Looking at the benefits of the different horse bits available can help you understand which might be the best choice for your horse. Because there is such a large selection of horse bits for sale, it is important to know how each part of the bit influences the horse, so you can find the combination that is right for you.
Benefits of Different Mouthpieces
Looking at the construction of the mouthpiece is a great place to start when looking at the benefits of different bits!
Single Jointed Mouthpieces: Typically, single-jointed mouthpieces hinge at the central joint. When the rein aids are applied, the pressure the horse feels is on the bars of the mouth, as well as in the corners of the mouth. Horses with high palates often like this simple action, whereas horses with lower palates can be bumped, on the roof of their mouth, by the ‘nutcracker’ action. For example, single-jointed mouthpieces such as the Korsteel Stainless Steel Solid Mouth Jointed 16Mm Loose Ring Snaffle Bit or the Korsteel Stainless Steel Weymouth Loose Ring Bradoon Snaffle Bit are terrific. If your horse seems to like single jointed mouthpieces, these two are great choices.
Double Jointed Mouthpieces: Double-jointed mouthpieces are often seen as milder than a single jointed bit. The central link in the mouthpiece serves to spread the action of the bit more evenly across the tongue, and keep the action, as it is intended, on the bars and corners of the horses’ mouth. There are huge variations of this central link, including flat links like the Shires French Link Hunter Dee and the Korsteel Dr. Bristol Hunter Dee. The Dr. Bristol creates a ridge of pressure on the middle of the tongue when rein pressure is used. This offers more control than the contoured shape of the French Link. There is also a solid Oval Link or Lozenge, such as in the Shires Hunter Dee with Lozenge.
Straight Mouthpieces: The straight bits, or mullen mouths that are straight but adapted to give the tongue a little more room, work across the tongue, the bars, and the corners of the mouth more evenly. Many riders feel they are milder than a jointed mouthpiece. Although there are many mild jointed versions, others argue that it comes down to what a horse prefers. These mouthpieces are commonly found in a leverage bit, like a Pelham, where the bit shanks start to place pressure on the poll of the horse, as well as increase the possibility of pressure on the bars of the horses’ mouth.
Multi-Jointed Mouthpieces: Bits such as the Waterford, that are constructed with a series of ball-and-link joints, can be used for horses that lean or bear down on the bit. Some horses will allow the bit to press against their first molars, and they run with it braced, or lean down to brace the mouthpiece. Multi-jointed mouthpieces are typically quite flexible, and are much harder for the horse to bear down on or brace against.
Ported Mouthpieces: Ported bits should be left for a horse that is advanced in his training, and for experienced riders. The port, depending on the shape, may influence the horses’ palate. These bits often work much more on the bars of the horses’ mouth, as well. There are milder bits adapted with a low port for extra tongue room and comfort for the horse, such as the Myler English Pony Dee Low Port Comfort Snaffle.
Benefits of Different Metals and Materials
Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is an iron alloy with a chromium component that gives it non-corrosive properties, as well as an ever-present shine. Bits made of stainless steel are neutral in taste and odor, and are very durable.
Copper: Copper is a metal that is soft, and often pleasing in its' tart taste. The metal oxidizes in the horses’ mouth, encouraging salivation.
German Silver: German Silver is an alloy made of Copper, Zinc and Nickel. The copper component encourages salivation and acceptance, and the zinc and nickel lend their properties of durability.
Sweet Iron: Sweet Iron is a carbon steel that oxidizes readily in the horses’ mouth, giving off a sweet taste. The oxidation causes discoloration of the metal, but it is not harmful to the horse.
Rubber: Rubber or rubber covered bits give a warmer, softer, more pliable feel to the horse. Many sensitive horses appreciate the texture of a rubber bit.
Plastic: Hard and hard flavored plastic bits are becoming more and more popular. They are warmer, softer, and more pliable to the horse, but arguably more durable than rubber.
Benefits of Different Bit Cheeks
Loose Ring: Loose Rings are bit cheeks that swivel through the holes drilled at the ends of the mouthpiece. Because they move and slide, they provide a feeling of freedom and flexibility that some horses prefer. Other horses fuss more with the freedom.
Eggbutt: Eggbutts have the benefit of a fixed ring, without the nose pressure that a full cheek or a dee ring can provide, when used with a direct rein.
Full Cheek: Full Cheeks have the advantage of the straight bar applying pressure to the horses’ nose when the opposing rein is used, helping to turn the horse. The bit cannot be pulled through the horses’ mouth, which can be an advantage to a very green horse or rider that is using an opening rein frequently.
Dee Ring: Dee Rings have a fixed mouthpiece that encourages an unsettled horse to take a steady feel on the bit. The straight part of the dee can push against the horses’ nose slightly when the opposing rein is used, helping turn the horse.
Half Cheek: More common as driving bits, these have many of the benefits of the full cheek bits, without the risk of the straight bar catching on things.
Benefits of Leverage Bits
Pelhams: Pelhams are bits that vary in the mouthpiece, but typically have benefits of both a leverage bit and a snaffle. They are meant to be used with two reins. The lower rein, or curb reins, apply pressure to the horses’ poll in addition to the bars, tongue, and corners of the mouth. The curb chain will work on the lower lip of the horse.
Kimberwicks: Kimberwicks are a great introduction to leverage bits. The cheekpieces of the bridle attach to the upper part of the bit, working to apply pressure to the poll when the reins are engaged. There are options for where the rein is placed, with the lower one having more control. There is a curb chain over the lower lip as well.
Hanging Cheeks: Hanging Cheeks are mild leverage bits with a fixed attachment of the cheekpieces of the bridle. This fixed attachment on a short shank going up from the bit ring, as is seen with the Shires Hanging Cheek Copper Lozenge Snaffle, applies a degree of pressure to the horses’ poll.
Elevator Bits: Elevator Bits, such as the Shires Dutch 3-Ring Sweet Iron Gag, are meant to be used with two reins. They have a fixed ring for the cheekpieces to attach to, and the second rein can often be attached to one or two places, based on the amount of control needed.
Gag Bits: Gag Bits vary in construction, but the bits that are meant to be used with gag cheeks have holes drilled in the upper and lower part of the bit ring, like the Metalab Marley Smooth Gag Bit. The gag cheeks run through these, applying more or less action on the horse depending on the pressure. A benefit of the gag cheeks is that, as they slide, horses that try to evade contact have a steady feel, no matter what they do.