham, the Kimberwick (or Kimbelwick) combines the snaffle and curb bit into one mouthpiece to give the rider added control and encourage the horse to lower his head. Unlike the Pelham, the Kimberwick’s mouthpiece attaches toward the top of a “D”-shaped cheek instead of to a traditional shank. Because the “shank” of the Kimberwick’s cheek is considerably shorter than that of a Pelham, the Kimberwick is considered milder in the right hands.

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Dutch Gag

A three- or four-ring, European elevator or Dutch gag bit has one ring above the main ring and either three or four rings below it. The bridle’s cheek pieces attach to the upper ring, one pair of reins attaches to the main ring for a snaffle action and a second pair attaches to one of the lower rings, depending on how strong the rider needs the curb action to be. These are strong bits, typically used to encourage the horse to be lighter in front.

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Baucher

Because the Baucher has arms extending above the rings, it can be mistaken for a curb bit. But without arms extending below the rings, the Baucher has no pivot point and thus no leverage. The arms, which attach to the bridle’s cheekpieces, act to stabilize the bit. Without leverage they do not exert poll pressure. The Baucher is a good snaffle for horses that tolerate very little bit movement in their mouths.

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Types of Mouthpieces

Twisted

A twisted bit features a three-sided mouthpiece that has been twisted to apply more concentrated pressure than a rounded mouthpiece throughout the mouth. A slow twist, which has the fewest turns, is less severe than a fast twitch, which has more. Twisted bits are used with horses that have become immune to a rounded bit.

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Corkscrew

A corkscrew bit, with its tight twists with slightly rounded edges, is harsher than a slow twist but significantly milder than a twisted wire mouthpiece, which is much thinner and has less rounded edges.

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Double Twisted Wire

The double twisted wire mouthpiece has twice the intensity of a twisted wire and should be used only by the most experienced riders as a bit of last choice.

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Single Joint

A single-joint bit applies pressure to the horse’s tongue and bars. The single-joint action is not severe in the right hands, but the effect is not as mild as a multi-jointed bit such as a French link.

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French Link

A French link is a jointed mouthpiece with a small, flat plate between the two bars of the mouthpiece. The plate causes less of a nutcracker-like action on the tongue and is milder than a single-jointed bit.

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Dr. Bristol

Very similar to a French link, a Dr. Bristol also has a flat plate in the middle of the mouthpiece to reduce the nutcracker action on the horse’s tongue. With a Dr. Bristol, however, the flat plate sits at an angle to that it applies more pressure to the tongue than a French link. A Dr. Bristol is a good choice for a horse that does not tolerate a single-jointed bit but who can get somewhat strong.

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Oval Link

An oval link in a mouthpiece relieves some of the pressure on the tongue when the rein aids are applied. Because the link is rounded, this mouthpiece is considered slightly milder than a French link.

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Mullen Mouth

A mullen mouth is an unjointed bit that is slightly curved to accommodate the horse’s tongue. Without the nutcracker action of a jointed bit, the mullen mouth and straight-bar are considered milder and encourage the horse to raise his poll.

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Tongue Grooves and Ports

Tongue grooves and ports are raised areas in the center of a straight-bar or mullen mouth to prevent the tongue from softening the bit’s action on the bars and, if the port is high enough, to put pressure on the horse’s palate. Grooves are shallower and wider, while ports typically are the shape of an inverted “U.” Ports typically must be 2-2.5 inches high to act on the palate when engaged.

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Jointed Port

A jointed port is a single- or double-jointed bit with a slight raised port to create the nutcracker action while preventing the tongue from softening some of the pressure delivered to the bars.

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Rollers

Rollers – bushings (loose sleeves) or “beans” on the mouthpiece that roll when manipulated – can be found on straight-bar, mullen, and snaffle bits and are good for horses with “busy” mouths.

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Waterford

The Waterford is, essentially, a mouthpiece made entirely of links, thus eliminating the nutcracker action of the traditional jointed bit. Not a legal dressage bit, a Waterford is a good choice for a heavy leaner, as the links cause the mouthpiece to mold.

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Triangle

A triangle, fishback, or knife-edge mouthpiece has three sides. When the horse is bent at the poll, a flat edge rests against his bars. A toss of the head causes and edge to press against the bars. While the edges aren’t sharp, the force exerted on the bars is more concentrated than with a rounder mouthpiece.

