Visit almost any tack shop, and you’ll find a blinding array of English horse bits for sale. Selecting the right one is crucial, as the bit you choose will help you to communicate with your horse. To aid in differentiatiating between styles, we’ve come up with this quick guide to choosing English horse bits.
Most English horse bits – and quite a few Western ones – are classified as snaffle bits. These bits work via direct pressure without putting leverage on the mouth. Unlike curb bits, snaffle bits have no shanks. A common misconception is that a bit must be jointed in order to classify as a snaffle. Although most types of snaffle bits have jointed mouthpieces, a few types, such as the mullen mouth, is a snaffle.
Another common misconception about snaffle bits is that they are completely gentle. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Although many snaffle bits exert milder pressure than curb bits do, thin, twisted metal or wire snaffles with rough surfaces can cause severe damage even when the rider doesn’t believe he or she is acting harshly.
O-ring or loose ring snaffle bits are ideal for horses that are in the process of learning to relax while wearing a bit. Pick one with a copper mouthpiece or copper rollers to encourage a greater level of responsiveness.
Eggbutt snaffle bits, which are sometimes referred to as barrel head snaffle bits, are fantastic for everyday riding. The configuration prevents pinching, and the mouthpiece stays in place rather than rotating. Like O-ring snaffles, these English horse bits are available with copper mouthpieces as well as the soft, high-tech plastic that some horses prefer. Check out the Happy Mouth eggbutt bit to learn more about how this style works. Pick one with a roller link in the center of the mouthpiece if your horse tends to be nervous.
Dee-ring snaffle bits, also known as racing snaffles, provide guidance laterally. D-ring snaffle bits are good for everyday riding and are often used in starting horses that will be ridden Western.
Full check snaffle bits have long arms that extend above and below the mouthpiece to provide lateral guidance and prevent the bit from sliding through the horse’s mouth sideways. If you use a full cheek snaffle bit, consider adding bit keepers to your bridle to prevent the bit from snagging.
While you might associate curb bits more with Western riding than English, there are a few types of English curb bits to be aware of. Curb bits use lever action and are typically more severe than snaffles, greatly enhancing the pressure applied by the rider. The longer the shanks on a curb bit, the more severe that bit is in general, but there’s a catch: with a long-shanked curb bit, the pressure takes longer to build so the horse has a greater amount of time to respond than he does with a short-shanked curb bit (also known as a Tom Thumb). In the soft hands of an experienced rider, a long shanked curb bit allows for communication with only the slightest amount of pressure. In English riding, curb bits are most often seen in Dressage.
Weymouth bits are commonly used in double bridles. These English horse bits typically have solid mouthpieces, straight shanks, and low ports.
Pelham bits feature jointed mouthpieces with rings on either side like a snaffle, and with rings at the bottom of the shank, allowing the rider to apply leverage. A Pelham bit is normally used with double reins and is suitable only for very experienced riders.