Types of English Horse Bits

Jessica McDaniel
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4 common types of english horse bits

Snaffle Bit (also called Upside-Down Snaffle) – designed for mild-mannered horses. The rings are loose enough that the horse’s head will remain soft.

Fighting Bit (also called the Chambon Bit) – designed for the warhorse of the military.

Mouth-Dealing Bit – designed to create a gentle action by guiding the horses mouth with the noseband, cheek and mouthpiece. It is easy to adjust and will enhance the horses feedback to the rider.

Western Bits – designed for western pleasure riding, cutting and roping.

Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are the most popular bit used for English riding, usually with one or two rings in the mouthpiece. They rely on pressure on either jaw, with direct control, but some may have an indirect effect on the opposite side of the mouth. Snaffle bits can be used in many different riding disciplines including show jumping and dressage.

Snaffle bits come in a variety of types including jointed, eggbutt, pelham, and double bridoon. The jointed snaffle bit is popular for schooling and for horses who don't need a degree of control they can't use at the time. The eggbutt snaffle is popular with riders who are looking for a jointed bit with more control and security. The eggbutt bit will have a rounded mouthpiece, which will not pinch the horse's lips. The pelham bit is another popular snaffle bit and is particularly useful for young horses, as it offers more control than a traditional snaffle.

Pelham Bits

The most commonly used bit for training young horses is the Pelham bit. The four rings on the cheekpiece (mouth piece) can be adjusted to different settings — at the horse’s mouth, at the bit ring, and at the headstall — to vary the amount of leverage and the severity of the bit pressure being placed on the horse’s mouth.

Adjusting to a mild and subtle effect, this bit is appropriate for young horses that are new to the bit being ridden or driven.

The Pelham bit is also used in various racing disciplines for training and controlling well mannered horses, although it's not unusual to find the lightweight version of this bit used on racing horses.

Kimberwick Bits

Many new riders don’t even realize there are different types of horse bits. One of the first bits a rider uses on their horse needs to be a gentle, yet effective bit, and the Kimberely is great for this. It fits comfortably in the horse’s mouth without being too large or heavy. The smooth, curved mouthpiece helps prevent injuries to the horse’s mouth, making this a popular bit for young and beginner riders.

The Kimberely can be used in both English and Western riding disciplines, and it is an ideal bit for a horse with a good head. The bit can be purchased in a variety of sizes, and there is also a curb chain version of the Kimberely available.

Curb and Bridoon Snaffles for Double Bridles

C curb and bridoon bits are used to communicate signals to the horse by applying pressure in the mouth, causing discomfort and limiting the horse’s ability to eat. The amount of pressure a horse bit exerts on the horse’s mouth can be manipulated by the rider by pressing on the curb chain or reins.. This can be helpful to encourage a horse or pony to lower its head or to collect its stride. Very mild pressure is also placed on the chin groove to stop a high head carriage.

Bridoon bits are generally lighter pieces of equipment designed to work in the horse’s mouth. They are generally used with lighter weight bridles for exercise or pleasure riding.

The curb chain of a curb and bridoon snaffle will be placed on the upper lip. It will pull against the nutcracker, or curb chain keeper, and the lower lip. The curb chain will also press against the poll, creating more severe pain in response to more severe pulling in the reins.

Materials Used for English Horse Bits

English horse bits are made of a variety of different materials including copper, aluminum, stainless steel, sweet iron and silver. Material used will greatly reflect on the bit’s durability, age and cost. Sweet iron and silver are two of the more expensive options while copper is the cheapest.

Silver Horse Bits – Silver is softer than copper but it doesn’t have as much of a fusing temperature because of its high malleability. Silver needs to be annealed, heat treated and then fused in order to be used for bits. Silver bits, which offer a well rounded introduction to the horse, deliver great feature, action, hand and bite without being too hot.

Copper Horse Bits – For centuries, horsemen have used copper for horse bits. It’s easy to mold and it will bend and spring back to its original shape. Copper is also much harder to anneal than it is to fuse. Once it cools, it has to be reheated just to be fusable, which means it’s not as malleable. Copper bits will be less likely to break or bend and can be used on a variety of horses. However, it won’t have the same movement as sweet iron or silver.

Stainless Steel

The stainless steel single jointed snaffle bit has a thin mouthpiece that is controlled by the slightest movement of the rider's hand. The joint between the mouthpiece and the rest of the bit is very flexible, making the horse feel the pressure of the rider's leg. The horse responds by moving the head and neck in the direction of the pressure.

The jointed mouthpiece of this bit is straight with a straight or rolled port. The straight port is less severe on the horse's mouth because the bit never turns or rotates. If your horse pulls or tosses his head, ask your trainer for help in finding a more severe bit with a ported mouthpiece.

This bit is good for training and early stages of riding, but it should only be used with horses that are responsive to rein and feel. More severe bits are available for horses whose mouths react poorly to smooth mouthpieces.

Copper

This bit is the most severe of all curb bits because it has very little curve to it. Also, the a joint and branch curves are very short. This makes it more severe than a Hanoverian and less severe than a curb bit.

It is commonly used on hunting horses.

Why Do You Need It?

Tight Mouth: This bit helps to bring the mouth in and make it small which helps to prevent the horse from dropping its head too low to the ground. It will also help you to form the chinks in the horse's poll (the poll is the top of the head area).

Nose to Chest: This bit helps to make the horses nose come to the chest because it has a long shank and is very severe.

Rubber for English Horse Bits

Most English horse bits are made of rubber and stainless steel. Common rubber bits include Congress, Eggbutt, Kincob and Double Jointed.

Congress: The bit features straight shanks, a jointed mouthpiece and a port. This bit offers the most control while still having a mild action.

Eggbutt: The bit has curved shanks, some wither clearance and a port. This bit offers a mild mouthpiece that is less likely to pinch the horse's mouth, keep the bit off the tongue and to protect the horse's mouth from being torn.

Kincob: The bit has shanks with extremely sharp bends and a port. It offers more leverage but has a very harsh action. This bit is designed for a different philosophy of riding and is rarely seen on the horse show circuit.

Double Jointed: The bit has shanks with a dull looking joint, a port and a bit ring. This type of bit is in the middle of the harshness scale, and its main benefit is that the port means the pressure of the bit is evenly distributed, which helps to reduce the bruising around the horse's mouth caused by sharp edges.

Sweet Iron for English Horse Bits

A sweet iron bit is constructed of wrought iron, or mild steel, as opposed to cast iron. As such it's very rigid, so newer horses who are headed to the dressage ring need it to their bit repertoire in order to be ridden properly.

A sweet iron bit can be purchased in a kimberwicke style, as a snaffle, or a straight, gag, or curb bit.

Snaffle sweet iron bits are usually about 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter and have light leverage, light pressure, as well as being extremely responsive. They are most commonly used in the sport of eventing, where only one pair of reins are used.

A Variety of English Horse Bits

Just as important as knowing the purposes of different English riding bits is knowing what the different bits look like. The bits are composed of three parts: The Cheek piece, the shanks and the mouthpiece. As you can see in this diagram, the mouthpiece can come in many shapes. We will review the common shapes of the mouthpieces and mouthpiece components.The simplest of the mouthpiece types is the snaffle. The snaffle is used in training both the young horse and in older horses.The snaffle is the most mild in application of the bits. The snaffle is a good choice for the novice rider.

Mouthpieces with the joint in the middle of the mouthpiece are referred to as a pelham. In the pelham, the middle joint is flexible, allowing the outer parts of the mouthpiece to push or pull against the mouth of the horse. The joint in a pelham may also be referred to as a double joint.