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Cherry Roller

A cherry roller has large round rollers that spin, making it difficult for a horse to grab onto the bit and lean against the rider’s hands.

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Hollow Mouth

A hollow-mouth bit is hollow in the middle, making it lighter than a solid mouthpiece. Hollow-mouths are typically bulkier than solid bits, which disperse the pressure over a larger area, making it milder than slimmer bits.

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Snaffle, Curb, Both, or Neither?

Snaffle

With a snaffle (or direct pressure) bit, the reins attach directly to the rings, so that the action of the reins works directly on the mouthpiece.

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Curb

With a curb (or leverage) bit, the reins attach to shanks extending below the bit to multiply the amount of pressure from the reins. The action of the reins on the shank tightens a chin strap or chain and the mouthpiece to press against the tongue and bars of the horse’s mouth. The longer the shank, the greater the pressure exerted. Curb bits have little directional ability but are especially useful for encouraging the horse to bend at the poll.

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Pelham

A pelham bit combines elements of both a snaffle and a curb bit into one mouthpiece. “Snaffle reins” attach to rings on the side of the mouthpiece, while “curb reins” attach to shanks designed to apply pressure to the poll and under the chin via a strap or chain. A pelham encourages the horse to bend at the poll, without the bulk and difficulty of two separate mouthpieces.

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Weymouth

A Weymouth, or double bridle, includes both a curb and a snaffle (bradoon) bit. A bradoon features smaller rings than a stand-alone snaffle. The curb bit attaches to the bridle’s headstall, while the bradoon has its own headstall. More often seen in the upper levels of showjumping and dressage when the rider must deliver more nuanced commands, the Weymouth is a powerful bit suited only for very experienced riders. See the full brochure to learn about fitting a double bridle.

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Hackamore

A hackamore, or bridle without a bit, can employ all the tools of a curb bit, without the actual mouthpiece. Depending on its design, a hackamore can exert pressure on the jaw, the nose, and the poll. While a good choice for horses that for one reason or another cannot tolerate a mouthpiece, hackamores and other bitless bridles are not allowed in dressage or English pleasure competition and are considered “unconventional tack” in hunter classes.

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Bit Materials

Nickel-Plated

Nickel-plated bits are less expensive than the other options but are prone to flaking and rusting, which can leave rough patches that can irritate the horse’s lips and tongue.

Stainless Steel

The most common material for bits, stainless steel does not flake or rust and is extremely durable.

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Vulcanized Rubber

Vulcanized rubber, a hard rubber coating that is baked onto the mouthpiece, is stronger and less prone to flaking than non-vulcanized material. Rubber mouthpieces do not conduct heat like metals do, making them more pleasant to handle on cold days, and some horses prefer the softer feel of rubber.

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Copper and Sweet Iron

Copper and sweet iron are believed to promote salivation and a more relaxed jaw. While copper is more heat conductive than steel and thus warms up faster in cold weather, it is softer and will wear more quickly.

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Flexi-Mouth

Flexi-mouth bits are made of a soft and flexible but durable flavored plastic that is purported to encourage acceptance and softness.

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Legal Bits for English Disciplines

The U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) and the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) have specific rules regarding bits and tack used in competition. These vary by discipline and can be found in the individual organization’s rule book.

The following is a general overview of current rules, which may change each year. There are other specifics that are not covered here. Before competing or using a new bit, be sure to check the rules for your particular sport or division.

Dressage

Training through Second Level: a snaffle bit is required. Third and Fourth Level: the rider may choose to ride in a double bridle with two pairs of reins.

FEI levels: Double bridles are required. Mouthpieces must be smooth: no twisted wire mouthpieces. A mouthpiece with more than one rolling part is prohibited, but bits made from rubber or synthetic materials are permitted. Ports and tongue grooves are allowed if wider than 30mm and no higher than 30mm. Bit guards are forbidden in recognized dressage competitions and in dressage tests that are part of sanctioned and unsanctioned three-phase events.

Hunters

Snaffles, pelhams, and full bridles are required. Judges may penalize but may not eliminate a horse or pony who competes in an “unconventional” snaffle, pelham, or full bridle. Unconventional snaffles, pelhams, and full bridles include – but are not limited to – hunter gags and kimberwicks.

Judges must eliminate a horse or pony who competes wearing bits other than snaffles, pelhams, or full bridles. Illegal bits include, but are not limited to, three rings and gags (other than the hunter gag).

