"The bitting of a horse could
be termed an art," suggests Suzanne Norton Jones in The Art of
Western Riding. "Thousands of bits, of endless variety, have
been used since the horse was first bitted by man.
"If it were possible to study the mouth of each horse, we could readily
see why, ideally, every horse should have a different bit. No two
horses have the same mouth, and not only is the mouth different but the
reaction and degree of sensitivity of each horse is different. And each
rider who mounts a horse has a different type of hand that feels
different to the horse. Here again, ideally, the horse needs a
different bit for every rider.
"Since we cannot have this infinity of bits, we must do the best with
what we have. A rider should endeavor to find which bit best suits his
In general, there are three types of bits:
A solid bar of metal, this bit has no
shank or leverage action. It puts a minimum amount of pressure on
the interdental space (the area between
the incisors and molars that has no
teeth) of the horse's mouth. It is the lightest form of bit.
The most common type of bit used while riding horses, the snaffle
consists of a bit mouthpiece with a ring on either side. The mouthpiece
lies in the
interdental space (the area between the incisors and molars that has no
teeth) and rests on the tongue. It transmits
pressure in a direct line from the rider's hands through the reins
to the rings to the mouthpiece to the horse's mouth.
This type of bit uses leverage, meaning
that it multiplies the pressure applied by the rider. Unlike a snaffle
bit, which applies direct rein pressure from the rider's hand to the
horse's mouth, the curb can amplify rein pressure several times over,
depending on the length of the curb's bit shank. More
severe than a basic snaffle, it consists of a mouthpiece, curb chain,
and a shank, with one ring per side on the top of the shank, and one
ring on the bottom of the shank.
Before selecting a bit, find out what the horse used
previously. If it is available, allow it to hang straight and measure
the mouthpiece (do not include the rings in the measurement). Also
measure the size of the horse’s mouth by placing
a wooden dowel in the mouth where the bit should sit and
marking the dowel about half an inch beyond the mouth
on either side. Smaller horses usually have a
smaller mouth and will need a smaller bit, but this isn't always true.
Use the measurements to select and fit a bit, then observe. How does
the horse react? How comfortable are both the horse and rider with how
the bit communicates the rider's intent?
Suzanne Norton Jones offers the following tips on bits in The Art of
- Bits should be made of the best and lightest material possible.
- A horse should be governed not by pain, but by his knowledge and understanding of the principles of reward and punishment.
- Never change a bit with the idea of making a horse obedient by the infliction of pain. A bit is strictly for control.
- Meet obedience with kindness, misconduct with punishment.
- Absense of stiffness, constraint, or painful action are characteristics of good bitting.
Pony Curb Bit
The Art of Western Riding
The Book of Draft Horses
Slip Cheek Weymouth Bit