Types Of English Bits – Fascinating Differences Revealed!

Last Updated on February 3, 2023

There are many different types of English bits for horses, from snaffles to kimblewicks, and pelhams to curbs. If you’re struggling to find the right bit for your horse, the choice can seem quite overwhelming! However, understanding horse bits can be the key to unlocking communication with your horse, so taking the time to learn about different bits and their uses is definitely worth the effort. Let’s take a look at the different types of English bits for horses!

Why is The Right Bit For Horses Important?

If you go to a tack shop you might be overwhelmed by the number of English bits they have. You will see a huge display of different types of English bits for horses, each designed for a specific purpose.

To start to understand why there are so many different types of English bits for horses, first, we need to take things back to basics and look at what a bit is, and how it is used. A bit is a piece of equipment that sits inside the horse’s mouth, with the purpose of collection and control when riding. The rider gives signals to the horse via the reins, which connect the bit to the rider’s hands.

At a very basic level, the bit is used to slow the pace of the horse and indicate to it which direction to go in. However, as the horse and rider become more advanced in their training, the bit can be used to communicate subtle signals to the horse, enabling more complex maneuvers to be carried out. If you’ve ever seen an advanced dressage display, you will barely be able to see the rider moving their hands, yet the horse is constantly receiving subtle signals via the bit.

The reason there are so many different types of English bits is that certain horses do better in some types of bits than others. Finding the right bit before your horse might take some time, but it is worth the effort as it will improve communication and your horse’s understanding of what is expected of it. The type of riding you do will also affect your choice of bit for your horse.

This video about English bits can help you get a better understanding of different bits and why they are used.Let’s take a look at some of the most common bits you will see used in English riding, and find out when they might be used.

4 Common Types Of English Bits For Horses

The different types of English bits for horses can be grouped into two main categories – snaffles bits and curb bits. Within each category, there is a lot of variation, and some bits combine features from both categories.

1. Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are the most common type of bit 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 often used by beginner riders, so they won’t accidentally damage a horse’s mouth when learning to use a bridle.

Snaffle bits work through direct communication – when the rider squeezes or pulls the reins, the bit moves inside the horse’s mouth and applies pressure which is felt by the horse. It is important to remember that not all snaffle bits are gentle – some have quite a severe action, and should only be used by experienced riders.

Different types of snaffles

Snaffles are a versatile bit, coming in many different forms. At some point, most horses will likely 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 rings These types of snaffles got their names from the shape of their rings and how they attach to the mouthpiece.

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. Whilst metal mouthpieces were once the most common choice, many riders now opt for softer, kinder mouthpieces made from rubber.

Full and half cheek snaffle bit explained

Half-cheek and full-cheek snaffles are popular choices as they provide more lateral action. They have bars that extend from the bit rings; when the rider gives the horse a signal to turn, the bar will press gently against the horse’s face. These are often used when training young horses as they give a clear signal which is easy for the horse to interpret.

2. Curb Bits

Curb bits work very differently to snaffle bits. Rather than the reins being attached to rings, they are fixed to the lower end of a shank onto which the mouthpiece is attached. The top of the shank connects to the bridle, and a strap or chain runs under the chin of the horse.

A curb bit has a leverage action – when the rider squeezes or pulls the reins, the shank of the bit moves, applying pressure not only in the mouth of the horse but also on the headpiece of the bridle and the curb strap.

As with snaffle bits, the mouthpiece of a curb bit comes in many different styles, depending on the training needs of the horse. The length of the shank also varies, and it is important to remember that a curb bit with a longer shank will have a more severe action.

Here are some of the most common curb bits used in English riding:

  • Pelham Bits

Pelham bits combine the action of a curb bit and a snaffle bit. They include a shank, and curb chain and have rings for both a snaffle and curb rein, providing control and collection. They can be used with two reins, one connected to the snaffle ring, and the other attached to the curb shank. However, you will commonly see riders using a Pelham bit with just one rein, using a pelham rounding to make contact with both parts of the bit.

