The Ultimate Guide To Horse Bits And Mouthpieces

When it comes to horse riding, the gear and equipment are some of the most important things. Not only does it need to fit your horse properly, but you also need to make sure you have all the bits and pieces, without forgetting any! 

Amongst the equipment, one of the most confusing and complicated to newbies, are the bits and mouthpieces. And the truth is, they can definitely be incredibly challenging if you don’t have the experience!

There are many different types of bits and mouthpieces, all of them suited to different riding styles and horses. 

It’s also really important to be able to choose the right bit for your horse. It will sit inside the mouth, and as such, it is essential that it fits properly, so that it doesn’t cause the horse any pain or discomfort. But which bit are you supposed to use? How do you know which one is right? And how do they work? 

We are aware of how overwhelming it can be, so to help you out, we’ve created this ultimate guide. Here you will find information on everything you need to know about horse bits and mouthpieces! So if that sounds good to you, let’s get right into it!

What Is A Horse Bit And What Is It For?

Let’s start by clarifying the actual purpose of a horse bit, as many people are often confused by what it is used for.

To put it simply, the horse bit is made so that the rider can communicate with the horse. It isn’t, as many people wrongly believe, used to control the horse. (Trust us, you can’t control a horse merely with a small bit in their mouth, do you know how strong and powerful horses are?) 

So basically, the horse bit applies a subtle pressure to the inside of the horse’s mouth, where the sensitive cartilage is. The horse is therefore highly responsive to this pressure, and it is why it is so effective as a means for the rider to communicate with the horse. Mainly, in order to direct the horse the right way during riding! 

The way it works is that the horse bit is connected to the bridle, which is connected to the reins. So when you’re directing the reins one way or the other, you’re directing through the use of the horse bit!

But yeah, long story short: the horse bit is used so that the rider can communicate an intention to the horse while riding. 

Horse Bits: The Different Parts Explained

In order to understand how a horse bit works, and how it is placed inside the horse’s mouth, it is good to first understand what it looks like, and the parts that it is made out of.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that there are many different types of horse bits and mouthpieces, so some might also have different parts and important design choices. However, we can show you the parts of the standard and most common horse bits used. 

The snaffle bit is the most common English bit, used as the standard one. And it has two parts: the mouthpiece, and the bit rings. The mouthpiece is the part that goes into the horse’s mouth (much as the name suggests), and the ring bits are where the bridle and reins are attached. 

The curb bit (also known as the leverage bit), is a slightly different design, which is also quite commonly used. It has a mouthpiece, which goes inside the horse’s mouth, and cheeks instead of the ring bits. The cheeks have a shank (which goes below the mouthpiece), and a purchase (which goes above the mouthpiece).

The purchase is the part attached to the bridle, and depending on the length, it will move quicker or slower, to adjust the reaction times. The shank, meanwhile, adjusts the control. 

Just to help you visualize these two types of horse bits (which we have used as common examples), here are photos with the different parts signaled out: 

The Snaffle Bit

The Curb Bit

Do Horse Bits Hurt The Horse’s Mouth?

A lot of people outside the world of horse-riding, often worry that horse bits hurt the horse’s mouth. With many people going as far as claiming that it is cruel to use them on horses and that they are a device of torture. But is this actually true?

If used incorrectly, and by the wrong people, then the horse bit can indeed hurt a horse. But if used properly, then the horse bit should not hurt a horse in the slightest! So technically, the answer to this should always be no, it does not harm the horse. 

Some horses do have a more sensitive mouth than others, but that is also why there are plenty of different types of horse bits so that you can choose the right one for your horse so that it is comfortable and safe!

This is why it is so important to always use the right gear with your horse, especially when it comes to the horse bit and mouthpiece. It is important to make sure you use the right type, and the right size, and that you then make appropriate adjustments and use. 

Finding The Right Bit For Your Horse: Measuring The Bit

It is incredibly important to use the right bit on your horse so that it is comfortable, safe, and actually works as it is supposed to.

For example, if the bit is too small, it will pinch your horse’s mouth and be very uncomfortable. But if it’s too big, it will move around and rub against the teeth, which could cause damage! So basically, you have to make sure you are using the right size on your horse, and for that, you have to measure your horse’s mouth. 

In order to measure your horse’s mouth, the best way is to use a bit sizer. This is essentially a plastic shank with a stopper on one of the ends, so you simply put it in your horse’s mouth, the stopper against the inner cheek, and then you check the measurement! It’s easy and fast. 

