Explaining horse bits

ArticleHow to - Tack and EquipmentTuesday 19 January 2010
Confused about the different horse bits available to you? This guide should help clear things up.
Despite its humble appearance, a horse bit is mightily important in the successful training of a horse. Any training exercises will require hard work and discipline if the horse is going to master techniques effectively, and horse bits play a significant part in a rider’s overall control of the horse.
There are a number of different types of bit that are all used for different purposes. 
Different types of bits for horses
Curb bits
Anybody looking to master the challenging techniques synonymous of the Western riding style needs to think about investing in a curb bit. This type of bit jumps into action when a rider pulls the reins and downward pressure on the bars and the tongue. Unlike with standard horse racing, no rings are used. Solid shanks are instead used to control the horse’s movement. Under the horse’s mouth the curb bit also has an effective chin strap that boosts the rider’s ability to stop the horse – something which is a very important safety measure in the occasionally dangerous challenges Western riding provides.
Snaffle bits
This is the most common type of bit, used in regular training and an ideal starting point for inexperienced riders looking to learn more about fitting the bit. The metal cannons of the snaffle bit fuse together in the middle to apply upward pressure on the horse’s mouth. These bits are really convenient for those learning the basics as only minimum pressure needs to be applied and the horse’s mouth suffers minimal pain.
Double bridle bits
Arguably the polar opposite of the snaffle bit. If you are a highly experienced rider and know exactly the amount of control needed to instruct a horse, a double bridle is usually the best choice of bit. With two bits and two types of rein, riders can exert a more delicate form of control over the horse, something that can make a huge difference when competing in competitions or horse shows. Amateurs should avoid using these types of bridle bits, as overuse could harm the horse’s mouth and disrupt his temperament.
Hackamore bits
These days, this type of bit is often more commonly known as a ‘bitless bridle’. If the horse is refusing point blank to accept a bridle or snaffle bit, the hackamore is a sensible compromise, as it does not involve any contact with the horse’s mouth. Some riders prefer a hackamore bit as they believe it’s a kinder alternative to standard bridles as it exerts pressure on the nose, a less sensitive area than the mouth. However, it’s worth taking into account that experienced riders will find this bit far easier to operate than beginners.
Racing bits
This type of bit is self-explanatory; most often used by jockeys in horse riding to control horses moving at incredible speed. These types of bit have adapted rings that help give a jockey extra influence to make the split-second decisions that can often dictate the final result of a race.
Other tips and advice
For some horse owners, the bit can seem a little cruel as a method of control, so if you do have concerns, a bitless bridle may prove a happy compromise. However, it is worth noting that bits have become far more equine friendly over the years as animal cruelty issues have come to the fore, so most bits in the modern era are designed to cause as little harm as possible to the horse.
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