Choosing the right bit

Pick up the February issue of HQ to see 23 different bitting options

The bit is seen as the rider’s line of communication to the horse. There is great variety when it comes to bitting options, and we are often left overwhelmed by all the choices. It’s important that we as riders are able to make an informed decision and keep our horse’s individuality top of mind when choosing a bit. Like with all other pieces of tack, the horse’s physical wellbeing is of paramount importance, as well as getting the correct fit. Ensure that your horse is free from any pain and that his dentistry is up to date before fitting any type of tack, including the bit. Although a crucial piece of tack, the bit should never be the primary aid. It is a line of contact that works in conjunction with prominent aids given by the seat and legs.


The type of cheekpiece will affect the movement of the bit in the mouth and will also affect poll pressure, thereby influencing the rider’s control of the horse.


This is a type of fixed cheek bit, which allows everything in the horse’s mouth to remain more still and quiet. Its fixed position prevents the horse from engaging with the bit too much, making it ideal for a novice or unconfident horse to use before transitioning to a loose ring bit.

Loose ring

The loose ring is hugely popular among equestrians all over the world. It allows more movement of the bit in the horse’s mouth, thereby encouraging the horse to play with the bit and engage with the contact. It prevents the horse from fixing or blocking the contact, as well as leaning against the rider’s hand. The increased movement in the mouth allows the bit to follow the angle of the horse’s tongue, allowing it to lie comfortably. A correctly fitting loose ring should not create any pinching or rubbing, but these bits are often fitted with bit guards in case.


Also referred to as a hanging cheek, the baucher features a main ring, connected to another smaller ring on top via a short upper arm. The arm angles the bit forward when a contact is taken up, thereby causing the mouthpiece to lift in the horse’s mouth and reduce the pressure across the tongue and bars. The second ring also creates more poll pressure, encouraging the horse to carry his head lower. This cheekpiece is ideal for a young or unconfident horse needing assurance of lower head carriage and contact acceptance.



Mouthpieces create different actions according to their thickness, shape and the number of links. Consider your horse’s individual type, breed and conformation because some finer breeds such as Arabians or Thoroughbreds don’t have the space in their mouths to accommodate a thick bit like a heavier breed would. Some horses who are strong may be sensitive in their mouths, so you could consider a combination of a mild mouthpiece with a stronger cheekpiece.

Straight bar

The straight bar consists of a single mouthpiece that runs from one ring to another. The bit works by exerting pressure on the bars when pressure is applied to the reins, and lies straight across the tongue. Although uncomplicated in design, some horses will find it uncomfortable on the tongue, and might prefer a mullen mouth.


A single-jointed bit consists of one single link in the middle. The bit exerts pressure on the bars and the tongue at rest, and creates a nutcracker action when pressure is applied on the reins. Although once popular, riders these days favour the double-jointed snaffles, as they are thought to be kinder.



A bit that has a ‘U’ shape in the middle has a ported mouth. The port is designed to relieve tongue pressure or to create more space in the horse’s mouth. Ports can either be shallow or deep. In addition to creating tongue relief, a ported bit places pressure on the palate when a contact is taken up. A bit with a very high port can be very painful for the horse when it comes into contact with the palate. The bit lies down flat on the horse’s tongue at rest, and rotates upward as the contact is taken up. Ports are commonly found on pelhams and Western bits.




As the shape and action of the bit is very important to consider carefully, so too is the type of material. Some horses prefer non-metal materials, and others are happy to work in a metal variant, such as sweet iron. When considering the mouthpiece material, a lot of focus is placed on salivation or the need to create it. Certain types of metals are susceptible to corrosion when they come into contact with oxygen, so bear this in mind when choosing a material.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is your most common type of bit material, as it embodies the ideal combination of iron, chromium, nickel and carbon. Stainless steel is strong, fit for purpose, easy to clean and neutral in taste for horses. It does not rust, making it easy to store. However, this bit does not encourage salivation, making it dry in many horses’ mouths.

  • Iron = 73%
  • Chromium = 18%
  • Nickel = 8%
  • Carbon = 1%
Sweet iron

Sweet iron is a term given to mild steel or carbon steel that has been ‘work-hardened’. Usually the mouthpiece is made of sweet iron and the cheekpieces are made of stainless steel. In a moist environment (in the horse’s mouth), the sweet iron oxidises, therefore releasing a sweet taste that horses often favour and engage with. This mouthpiece is great for encouraging salivation and acceptance of the bit, but it will oxidise over time and requires thorough rinsing and drying after use.



The full article appears in the February (119) issue of HQ > Shop now