If you don’t have a bit sizer then there are other methods. You could, for example, use a piece of string or similar, and then measure the size. And some people use calipers, which are pricey but are even easier to use than a bit sizer, and perfect for when you need to measure the mouth of several different horses. 

The main thing is that you measure your horse’s mouth so that you can get the correctly sized bit. 

But…what if you can’t find a bit that is the correct size? Well, if that is the case, and you really can’t find the right size, then go a size up.

It is better for the bit to be slightly too big, than slightly too small. This is because you can use bit guards (sometimes referred to as cheek guards), which are soft rubber disks that act as stoppers on either side of the mouthpiece. 

Nevertheless, this should be a temporary fix, as having the right bit for your horse is one of the most important parts of the overall riding gear and equipment. 

Different Types Of Horse Bits

As we mentioned earlier on, there are many different types of bits, featuring different designs and different specialty uses. There are far too many types of bits to list and go through, however, all horse bits can be placed into specific categories. 

To help you understand all of the most commonly used types of bits, we’ll go through the main categories, and the most popular bits within them: 

Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are the most popular and commonly used, all throughout the world, and are almost always considered to be the standard, for all riding disciplines. They are especially common in English riding too. 

A snaffle is a bit with one set of reins so that it only applies pressure to the horse’s mouth. The word itself comes from “snavel”, which literally means mouth! 

With snaffles, they usually have a straight mouthpiece or are single jointed with different ring styles. Here are the most common types of snaffle bits:


A bradoon bit is the same as an eggbutt or loose ring bit, but with the difference that it has been designed to be used together with a curb bit, as a combination of both types. 


The D-ring bit has D-shaped rings to which the reins attach too, hence the name. It is very gentle, and it is very hard for it to ever pinch a horse’s mouth, making it very mild and gentle. 


The eggbutt bit is one of the most popular and commonly used ones. It is also the mildest of all the snaffle bits, and thanks to the design of the rings, it is very hard for it to ever pinch a horse’s mouth, therefore being very comfortable. 

Full Cheek

The full cheek bit is very similar to the D-ring, only the rings are smaller and they have cheeks extruding from the points of the ring. The design allows them to not be pulled through the horse’s mouth so that they are more secure. The top of the cheeks can also be fixed to the bridle if desired. 

Hanging Cheek

The hanging cheek bit is very similar to the eggbutt, with a cheek piece that is fixed to the bridle, and the reins attached to the cheek. It can sometimes apply some pressure on the poll, but this completely depends on both the horse and the rider. 

Loose Ring

The loose ring bit has rings that aren’t fixed to the mouthpiece, they are instead loose and able to move freely. It is very gentle on the horse, but the rings can sometimes pinch the side of the mouth, as they are moving around, something that is easily solved through the use of bit guards. 

Curb Bits

Curb bits, often more commonly known as leverage bits, are called this way because of the design. Basically, the shanks pull against the curb chain (the strap) and the bridle, so apart from applying pressure to the mouth, they also apply pressure to the poll, cheeks, and chin.

They are also usually easy to recognize because the cheek pieces tend to be very fancy and decorative, for no other reason than to look especially nice!

Here are some of the most commonly used types of curb bits: 

Tom Thumb

The Tom Thumb bit is different from most other curb bits in that it has a single jointed mouthpiece, making it look like a snaffle. It is very popular within the show ring, but it is also a very good bit to use when trail riding. 

Western Correction

The Western correction, due to the name, often makes people think that it is used in order to correct the behavior of a horse.

However, this is not the case! In reality, the Western correction bit is one that should only be used on well-trained horses, and the “correction” part is simply a design that enhances the response time so that the horse reacts a lot quicker to the movement of the reins. 

Western Grazing

The Western Grazing bit is the most popular out of all the Western bits, and one of the most commonly used curb bits. The name is due to the original design, in which the shanks were angled backward, therefore allowing the horse to graze as normal even when wearing the bit!

Western S-Shank Curb

The Western S-shank curb bit is one that has an S-shaped shank, hence the name. However, it is also easy to identify by its high-port mouthpiece, which is usually made out of either copper or stainless steel. 


There are actually many different types of gag bits, all of them useful for horses that have a specially strong pull. They aren’t accepted within dressage competitions, but they are very common for eventing horses, or even for polo ponies! 

