Types of English Horse Bits

If you go to a tack shop you might be overwhelmed by the number of English bits they have. There’s everything from snaffles to kimberwicks to pelhams and everything in between. Each English horse bits is designed for a specific purpose.  

Bits serve the purpose of collection and control when riding. Certain horses do better in some bits than others. Finding the right bit before your horse might take some time, but it is best to first start out simple.

There are many different types of bits available, especially for English disciplines. What type of riding you do will play a role in what type of bit you will use for your horse.

This video about English bits can help you get a better understanding of different bits and why they are used. This article includes some of the most common bits you will see used in English riding.

4 common types of english horse bits

1. Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are the most common type of bits for horses and also the simplest type of bit. A snaffle bit is made up of a straight or jointed mouthpiece, with rings on the end. They are mild and are often used by beginner riders, so they won’t accidentally damage a horse’s mouth when learning to use a bridle.

Types of Snaffles

Snaffles are a versatile bit, coming in many different forms. At some point, it is likely that most horses will have been worked in some form of a snaffle. The different types of snaffles vary based on the design of the cheekpiece and mouthpiece.

4 common types of english horse bits

Some of the most common types of snaffles you will see are D-rings, egg butts and loose ring  These types of snaffles got their names from the shape of their rings. Half cheek and full cheek snaffles are popular choices as they provide more lateral action.

When it comes to mouthpieces, there are several different varieties. Some of the mouthpieces include twisted joint, smooth joint, fishback, French link, mullen, and Waterford. Mouthpieces are chosen based on the horse’s sensitivities, need for salivation and control.

2. Pelham Bits

Pelham bits function like a curb bit and snaffle bit. They include a shank, curb chain and have rings for both a snaffle and curb rein, providing control and collection. Though they are similar to the curb and snaffle bits of the double bridle but aren’t as effective as having two separate bits.

Pelhams can be jointed or solid mouthpiece. The Pelhams can be seen being used by hunters, show jumpers, eventers, and polo. Pelhams, however, are not used in Dressage.

3. Kimberwick Bits

Kimberwicks are a popular bit in English riding. They are similar to snaffles but provide more leverage and control. 

Kimberwicks have a D-ring and include a curb chain. They include an upper and lower slot to attach the reins too. If you need more leverage, the reins are generally attached to the lower slot. Most pelhams have ports, but they may also be jointed or solid.

4. Curb and Bridoon Snaffles for Double Bridles

Double bridles are made up of a curb bit and a snaffle bit. The curb bit provides flexion and the snaffle bit is used to raise the horse’s head. Double bridles are used in Saddle Seat, upper levels of Dressage, as well in some Hunt Seat classes.

The curb bit in a double bridle has a shank that varies in length, depending on the bit. Most curb bit mouthpieces have a port or are solid. The curb bit also includes a curb chain.

The snaffle in a double bridle is referred to as a bridoon. It is smaller than a typical snaffle and can vary in style.

Double bridles should be used by experienced riders. They require skill to be used properly and can cause discomfort for the horse if the rider does not have steady hands.

Materials Used for English Horse Bits

There are different materials bits can be made of that. Most bits for horses are made from metals; however, some are also made from rubber.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is the most commonly used material for horse bits. It is an easy and cheap metal to produce and won’t rust. Stainless steel is strong and durable, making it a popular choice for many horses.

Copper

The copper increases salivation in a horse’s mouth, making it a great choice for horses that lock up on the bit. Copper provides softness and comfort in a horse’s mouth. Since copper is a softer metal, it does wear down easier than other bits.

Rubber for English Horse Bits

The Rubber horse bits mouthpieces may be made entirely of rubber or may be metal bits covered in rubber. Rubber bits are designed to provide comfort for horses with sensitive mouths.

They may be too wide for some horses’ mouths, causing discomfort. Rubber is also prone to more friction if pulled too much. They may also wear down and create uneven surfaces, which can lead to sores in your horse’s mouth, so they need to be used with care.

