Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Let me preface this post with this thought. A bit is only as good as the hands that use it. If you don’t have your horse’s mind no bit will be big enough or strong enough to convince them to do that which you want them to do.
If you find that you continually need a bigger and harsher bit then I suggest you go back to the basics on the ground and start to understand your horse’s mind. This will serve you better than the most beautiful bit made.
A golden bit does not make the horse any better.
I know there is a lot of confusion out there about bits in the big horse world. There are literally 100’s of different types of bits to choose from. Maybe there are even 1000’s. I have always stayed on the snaffle bit side of things and haven’t branched out into the curb and the spade bits, so I am no expert by any means. But I thought I would share what I have learned and figured out on my own as it applies to the miniature horse or horses with low ports of mouth and/or horses that are fussy.
The first thing to look at when buying a bit is how well is it made? Many many miniature horse snaffle bits are not well made and do not fit their little mouths well at all. I am going to share some of the most common bits and say a little bit about them. I don’t have all these bits at my disposal so these photos are ones I found online.
One of the most common pony/mini bits I see is the loose ring snaffle bit. They typically look like this:
This bit is a pretty simple and innocuous bit. It has a very thick mouth piece, the thicker the mouth piece the more area it will cover in a horse’s mouth, therefor they tend to be a bit gentler. The problem with this type of bit for a miniature horse is that they often have very tiny mouths. There isn’t much space in there between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. So when the bit has a single break, such as a the bit shown, there isn’t enough room for the bit to work correctly, resulting in the bit banging into the roof of the mouth. If there is enough room between the tongue and the roof of the mouth a typical snaffle bit will NOT bang into the roof of the mouth as people often claim. Instead they break in the middle and apply the pressure to the tongue.
This bit will break in the middle and bang into the roof of the mouth if the hands are applying the pressure from below the horses’s mouth, such as when you are leading your big horse by the reins and it acts up. The typical response is to pull downward on the reins, applying downward pressure to the bit. In this case you will cause the bit to break in the middle and smack them on the roof of the mouth, hence they will jerk their head up, trying to avoid the contact on the roof of the mouth!
Another very common bit is the half cheek snaffle:
Poorly made half cheek snaffle.
Both of these half cheek snaffles are poorly made. Look at where the mouth piece meets the cheek pieces and you can see how loose they are. If you can take the cheek piece in your hand and wiggle the mouth piece up and down that is not a good sign. The horse could get it’s sensitive skin along it’s lips stuck in that little gap and you will both be in a world of hurt!
Poorly made half cheek snaffle.
The half cheek snaffle below is of a bit better quality. There will be little wiggle room where the mouth piece and the cheek piece meet. The mouth piece is a bit thinner to accommodate the miniature horse mouth as well. Still it does only have a single break.
The next bit is a half cheek snaffle with a french link:
Some horses do not like tongue pressure. You won’t know this until you start biting them. A few different signs that your horse doesn’t like his bit are head tossing, putting his tongue OVER the bit, gaping at the mouth when you apply pressure. These can all be signs that your horse is not comfortable with it’s current bit.
A great style of bit for horses that need a bit of tongue release is the Myler style comfort snaffle. The comfort snaffle is curved to fit the horse’s mouth:
This photo shows how the bit is curved and will fit in the horse’s mouth nicely. Because of the curve they tend NOT to lay directly on the tongue when the horse is carrying them. Depending on how much pressure you need to apply when using the reins they will apply pressure to the tongue at that time.
The above bit is a Myler style bit, meaning it has been styled after the Myler bit but is not an actual Myler. If you ever have the chance to purchase an actual Myler bit you will be amazed at the difference in quality and mouth piece size. Most mini bits are made smaller in mouth piece length, but they don’t typically make the actual mouth piece width smaller. Myler does! You can read more about how they size the pony and miniature horse bits on Estate Horse Supply Products. Here is a photo of an actual Myler bit so you can see the difference:
When I had my Myler bit it was also lighter than my knock off Myler bit was.
If you follow Barry Hook you will know that he prefers a simple rubber bit. He has his specially made with a very high quality rubber. I have found it very difficult to find a rubber bit here that isn’t made in China. The Chinese rubber is flimsy and easily breaks off leaving the bit with sharp areas and the horse with a mouth full of rubber pieces. I’ve heard that Barry Hook is going to try to have a nice quality rubber bit made that he can sell. I look forward to that day!
He shows the rubber bit in this video at minute 4:03. (This video also talks about how sometimes he has to have shoes put on his driving horses and why he doesn’t like this particular bitless bridle…)
Next up is a Tom Thumb and curb style bit. Neither one of these bits is appropriate for driving. I personally wouldn’t want a child handling the reins with either of these bits either. They can be harsh, especially in the mouth of a miniature horse. As we have talked about above, minis often have such a small amount of room in their mouths that these bits cause nothing but pain. Also when there is pressure applied both of these bits can bang into the roof of the mouth causing the mini to toss it’s head.
Next up is the Liverpool style of driving bit.
This Liverpool bit is a curb style bit with a mullen mouth. They come with a single break or a double break as well as a ported mouth. The slots along the side of the cheek piece are where you can attach the reins with varying amounts of leverage applied, provided the curb chain is correctly fastened under the chin. I haven’t ever needed or used a Liverpool bit but know lots of drivers that do! Of course the more leverage you have in the horse’s mouth the more pain you can ultimately inflict, so having soft, kind hands is key when using a bit of this magnitude. This bit is not for a beginner driver or a green horse. Even with the reins attached to the highest setting on the cheek piece there will still be leverage applied because of the purchase, where the bridle attaches to the bit, as shown below.
The leverage that is gained by these bits is from the rotational force that the reins cause when you apply pressure. Sometimes these mullen mouth bits can apply quite a lot of tongue pressure once that rotational pressure is applied. The tighter the curb chain the more leverage will be applied.
The next bit is the Butterfly Arch Mouth bit:
I like this style of bit for horses that need a bit of tongue relief when driving. I am ordering one of these for Sky as she is not 100% happy in the Myler style comfort snaffle shown above.
If you have the reins in the top ring of the cheek piece you will still have more leverage than with a snaffle because of the purchases and the curb chain. The thing about this arch mouth style of bit is that when the bit is just laying in the horse’s mouth the arch starts out pointing towards the back of the horse’s mouth. When you pick up the reins the arch mouth will rotate away from the tongue. I am interested to see what Sky thinks of this bit!
A good rule of thumb when fitting a bit is a little too wide is much better than a little too narrow. Ideally you will want your bit to be 1/8″ – 1/4″ wider than the horse’s mouth. In my bridle post I talk a little about bit fit and how high you want it to sit in your horse’s mouth.
When driving you must have a nose band as that is what stabilizes the bridle, helping to keep the blinders in the correct place. If you are driving in an open bridle having a nose band is still a good idea as it will assist in keeping the bridle on the horse if it rubs it’s face.
A gullet strap that goes from the back of the nose band to the throat latch is also an important piece of equipment when driving. I am ordering one for my bridle! I recently participated in Coachman’s Delight’s Runaway online class. In this class he talked about what to do if you find yourself in a runaway as well as helpful hints and tips to help keep you safe and possibly avoid a runaway all together! The gullet strap was one of those helpful hints.
You guys… there is SO MUCH MORE that I could say about bits, but I do try to keep things simple around here. So this is my simple take on the different and most common style of driving bits. If you have any specific questions about bits please leave a comment below or shoot me an email!