The Stables

A Dummies Guide To The World Of Horse Bits

I will hold my hands up and say I find the whole world of bitting horses a complete minefield. Is there anybody out there than confesses to join me on this very subject? One thing is for certain, I find it amazing how horses can be very excepting of a metal contraption in their mouths for some riders to pull and tug on.

I think there are many horse riders like me that would struggle to tell someone what the benefit of riding in a Tom Thumb Curb Bit to a Globe Cheek Pelham! My horse arrived with a Fulmer French Link Snaffle and has ridden the majority of the time in this bit for the best part of twelve years. After some advice from an instructor, he has schooled also in a Drop Cheeked Snaffle which has given me better control and steering and he has responded working through his back and behind more since using it. I mainly go back to the Fulmer French Link for hacking out etc. I do believe that I am riding in the correct bit for my horse and what riding he does but I imagine many out there that are riding in the incorrect bit. With the hundreds of bits that are out there on the market, my theory is “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?”

I know many riders play about with their horse’s bits all the time, almost bordering on an obsession! I have seen many chop and change, pull and tighten with mainly no great improvement or fantastic results. Personally and a golden rule in my book is that whatever bit you use, your horse needs to be comfortable with it. You can also see why we are sometimes drawn in the world of horse bits when you enter a saddlery to see a stunning display of stainless steel and hard rubber bits hanging like a piece of artwork!

But what bit to use and why?

Researching this article, I have now learned so much more about bits and why we use them for different ages, different horses and for what work they are doing. I wish I had read up about bits many years ago. For example, it is vital that the correct bit is used on a youngster otherwise a harsh bit in the wrong hands can be damaging to the horse and create problems further into its riding life. However, you may be riding in the wrong bit creating problems rather than solving them. So here is a basic look at bits or a “Dummies Guide To Horse Bits” for you. Hopefully, for those who are in the bitting dark, this may enlighten you to what riders use and why!


The Snaffle bit is probably the most common bit used when horse riding. They can be single jointed or broken. When the bit is broken these can have various shaped inserts placed with the right and left mouthpiece. For example, sometimes there is a roller or a flat piece of copper, which is said to increase salivation. The rings of the snaffle can also come in many shapes, from being round to a D ring shape or an Eggbutt snaffle and they are all used for slightly different purposes.


The Eggbutt Snaffle is probably the gentlest type of snaffle as it does not pinch the corners of the mouth.  The D Ring Snaffle is similar in design to the Eggbutt but the main difference is that the ring connection is further away from the horse’s lips, making it even safer for the horse. Some snaffle bits, such as the Full Cheek Snaffle, have cheek pieces that prevent the bit being pulled through the mouth. Cheek pieces are also useful for steering the horse, however, your riding action using your body is far more efficient than relying on a bit!



A Pelham bit has both elements of a curb bit and a snaffle bit. The Pelham was designed to have a similar action to a double bridle with only one mouthpiece in use. It acts in a lever action on the horse’s mouth, poll and chin groove. Horses tend to work well with these bits particularly those with small mouths or low palates. They are also used for jumping for extra control and work well in the control of stronger horses. They are commonly used in Polo and are sometimes used in the show ring. However, they are not allowed for use in British Dressage competitions.



A Kimblewick bit is used more commonly on ponies with young riders struggling to control a strong pony in a simple snaffle. They are also used for driving with horses and ponies. The Kimblewick provides more control if the pony or horse is a strong puller or needs slight curb action to lower its head. This is a curb bit with the further the reins slide down the D ring, the more leverage is applied. If the reins are placed on the lowest slot the bit will have more curb action than the higher slot.

Gag bits are again used mainly for horses that are strong or horses that need retraining. You most commonly see these bits used for eventing (especially in the cross country), show jumping, polo and hacking out across open terrain. They give increased control at times when a horse may be excited or try to run off with the rider.



A curb bit is often used for advanced training as these are leverage bits that act on the horse’s mouth, poll and chin in several ways. These are commonly used on the hunting field or on a cross country course and must only be used by an experienced rider. The width of the mouthpiece and height of the raised area in the centre mouthpiece determines the harshness of the bit. The longer the shanks on the curb bit, the more pressure is on the horse’s mouth.


There are SO many bits that I have not covered and the range is vast. What about Mylers, Butterfly Flip Bits, Weymouth and Bradoon Bits, Hackmores – the list goes on. If you are still unsure what bit to use, then visit your local saddlery or online retailer that may be able to help. There are also saddleries that loan out bits for you to trial to see if this works for your horse or pony for a small fee. This is an excellent way of choosing the correct bit for your horse and the work they do. However, I will still look at the wall of bits at the next saddlery I visit in awe and hats off to you riders that are experts in this field!

Written by Samantha Hobden


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