Looking at all of the different types of bits hanging on the wall in your tack shop can often be overwhelming. There are long ones, short ones, silver ones, copper ones, pointy ones, rolley ones and ones that look like they belong on heavy machinery. With a few guide points to keep in mind about the general types of bits and their uses, narrowing your choices down will become a little simpler.
The 2 basic types of bits can first be sorted by mechanics: snaffle and leverage (also called curb). Snaffle bits have two rings which directly attach to the reins, creating a straight line from the ring to the rider’s hands. Snaffle bits do not offer any type of leverage and only provides direct pressure. Leverage bits offer you guess it: leverage!
If you are a little confused about the mechanics of these, imagine this: tightening a bottle cap vs. tightening lug nuts on your car. Tightening the cap on a bottle only requires direct pressure from your hand only, you should not need a tool to move the cap. Tire lug nuts, on the other hand, require more strength from the hand to get the same result.
A tool with leverage intensifies your own pressure and applies it to the lug nut. This means the work exerted from the rider is amplified at the mouthpiece, which the horse experiences. Depending on the exact bit, leverage bits can also apply poll pressure from the cheek piece tilting forward as a result of the rein pulling the shank back.
There are also all different types of mouthpieces that come with either a curb bit or a snaffle. The mouthpiece is the extended portion that connects the shanks/rings and can be non-jointed, single jointed, double-jointed or multi-jointed. Mouthpieces can be found of plain, smooth metal, slow twist or fast twist metal.
There are many center features of bits that can be added to distract the horse such as rollers or “keys” that hang from the center or copper material to increase salivation and results in a relaxed horse. Choosing the correct mouthpiece to work with or without leverage is an important tool used to communicate with your horse.
The most common types of snaffle bits are the single-jointed dee ring or a french link. These are used commonly in the hunter/jumper world especially and are legal for almost any discipline.
Two examples of common curb bits (leverage bits) are the pelham bit and the gag bit. The pelham bit is often used in equitation and used to achieve a nice framework for the horse to travel in. The gag bit does not resemble a traditional leverage action bit, although since the rein does not directly attach to the bit ring, there is leverage action created. The rein is attached to a line that passes through the openings of the bit rings and crosses the poll; this also applies some poll pressure as well. The gag bit can be found in the jumper ring for a lifting action to encourage the horse to lift the front end in order to set up for the next fence.
Leverage bits should only be in the hands of experienced riders, as they can easily inflict accidental sharpness and create a bad experience for the horse. In the wrong hands, snaffle bits can be just as detrimental to the horse’s experience as leverage bits. Being aware of the action of different bits can help you decide which one is right for you and your horse. Always consult an experienced horse person when seeking advice for leverage bits or snaffles.