The mouthpiece of a Pelham can either be jointed or solid. They are considered to be a stronger option than a snaffle and are often used on horses that are very forward going. You will commonly see a Pelham bit used for disciplines such as hunting, show jumping, eventing, and polo. They are not normally permitted for dressage.

  • Kimblewick Bits

The Kimblewick is one of the best English bits for strong horses. Kimblewick bits have a D-ring and include a curb chain. They look similar to snaffles but provide more leverage and control, due to the gentle shank action of the D-rings.

On the D-rings of a Kimblewich bit, you will see an upper and lower slot to attach the reins to. If you need more leverage and control, the reins are generally attached to the lower slot.

  • 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 Seats, 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 only 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. Using two sets of reins requires considerable skill and dexterity, and should never be attempted by a novice or inexperienced rider.

Materials Used for English Horse Bits

The material the bit is made of is as important as the type of bit you choose. Some horses prefer certain types of mouthpieces to others, and the right mouthpiece can considerably improve your horse’s responsiveness to the bit.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is the most commonly used material for traditional types of English bits for horses. It is an easy and cheap metal to produce and does not rust or break. Stainless steel is strong and durable, making it a popular choice for many riders.

However, stainless steel is not always a good choice for sensitive horses. It can be cold and harsh, making the horse less inclined to relax into the bit.


Copper increases salivation in a horse’s mouth, making it a great choice for horses that lock up on the bit. Most horses tend to find copper softer, warmer, and more comfortable than stainless steel. However, since copper is a softer metal, it does wear down easier than stainless steel.


The mouthpieces of rubber horse bits may be made entirely of rubber or consist of metal bits covered in rubber. Rubber bits are designed to provide comfort for horses with sensitive mouths, and are a good choice for inexperienced horses or novice riders.

Rubber bits 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

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

Summary – Different Types Of English Bits For Horses

So, as we have learned, there are several different types of English bits for horses, each with a specific purpose. When choosing a bit for your horse, it is best to start simple and work up to something more advanced if needed. If you are entering your horse in a competition, it is important to check the rules and regulations to find out what types of bits are permitted.  

We would love to hear your thoughts on the different types of English bits for horses. Please comment if you enjoyed this article or have any remarks regarding this post!


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

The eggbutt is one of the most common snaffle bits and also one of the most gentle. The mouthpiece is fixed to the bit ring with a swiveling joint, which keeps the bit stable in the horse's mouth. Many horses tolerate it better because it doesn't pinch their lips or sides of their mouth.
The mouthpiece of a loose-ring snaffle is attached to the bit rings in a way that it can move freely around the ring. This gives the mouthpiece more movement inside the horse's mouth and encourages the horse to relax its jaw. If not used correctly, a loose ring snaffle can pinch the sides of the horse's mouth.

What are different English bits used for?

Since there are so many different types of horses, each with its 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 snaffle 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 eggbutt snaffle is also a good choice for a steady mount that is easy to control.
A curb bit will give you better control for stronger, more highly-strung horses. Popular choices include the pelham or kimblewick, which have a leverage action that applies pressure not only inside the mouth but also under the chin and on the top of the head.

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

When choosing an English bit for your horse, start with the thickness of the mouthpiece. The horse will feel more intense rein pressure if the mouthpiece is thinner, so opt for a thicker mouthpiece if your horse is quite sensitive or inexperienced.
The aim when choosing a bit is to find one which makes your horse comfortable and relaxed, whilst also giving you control over your horse. The best options for steady, sensible horses tend to be snaffle bits, while stronger, faster horses are easier to control in curb bits. It is worth trying mouthpieces made of different materials to find out which one your horse finds the most comfortable.

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 styles to suit a range of different training needs. 
Snaffle bits create direct pressure on the mouth without leverage, this is a gentler action than curb bits because they do not have shanks.
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.