But let’s take a look at the different gag bits: 

  • Gag Snaffle

The gag snaffle looks more like a snaffle bit than a curb bit, hence the name. It has a ring attached to either side of the mouthpiece, and the cheekpiece has one hole on each end. A rope or cord then runs through those holes, and the reins are attached to them. 

  • Continental

The continental gag bit, also commonly known as the Dutch gag or the Pessoa gag, has a main ring on the cheek piece with a smaller ring for the bridle at the top, plus it has two smaller rings underneath where the reins can be attached.

Basically, the rider can choose which rings to use for the reins, therefore providing you with more possibilities and adjustments. 

  • Elevator

The Elevator gag bit, also commonly known as the American gag, has a jointed mouthpiece that is able to move up and down the curved cheekpiece.

This one is especially useful for riders that are looking to have extra control over the horse, but they can be quite harsh so should not be used often unless it is necessary, and other options haven’t managed to work. 

  • Duncan

Also commonly referred to as the Half-ring, the Duncan gag bit is almost the same as the snaffle bit, only the ring isn’t closed (as it is only half a ring). It, therefore, has to be used with gag reins, making it a gag bit. 

Combination Bits

Combination bits are also commonly referred to as double bridles. However, instead of two bridles, they are essentially two bits combined into one. They are most often used with two different sets of reins (hence the popular name), or alternatively with a rein converter. 

There are also different types of combination bits that you can use, so here are a few of the most commonly used ones:


The Kimberwick bit, or Kimiblewick as it is known by some people, is very similar to the D-ring snaffle bit, paired with a curb chain. It is basically a curb bit that acts like a snaffle, and it is known for having incredible stopping power. However, this also means that it should be used by experienced riders. 


The Pelham bit isn’t considered to be a combination by everybody, but as it requires two sets of reins for its use, we thought we’d include it in this list! It is one of the most popular of all combination bits and is commonly used in both English and Western disciplines of riding. 


Unlike the Pelham, the Weymouth bit is a proper combination bit, usually used with the Bradoon bit. It is most commonly used for dressage, and it requires a double bridle with two different sets of reins. 

In-Hand Bits

In-hand bits are different from usual bits because instead of being used during horse-riding, they are actually used for when you are leading a horse by the hand! So these bits are specifically for when you are on foot, leading your horse. They should never ever be used for riding because that is not what they are designed for. 

Once that is drilled into your mind, you can proceed to take a look at some of the most popular in-hand bits: 

Chifney Anti-Rearing

The Chifney anti-rearing bit, much as the name suggests, is ideal for use on horses with a tendency to rear up when they are being led, as this bit should stop them from doing as such. It essentially works by applying pressure downwards, so that the horse can’t pull away. 

However, these are quite harsh on the horse’s mouth, so they should only be used by those that are experienced, and that know exactly how to use them properly! 

Horse-Shoe Stallion

Much as the name suggests, the Horse-shoe stallion bit was initially designed for use on stallions, however, it can be used on any horse as long as you use it properly. It has a mullen mouth bit, and it features horseshoe brass cheekpieces as a decorative element, so they’re quite fancy! 

Tattersall Ring

The Tattersall ring bit is designed so that it goes through the mouth and around the lower jaw. It is especially useful for leading young racehorses with a lot of energy, as it helps keep them under control a little better! 

Different Types Of Mouthpieces For Horse Bits

Okay, so far we’ve talked a lot about horse bits, and the many different types of them that can be used. However, this article isn’t just about bits, it is also about a specific part of many types of bits: the mouthpiece. 

The mouthpiece is most common in snaffle and curb bits, and it can be made out of different materials, and in different designs. It is a bat, two bars, or a chain, generally speaking. 

The mouthpiece is one of the most important parts of a bit, as it is the part that goes inside the horse’s mouth, and therefore, it is the part that has to better fit and suit the horse in question, in order for the bit as a whole to be comfortable and safe to use.

Some are for horses with sensitive mouths, so they are gentle and soft, while others are harsher in order to help the rider better lead a more energetic or troublesome horse. 

Some people worry that mouthpieces are harmful, or that they cause the horse pain, and should therefore not be used. However, as long as you are using the correct mouthpiece for your horse, in the right size, it is completely safe and causes no pain or discomfort whatsoever! 

The mouthpiece is there to help the rider communicate different intentions to the horse so that the horse is doing what the rider does, and they both work together in sync.

And that’s not all! The mouthpiece is also actually designed to encourage horses to salivate more, as some horses need this in order to not have a dry mouth. (The material of the mouthpiece has a great deal to do with how much salivating is encouraged in the horse). 

