Reining Bits Explained – Stop Making Your Head Spin

Last Updated on March 2, 2022

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.

Read more about What Breed Of Horse Is Used For Reining?

What bit to use on a yearling?

The Chifney Bit is the ideal bit for young horses who have never been ridden before, but who are yet to be ridden safely and correctly. The Chifney Bit is particularly useful for the first year of a young horse’s life, as it allows you to control the young horse’s head movements and allows you to progress his training safely and correctly.
The Chifney Bit is suitable for use on all breeds of horse. It is easy to use and can be used for all riding disciplines, including dressage, jumping and cross-country.

Why is a snaffle bit used?

Snaffle bits are more gentle in comparison with other types of bits. However, they still provide sufficient control and communication between the rider and the horse.
Snaffle bits can be used with horses that are sensitive to pressure or those that tend to bite. The shape of the bit helps to direct the horse’s head and mouth in the correct direction.
Snaffle bits are often used in conjunction with a curb bit, in a system called “bit and bridle.” This system uses the snaffle to direct the horse’s head and mouth in the correct direction, and the curb to direct the horse’s head and mouth in the correct direction, as well as to apply pressure.

Why do horses have bits in their mouth?

A bit is a tool used to communicate with and control a horse. Bits are used to teach horses how to perform various commands, and bits also come in many different types. Some bits have been designed to aid in the training of certain types of horses or in the training of certain skills.
There are many types of bits used to communicate with horses. They can be made of metal or synthetic material. The most common types of bits are the curb bit and the curb chain. 

What do different bits do for horses?

The various bits used for training horses can be classified as follows:
Soft horse bits give less pressure to the horse’s mouth and transmit the rider’s force through the bit directly to the horse’s mouth.
Harsh horse bits apply greater pressure to the horse’s mouth but they also give the rider more leverage in the reins. The pressure from the bit is transmitted to the horse’s mouth through the bars of the bit.
Twisted bits tend to put more pressure on the tongue and sides of the horse’s mouth. They are used to develop lateral movement. 
Port bits place pressure on the horse’s palate and are used to encourage the horse to move laterally, usually by using pressure to move the head to the right or left. They are used mainly for young horses.

What is the most gentle bit for a horse?

If you are asking this question because you are considering using a bit on a horse for the first time, you should start with a gentle bit such as the Eggbutt French Link Snaffle. These are soft and gentle, and should not be used as a punishment bit.
The Eggbutt French Link Snaffle bit is a very popular bit and has been for decades. “French Link” refers to the two joints in this snaffle bit. Those two joins reduce the pressure on the horse’s lower jaw when both reins are squeezed and that’s why this is considered a gentle bit. It can be found with a curved mouthpiece to make it even softer.