Sweet Iron for  English Horse Bits

Sweet iron is made from a combination of copper and iron. As sweet iron begins to rust, it gives off a sweet taste, which also encourages the horse to salivate. It is a good choice for horses that are sensitive in the mouth.

Sweet iron bits will begin to rust after only a few uses, which is perfectly normal. However, you do have to be careful if the bit begins to flake, as it may cause damage to the horse’s mouth.

Sweet Iron for  English Horse Bits

A Variety of English Horse Bits

There are several different types of bits used in English riding, each with a specific purpose. When choosing a bit for your horse, it is best to start out simple and work up to something more advanced if needed. If you are showing, it is important to check your division’s rules and regulations, to find out what types of bits are permitted.  

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When looking at bits, the most common types of English horse bits are:

  • Snaffles, which are the simplest and most common bits.
  • Kimberwicks, which provide more leverage and control than a typical snaffle.
  • Pelhams, which are used with two reins and provide leverage and control, similar to a double bridle set up.
  •  Curb bits for horses, which are used in a double bridle to provide flexion, along with the bridoon snaffle that provides elevation. 

FAQs

What is the difference between Eggbutt and Loose ring snaffle bit?

Eggbutt is one of the most common snaffle bits and also one of the most gentle ones. It prevents rotation by keeping the bit stable. Many horses tolerate it better because it doesn't pinch their lips or sides of their mouth.
Loose-ring type of bit have a small ring (loosely attached) that allows the bit to move around in the horse's mouth. It encourages a relaxed jaw, but might require a bit guard as it's known for pinching the sides of the mouth.

What are different English bits used for?

Since there are so many different types of horses, each with their own personality and quirks, there is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to training or conditioning horses. Therefore, each type of bit has its own purpose. For example, the Loose-ring, or Half-O-Ring, is a great choice for when you want your horse to have a little more independence than a regular bridle gives him. It gives just enough control to get the job done, but allows your horse a small amount of wiggle room. The Full-Cheek or "Buckwheat" bit is designed for very heavy horses. It has a larger, rounder jaw than the other bits, and is extremely effective on animals with thick necks and strong backs. The Pelham or Curb bit is similar to the Full-Cheek bit, except it has a slightly smaller jaw. The Pelham Bit can be used in conjunction with a curb chain, but is not recommended if your horse has a tendency to head up. 

How do I choose the right English bit for my horse?

In brief, there are two main things you should consider:
What is your horses personality? This will help you decide which bit he is most likely to respond to.
What is your horses physical conditioning? This will determine whether your horse needs a light, medium or heavy bit.
Start with the thickness of the mouthpiece. The horse will feel more rein pressure if the mouthpiece is thinner, so expect faster reaction to contact. Another thing to watch is your horse's mouth sensitivity. Mouth sensitivity varies greatly from horse to horse, so if your horse has very sensitive mouth, you may want to use a thicker bit. Thicker bits are also a good option for younger horses as they can find a thin bit too sharp.
Also pay attention to how your horse wears his bit. Does he pull it straight back or does he allow it to slide down over his teeth? If he slides it down over his teeth, you may be able to use a Loose-ring bit or a Half-O-Ring. If he pulls it straight back, you'll probably need something a little thicker, like a Full-Cheek or Pelham Bit. 

What is the most commonly used horse bit?

The snaffle bit is the most common English bit used by most trainers and riders. Snaffles are fairly inexpensive and are made in several different sizes, from the small, half size snaffle (used for training and basic riding), to the larger, full size snaffle. 
Snaffle bits create direct pressure on the mouth without leverage but they exert less pressure on the mouth of the horse than curb bits because they do not have shanks. The pressure tends to "focus" the bit in the animal's mouth. This makes it easier for you to direct the animal's attention back to you when you want him to perform some trick. Snaffle bits are usually used on horses ridden for pleasure or show, but they can be used on horses that compete in jumping and other disciplines. They are also commonly used for trail riding.