Understanding bits & bridles

Learn more about the various types of bits used for horses.

Equine enthusiasts have many options for bits. | MSU Extension

Equine enthusiasts have many options for bits. | MSU Extension

It is easy to be overwhelmed when considering the large variety of bits available to equine enthusiasts. By breaking it down to the three basics types of bits, we’ll help you better understand all of the options available to you.

  1. Snaffle bits are the simplest type of bit available. Also known as a direct pressure bit, a snaffle consists of a broken or straight mouthpiece connected to a ring. This ring (which can vary in shape) is where the reins attach. These bits are often preferred when starting young horses, as well as in the hunter and dressage arenas. While snaffles have a reputation of being milder bits, it is important to note the diameter of the mouthpiece greatly affects the severity of any bit, especially a snaffle. The smaller diameter bits are more severe, as they apply the amount of force over a smaller surface area.
  2. Curb bits act using indirect pressure. A shank is added to these bits, which uses leverage to increase the pressure on the horse’s mouth and apply pressure in other locations such as the poll and chin groove. Similar to a snaffle bit, the diameter of the mouthpiece still affects the severity. However, the severity is also increased with a longer shank. Some curb bits even have ports on the mouthpiece and the taller ports increase the bit’s severity. Curb bits are used in more finished horses, and are designed to be used with minimal rein contact, making them very popular in western disciplines.
  3. Hackamores are the third type of bridle we will discuss. In this bridle, there is no mouthpiece portion. Instead, hackamores work by applying pressure to the nose and chin nerves on the horse’s head. It is very common to use a type of hackmore, often called a bosal, when starting young horses. When used appropriately, it can be a mild way to transition a young or green horse into wearing a bridle.

Hopefully exploring these three types of bits helped you better understand their specific uses. In an upcoming Michigan State University Extension article, we will continue on this topic and explore the vast array of combination bits! It is important to note the effectiveness of all bits and bridles are affected most by the rider using it. A rider with overly harsh or timid hands can have trouble achieving their desired results. To learn more, watch this great webcast on bits & bitting. Additionally, eXtension offers a free Learning Lesson called, Understanding Bits for Horses.

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