I’m sure you know that there are hundreds and hundreds of bits for horses available; which can be pretty intimidating when you are looking for a bit for a specific need.
This article is not intended to sell you on a certain wonder bit that can create miracles, but to give you an idea of which bit will aide you in training to solve certain issues. One of the reasons there are so many options concerning western horse bits: is that almost every event will require a different one.
5 Steps to Finding the Perfect Horse Bit
You certainly wouldn’t use the same bit for a calf roping horse as you would a barrel horse.
The biggest deciding factors for choosing a bit include the weight, shank length, and mouthpiece. Two bits can have the same weight and shank length, but completely different mouthpieces.
This can cause a horse to work perfectly in one; while working horribly in the other. You can more easily determine the best bit to suit your needs by looking at the anatomy of a bit; instead of just relying on the manufacturers’ description.
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Step 1: How Much Whoa Do You Need?
The shank length determines the amount of leverage you have, when you apply pressure to the horse’s mouth through the reins. The shank is the part of the bit that is below the mouthpiece.
Shank Leverage can be determined by dividing the purchase measurement (the length above the mouthpiece) by the shank measurement. This means that if the purchase is 2″ and the shank is 6″, then the leverage will be 3:1. This implies that if you are pulling back with one pound of pressure; the horse will feel three pounds of pressure.
With that being said you can conclude that if you are having trouble getting your horse to stop, or if a hard stop is required, (like in the calf roping) you will want to choose a bit that has a long shank.
Step 2: Which Mouthpiece fits your horse?
This step will require a little more thought, and possibly some trial and error.
Mouthpiece– The mouthpiece is the part of the bit that lays in the horse’s mouth. When choosing a a mouthpiece, it is important to remember that the thicker the bit; the less severe the pressure will be on the horse’s mouth and vice versa. There are numerous mouth piece designs and materials mouthpieces are made from.
Common metals used to make bits include:
Sweet Iron- This metal is used specifically because it will rust quickly. The rust helps promote salivation, which is a lubricant for the mouth.
Copper- Copper is also used in order to promote salivation. This is very important to prevent the mouth from becoming sore.
Copper Inlay- Copper inlay is also used to aid with salivation and is commonly used with sweet iron and stainless steel.
Stainless steel- Stainless is very strong, and will maintain it’s clean appearance, but it is not recommended to be used without copper inlay. This is because stainless does not promote salivation, which could result in mouth sores.
Typically you can divide the mouthpieces into two groups by deciding if your horse is fluidly responsive to cues or a little resistant.
Common mouthpiece designs for horses that need more guidance include:
- Twisted/Serrated Bits – These bits are usually only used by runaway or hard mouthed horses due to the severity.
Common mouthpieces for horses that are eagerly responsive include:
Step 3: Do you need a Gag or Wonder Bit?
If you are looking for a bit to use during barrel racing or other speed events; you may want to consider the option of using one of these bits:
These gag and wonder bits are used to help achieve a better response to turning. These bits help by applying pressure that aids in lifting the shoulders, which also helps create flexion while turning easier. These bits were created to apply pressure to the top of the poll which helps create softness.
Step 4: What Weight Do You Need in a Bit?
Most western style riders prefer bits that are somewhat heavy, once their horse surpasses basic training bits. This is mostly because when using a heavier bit, the horse will be able to feel a release of pressure faster than in a light bit.
On the flip side, some horses may be intimidated by heavy bits; while others may try to take advantage of a light bit.
The most important factor concerning weight is in the mouthpiece. If a mouthpiece is thick and heavy, it will be less severe than a mouthpiece that is thin and light.
Step 5: Compare and contrast
You can browse hundreds of bits HERE and use the tips in this article to choose the perfect one for you and your horse.
**Don’t forget to accommodate for your riding style. If you tend to have heavy hands, remember that while selecting a bit. A horse can easily be over-bitted, and you will not see any positive results from a severe bit with severe hands.**