Jumpers

USEF has no written rules regarding legal and illegal bits.


How to Measure for a Bit

The mouthpiece length is usually measured in inches. Dee-rings and eggbutts should rest comfortably against the outside of the horse’s lips.

Loose-ring bits should have about one-eighth inch more room, to prevent pinching the horse’s lips. A bit that is more than a half-inch wider than the horse’s mouth will have too much sideways play to be comfortable.

Commercially available measuring devices can help you determine what bit length will fit your horse. Or stretch a piece of heavy string across the inside of your horse’s mouth, marking with your fingers where it meets the corners of your horse’s mouth. Then measure that distance using a ruler.

The width of a bit mouthpiece is measured in millimeters and refers to the circumference of the widest part of the mouthpiece, usually next to the bit cheek.

Your veterinarian or dentist can tell you if your horse has an unusually thick tongue or low palate that would restrict your width and port height choices.


The content above originally appeared here.

8 Responses to A Bit Confused About Bits?

  1. Nancy Mangum July 7, 2015 at 18:51 #

    Hi, I need a Weymouth bit w/a small mouthpiece as my horse has a small mouth. What size is the mouth piece (thickness) Lon the Shire bit? And how long is the shank? Looking for one that is 7 cm – it needs to be legal. Thank you.

    • The Cheshire Horse October 13, 2015 at 08:42 #

      Sorry about the delay, Nancy. Hopefully you were able to get in touch with us directly. If you are still looking for a bit, please email info@cheshirehorse.com or call 877-358-3001, and we would be happy to assist you.

  2. Alyce Feela March 1, 2016 at 05:48 #

    Useful info. Lucky me I found your website by chance, and I am surprised why this coincidence did not came about earlier! I bookmarked it.

  3. Abbie July 12, 2016 at 20:11 #

    Hey I’m trying to help teach my horse to round more and she is beginning to ignore my commands when I try to get her on the bit. She has a mild mouth and she doesn’t pull but I would like her to be heavier in the front. Do you know what type of but I should change her to? I’m using a loose ring snaffle right now.

    • The Cheshire Horse July 27, 2016 at 13:21 #

      Hey Abbie, please give us a call and we would be happy to help you and your horse find the best bit for your needs: 877-358-3001.

  4. Charlie February 24, 2017 at 00:27 #

    at the moment I use a Dutch gag but my pony won’t let the bit go in his mouth he will through his head around and again when I take the bit out he will through his head around

  5. Dee Kegley March 19, 2017 at 10:19 #

    I have a Friesian. Started out Showing Saddleseat. I had no clue what bits (double bridle) trainers used. We left Saddleseat show world to just “be”.. after I dislocated my elbow. Hired a so called Friesian trainer..she bitter my horse Mullen, roller center pc Eggbutt snaffle. He was fine, but I wasn’t riding him. After I started back, he tore his meniscus and once again a set back. Now we are back at it and he blows right through me w/ that bit. Was recommended to use correctional bits for a while. Things work great both with shank curb correction and Kimberwick correction (one rein). Didn’t what to continue day in and day out correction bits. Tried Kimberwick low port loose ring. Not sure what’s up. He constantly throws head almost down to hooves. This is a solid mouth piece, where as the correction bits where not. I have purchased other solid mouth piece curb/shanks after reading their action info. I have a wonderful Black Country Custom Dressage saddle..and a Western. My Friesian could care less about saddle.. I prefer my Dressage, but he prefers the Western bridle w/ correction bit. I need education on solid mouth piece bits. The info has totally confused me. No trainer anymore. Do have qualified, very educated real horse knowledgeable instructor. I am not looking to show anymore. Just ride correctly and keep my horse comfortable, using correct muscles… but I need education (for me) on bits… I get so much advice and in the past it has not been useful for me. Right now instructor suggest I keep using the shank correctional bit, even if using Dressage saddle. This bit doesn’t work on English bridle. He did respond OK to Kimberwick correction bit w/ reins in top slot. My horse is a sweet natured loving gelding. Can’t tell if solid mouth piece and bars are a problem or he is being rude…We were out of work for all of last Summer, but he really is a good guy. We have been out of Saddleseat for at least 5 or more years.
    Help me if you will.
    Dee

    • The Cheshire Horse March 28, 2017 at 13:52 #

      Hi Dee, we would be happy to help! Please give us a call at 877-358-3001.

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