So anyway, there are many different types of mouthpieces, so that you can choose the one most suited and useful for your horse. And just so that you can get to know a little about all of the main types of mouthpieces, here is a list of the most popularly used ones: 

Broken Segunda

The Broken Segunda mouthpiece is designed so that the curve bends downwards, and it is essentially a direct opposite to the high port mouthpiece. It is often used on horses that are very strong, but it is important that it is used only by very experienced riders. 

Center Link

The Center link mouthpiece is essentially a three-piece double-linked design, with a link in the center that can take on various different shapes. It allows the rider to have slightly more control over the horse. 

There are a few different main types of center link mouthpieces:


The French center link mouthpiece is easily recognizable by its peanut-shaped center link. 

Oval Mouth

The Oval Mouth mouthpiece often referred to as the lozenge mouth, has a rounded lozenge-shaped center link. 


With the Ball center link mouthpiece, the center link is a copper ball. It is considered to be one of the harsher out of the center link mouthpieces, as it applies all of the pressure onto one smaller place. 

Dr. Bristol

Also popularly known as the Doc Bristol, this mouthpiece is very similar to the oval mouth, only the center link is a lot longer and flatter, therefore applying a lot more pressure onto the horse’s tongue. As it has flat edges, it is also quite a harsh mouthpiece, so should only be used by experienced riders. 


The Lifesaver mouthpiece is most commonly used as a transition bit, for horses that are going from one type of bit to another. It applies pressure on the tongue, and the design features a big O ring as the center ring, which looks like a lifesaver, hence the name. 


The Dogbone mouthpiece has a roller on it, as a general rule, and the center link is shaped just like a dog bone. 


The moon mouthpiece, sometimes also available as a quarter-moon or half-moon, is one that allows the horse to move the tongue around freely, and it is, therefore, a lot gentler and softer on the mouth than the other options listed. 


The Chain mouthpiece is not very popular nowadays, as it is quite severe, and people stopped using it in order to avoid pain for the horse. It was made with links that looked like a bike chain, and although some people still use it, it is not recommended. 

Double Mouth

The Double Mouth mouthpiece features two mouthpieces, straight or jointed. This intensifies the nutcracker effect, making it a very harsh mouthpiece, and it should only ever be used by very experienced riders, on strong horses that won’t respond to anything else. 


Hollow mouthpieces are light, applying pressure over a wide area. They are incredibly gentle on the horse, but not suitable for all horses. 


The Jointed mouthpiece is known for having two or more bars, and it can be either single-jointed or double-jointed: 


This is by far the most common type of jointed mouthpiece. The downside of this mouthpiece is that there is a nutcracker effect when pressure is applied onto the reins, and this can sometimes pinch the horse. 


With the double-jointed mouthpiece, there are two bars that can be joined to a centerpiece, and this is either a link, a port, a roller, or any other shape. This minimizes the nutcracker effect experienced with the single-jointed, making it a bit gentler on the horse. 


This type of mouthpiece gets its name by the “keys” which can be attached to a center ring, or to a roller attachment. These are used especially with young horses, and the main purpose of the keys is to keep the horse occupied, as they are something to play with and get distracted by, in order for the horse to accept the bit and get used to it a lot easier. 

Mullen Mouth

The Mullen Mouth mouthpiece is a single bar, and it is considered to be very gentle on the horse, as there is no pinching at all. It can be made of many different materials, but high-tech plastic and vulcanized rubber are the most common. 


Port mouthpieces are known for having an inverted U shape, or an upward curve, in the middle, which is used to reduce the pressure on the horse’s tongue. This means that the horse won’t use the tongue in order to get in the way of the bit, which can be quite a common problem otherwise!

There are a few different styles that the Port mouthpiece can be designed in, and it can also be either low (1 inch or less), medium (between 1 and 2 inches), or high (2 inches and above). 

Here are the different styles of Port mouthpieces:

Ported Link

The ported link mouthpiece (sometimes also known as the double-joint port) has a center port linked to the bar from both sides. 


The cathedral port is one designed to be flatter, usually common within Western riding disciplines. It should only ever be used by experienced riders that really know what they’re doing, and on horses that are well-trained, as otherwise, it can be quite a harsh mouthpiece.

Nevertheless, it also has a curb chain that is designed to lower the pressure, so that it isn’t that bad. 


