Reining Bits Explained – Stop Making Your Head Spin

Here, with reining bits explained, we will help you unravel this burning question. Navigating the bit types used on reining horses can give you a pounding headache! We hope to reduce this frustrating struggle for you. Reining is a western riding discipline that highlights the athleticism, skill, and precision cow horses need to successfully work on a ranch. A reining horse will progress through a series of bits during its education until it becomes a finished, bridled horse. A bridled horse is one that is fully broken. The key to understanding reining bits is to know that it’s not about a specific bit but a process of growth that corresponds to the horse’s training level. Here we will delve into reining bits, looking at what ones to use and when.

Reining Horse in Training

A reining horse will progress through bits during its training. At 2-years-old, a horse begins its education in a simple snaffle bit. At this stage, the horse’s mouth is at its most sensitive and a mild bit is necessary.

Purpose of a Snaffle Bit

The goal of using a snaffle bit, such as an o-ring, is to protect the mouth’s sensitivity. The first o-ring snaffle used in the training process of a reining horse is usually a smooth 7/16” wide mouthpiece. During this period, the aim is to teach the horse all the necessary skills it will need for reining. Your horse should spin, do lead changes, and stop in an o-ring snaffle. If you find your horse is losing responsiveness in the introductory snaffle, move him into a sharper snaffle, such as a thin, smooth-wire snaffle. When you are satisfied that your horse’s skills are perfect, it is then time to progress to introductory, curb, and shank bits.

Futurity Reining Bit

The next reining bit to use in the education of the horse is a futurity bit. This bit can have a low port or snaffle mouthpiece. It has short shanks that gently introduce the reining horse to leverage.

Moving to a Shank Reining Bit

At this point, you will teach your horse to neck rein. When your horse has mastered the necessary skills, you can move him into a reining bit for finished horses. From time to time, you will need to change bits for a few days if responsiveness lessens.

Read more about Horse Bit Severity Guide

Finished Reining Horse Bit

A bit for a finished reining horse will have long shanks, curved at various degrees, and often with a curb chain or strap. At first glance, this looks like a severe bit. However, it is designed for a fully trained horse that works from subtle, light cues from the rider. A fully finished reining horse will put you on the edge of your seat with excitement. Take a look at this Team USA performance at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. Here you can see a horse in a shanked reining bit demonstrating what a finished horse can do.

Reining Bits Elements

A reining bit has two basic elements, the mouthpiece, and leverage. Within these, you will find hundreds of different combinations. You want a mouthpiece that allows you to keep your horse’s attention while maintaining relaxation and avoiding the need for harsh rider reactions.

Reining Bits Elements

Leverage Reining Bit

The length of the shanks determines their strength. The shanks put pressure on the horse’s poll and affect how the horse carries its neck. The different degrees of leverage required depends on if a horse needs to lift its front end or has a high set neck.

Curb Reining Bit

Leverage is further refined by curb action, which puts pressure on the poll and mouth. Curb action increases or decreases by a combination of the length and curve of the shank. It is designed to allow the rider to hold the reins in one hand.

What Else to Consider When Choosing a Reining Bit

Each horse’s individual characteristics will determine which specific features of a reining bit you need. The size and type of port, a roller, loose cheeks, copper or steel, twists, and solid, bar cheeks are all elements seen in reining bits. You will need to uncover what combination of reining bit features your horse prefers. Reined cow horse trainer, Boyd Rice, discusses the graduation of mouthpieces used as the horse progresses through its education in this reining bits explained video.

What Else to Consider When Choosing a Reining Bit

Reining Bit Rules

If you plan to compete in reining events rules about allowed bits will be imposed. The National Reining Association and the National Reined Cow Horse Association have different rules for classes they run. Learn the rules for each association before competing to avoid disqualification.

The National Reining Horse Association Rules 

Riders must use a reining bit with a shank length that does not exceed 8 ½” . The mouthpiece must not be less than 5/16” thick and cannot contain wire wrapping. A port is restricted to a height of 3 ½”. Crickets and rollers are allowed.

National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Rules

The NRCHA has extensive reining bit rules. For example, in some Bridle classes, a horse must wear a spade bit. The bit’s port must be at least 1” tall. Also, the bit needs an unbroken bar mouthpiece, and a working cricket or roller.

The Cost of Reining Bits

Snaffle bits are the least expensive. As a horse progresses to more advanced bits, the price tends to increase. You can expect to pay anything from a very affordable price for a loose ring snaffle, to several hundred dollars for a custom shank reining bit.

Weaver Leather Tom Thumb Snaffle Bit, 5

Conclusion – Reining Bits Explained

Explaining reining bits is simple when you break it down. The bits used are not purely for reining but are seen in a variety of western riding disciplines. A fully trained reining horse is expertly tuned to the slightest rider cues.  The cues are nearly undetectable, making the horse look like it is doing everything without rider interference. It is important to move the horse onto the next reining bit at the right time to avoid making the mouth too hard or causing fear of the bit. Comment below with any questions.

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