One of the most common questions in the horse world is, "What bit should I use?" Most of the time a rider will turn to a harsher bit in an attempt to 'control' his or her horse. We as humans, tend to think that we must control and dominate our 1000lbs equines. As horse owners, riders and trainers we need to accept the simple truth that we cannot control a 1000lb horse no matter how we want to. Horses by design allow us to ride and allow us the illusion of control.

If we truly aspire to be horse-people, people who understand our horses, what we need to do is turn to softer bits and knowledge. I recommend that only riders of a high level use a bit, if in doubt use a simple halter and detachable reins.

When you are searching for a bit focus on finding one that fits comfortably and your horse likes in his/her mouth. Realize that you will have to be patient and may go through a few bits before finding one your equine partner accepts. The best thing to start with when looking for a bit is to research the subject thoroughly. 

~The Horse’s Mouth~

                The horse’s mouth is a very sensitive place. The bit, however, sits on the most delicate place in the horse’s mouth where the horse is the most delicate. The metal piece of equipment rests on the tongue and the gums that overlay the bars of the horses jaw, and under the hard plate (roof of the horse’s mouth). When the bit is placed into the horse’s mouth and is accepted the muscles of the tongue relax so that the bit can fit comfortably in the mouth, if the tongue is not relaxed then the bit presses up harshly on the hard plate.

                This is a very sensitive area and can be damaged quite easily even with the lightest of bits. Thus bits are only to be used when the rider reaches a point where his or her hands are light, weight aids are used correctly, and balance is correct.

~The Use of The Bit~

                Before using a bit one must know how to handle one properly. Even the mildest bit can be destructive to the horse, if you, the rider, are not yet ready to use one. Bits are used when riding as a means to finely communicate with your horse. One should not use the reins/bit for balancing when riding. Think of the bit as an extension of your arm, like the whip is when you are working on the ground. Continue to use your weight to communicate which direction and speed you want to go and use the bit only as a means for fine tuning your communication with your horse.

                The bit is used to aid certain maneuvers when riding, working with your weight aids not against them. Do not use your bit as your only means of communication! It is merely an aid. By now you should be able to simply use your weight to move your horse, if you start to use just your reins it will only cause you to rely on them, and you don’t want that.

                Avoid giving mixed signals by saying one thing with your hands and the opposite with your weight/energy. This will merely confuse your partner. Your hands should be light when using the bit, but not loose either. Hold the reins as if you were holding someone’s hand. Not too hard, but gently holding it there.

                Never use a bit as a way of punishing the horse. If you find yourself thinking like this you should not be riding with one and need to reevaluate you relationship and understanding of the horse.

~Basic Guidelines to Finding a Bit~

                Any bit that you use must fit your horse’s mouth. It is of up most importance that the bit you have selected fits your partners mouth if it does not it could cause extreme discomfort which can cause the horse to act out.

Remember that less is always more. Bits are used for communication and we are to communicate softly and kindly to our partners, not harshly. Less is always more in the world of bits.  The harsher the bit the louder you are yelling at your partner. I have never seen a relationship go well when one person is screaming at the other person constantly. It ends badly for everyone.

                Look at the width of the bit. The mouthpiece should not be too thin. The smaller the width the more pressure it puts on the bars. The larger the contact area the less pressure there is on the horse’s mouth. It’s like the difference of pressing a cheese slicer against your finger or a butter knife. The cheese slicer puts more pressure on a smaller area creating more pain.

                Now think about the shape of the bit. Straight bits puts the most pressure on the tongue while some bits that have hinges, or grooves and/or curves place more pressure on the bars.