The Spade mouthpiece comes from Spanish and Mexican cattle drivers, known as vaqueros. It has a copper roller in the center, with a shape-like appearance.

Once again, this is a mouthpiece that should only ever be used by experienced riders, on well-trained horses that are equally as experienced. This is because if used incorrectly, the spade port can be very uncomfortable and painful for the horse. 


The Spoon port mouthpiece is most commonly used on very well-trained horses, in order to perform advanced maneuvers while you’re working with cattle. They have a flattened media, and this makes them gentler than unflattened high port bars, which is also a plus. 


Roller mouthpieces are essentially rollers or barrels on the bar, made out of copper, stainless steel, or sweet iron. The main use of roller mouthpieces is that they are very efficient at encouraging the horse to salivate more, and this in turn allows the horse to be a lot more responsive to the reins, so it’s a win-win! 

There are a few different types of roller mouthpieces: 

Single Roller

Single roller mouthpieces feature just one roller, right on the center of the bar. This roller is, as a general rule, made out of copper, and it can be designed to be thicker or thinner, depending on what is preferred. 

Alternating Rollers

Also known as multiple rollers, Alternating roller mouthpieces are very similar to the single roller, with the rollers positioned in the center of the bar. However, they are not only made in copper but also in stainless steel and sweet iron, alternating between the different materials.


With Cricket roller mouthpieces, you have a single roller, placed in the center of a medium or high port. And fun fact, the name comes from the noise that the bit makes when rolled, as it sounds like a cricket! 

Billy Allens

This type of roller mouthpiece is named after Billy Allens, a famous horseman from Kansas, USA. It is designed with three individual pieces as a jointed piece, with one roller placed in the center. As a general rule, it is used when training colts. 


The Twisted mouthpiece is one of the most severe of mouthpieces, and it can be incredibly harsh on the horse’s mouth, which is why it is very rarely recommended. The more twists it has, the harsher it is. 


The Waterford mouthpiece is very popular for show jumping, and it is one of the most comfortable for horses, as it’s loose inside the mouth and only applies pressure when necessary. It is also very flexible, with between 5 to 9 links. 


The Wire mouthpiece is very similar to the Twisted mouthpiece, but it is a thinner version. This makes this mouthpiece even more severe, as it focuses the pressure on the mouth.

Some people within the equine community are against the use of this particular mouthpiece, as it is considered to be extremely uncomfortable for horses, and can be outright cruel!

How Do You Know Which Horse Bit Is Right For Your Horse?

If you’ve made it this far…congratulations! That was a lot of information about a lot of different types of horse bits and mouthpieces, so you might be feeling a little overwhelmed! But since you’ve made it this far, it’s time to pose one of the most important questions: how do you know which horse bit is right for your horse? 

We’ve shown you that there are many different types of bits, and we have mentioned over and over again how important it is to use the right bit for your horse, in order to ensure it is comfortable, safe, and useful. But we haven’t told you how to choose the bit for your horse! 

The truth is, we can’t tell you exactly what bit to use on your horse, because we don’t know your horse, or its measurements, or its needs, or what kind of bit you want according to your horse’s behavior. 

What we can tell you, instead, are the main factors that you should be taking into consideration when choosing the bit for your horse.

So here they are: 

Your Experience

The experience that you have with horses and as a rider is crucial when it comes to choosing the bit, especially because some horse bits are only suited to highly experienced riders, or else they might hurt the horse. 

You have to remember that the horse bit is the direct point of contact between you and the horse, so any movement you make with the reins, the horse feels through the bits. Depending on your level and how you ride, different types of bits will be more suitable. 

The Sensitivity Of Your Horse’s Mouth

Horses with a more sensitive mouth will need a gentler and softer bit so that it isn’t painful or uncomfortable for them. However, some horses need a harsher bit in order to actually react. So it depends on your horse! 

The Way In Which Your Horse Has Been Trained

Just like how riders sometimes have to be at a certain level in order to use specific horse bits, the same goes for horses. Some bits require the horse to have been trained in a certain way, or to a certain level before it is safe to use the bit. Otherwise, the horse will not know what to do, and the reactions will be all off, and sometimes even dangerous!

Your Riding Discipline

Different riding disciplines lend themselves to the use of different bits, due to the style of riding they require. This is important to take into account! 


In conclusion, there are many different types of horse bits and mouthpieces, and it is very important to use the appropriate one in your horse, in order for them to be effective, comfortable, and safe. 

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