How would one go about choosing a bit to try? Should I just go ahead and see what works and what doesn’t?

“Hi Stacy (and others),
I am new here, so sorry if this is answered somewhere else on the site (if it is please direct me to it!)

This is great information and I have been struggling with this issue with one of the horses I ride – I think changing bits may help. The horse is educated but falls into the “Employee Three” category on a few tasks/skills (not all of them, thank goodness).

How would one go about choosing a bit to try? Should I just go ahead and see what works and what doesn’t? I don’t want to confuse the horse and/or make it worse in the process.

What signs should I be looking for – especially since I can probably expect some reaction and/or resistance, since we’re trying to change some long-standing bad habits? How do I tell whether I am working through resistance, or just making it worse with the wrong bit choice?

Thank you for the wealth of information on this website – it is very generous of you to share so freely with us. Love your work!-Kate”


Here is a review of methods I have seen- along with my opinion.

The most common thing that people do when looking for a new bit is they start buying and trying them out. Often this is because they don’t know who to ask or how else to go about looking.  This isn’t my favorite method but is the most common I have seen. The reason it is my least favorite is because, generally, if there is this much guess work going on it would indicate that the rider doesn’t fully understand the issue with the horse or which bit is likely to help. All bits have ‘side-effect’…strengths and weaknesses. For example a snaffle is AMAZING for lateral work but not as good for vertical (side effects could be and entire blog in itself).

The next method in searching for a bit, in my experience, is borrowing a bit to try it out. This is pretty common at horse shows that are several days long. People will talk and try out different bits during the off hours. Again, horses have preferences too. Last year at a mounted shooting show I loaned out my bridle. At the Congress last year the trainer down the isle from us loaned out his bit to another trainer several isles over. I like this better because it involves at least a couple of people discussing the problem and the possible solutions. For example, at the shooting show I was able to talk with the lady and based on watching her and her horse and make a suggestion. She was able to ride in the bit for two days. Later she bought one for herself.

My favorite method is when people come and ride with us, this could be during a lesson or during a clinic. The reason this is my favorite method is because I get to know the horses training level, the riders experience level and I can see things that are happening. As I stated before, all bits have side effects. It is not uncommon for me to suggest that a rider in a shanked bit tries out a snaffle and that the rider in the snaffle tries out the shanked bit. ask horse to back up from ground

With all bits, when I switch I do the following;

1) bending from the ground as shown at the beginning of Episode 16

2) bending and trotting as shown at the beginning of Episode 18

3) if it is a shanked bit-I also ask the horse to back up using rein pressure while I am dismounted, standing to the side

I suggest that you try to find a local pro to develop a relationship with. If that doesn’t seem possible my next choice would be to find a group of people that meets to ride, that could be a riding club or a group of friends. Attend a clinic if you can. The more hands on and face to face the better.

*          *         *          *

Also remember; One of my standard questions is, “Have you had him checked by a vet? Is he sound? Have his teeth been done?” For more on this please read this blog; Why the internet isn’t the best place….


  1. Elizabeth Richards on April 26, 2015 at 8:51 am

    I would not be giving bits or bridles for other horses from another farm to try out. Its a great way to spread disease. I love in Michigan so when I heard people were doing that, I cringed, because of EHV-1. Its the respitory strain of equine herpes and a couple horses have gotten it up here and its going into the brain….the only option is to terminate the animal at that point.
    Everyone please be careful!
    Instead of buying new bits I buy from tack sales, and bleach them. Start off with some simple snaffles…I can ride my Arab mare in things like eggbutt snaffles all the way up to a myler curb. Keep experimenting but do it in a way where you don’t have to spend a ton of money. Also make sure to have your horses teeth checked every year as the bit could cause irritation or pain if your horses teeth are too long, and watch for wolf teeth!

  2. […] love the internet. It is an amazing tool, not unlike other tools I use like bits and spurs…when they are appropriate. And the best […]

  3. Kate in the NW on March 19, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Stacy (and whoever else is interested…) –
    Thank you for your reply and excellent advice – I read it and followed it – worked great!

    The gelding in question is a fairly high-strung 20yo QH, has regular, excellent dental care, is in good health, and is pretty darn soft bending – but tends to drop his inside shoulder sometimes, doesn’t want to stop deep, and has trouble standing still (he gets antsy and/or creeeeps forward sneakily) and will jig on the trail unless I really work on him. I ride on a slack rein in a good, medium-thickness no-pinch snaffle 99% of the time, but was having trouble getting his attention in it – he’d work hard to ignore it and do what he wanted when he was in the mood (not always).

    I have a good selection of bits, but have not ever really had a satisfactory method or justification for when/why to use them, so I mostly use the snaffle on the theory that if there’s a problem, it’s between his ears, not his lips. But I was kinda hitting a wall, and your blog got me thinking it might be worth a try…

    I selected a good-quality hinged medium-port correction bit with hinged shanks similar to #6 in your examples, but with a round port and copper roller – fairly short shanks and a loose leather curb strap. It’s one he tried a couple years ago and was okay in – not great, but okay. I think at the time he wasn’t ready for it yet (and probably neither was I).

    Anyhow – he rolled his eyes and gaped his jaw and rolled his tongue around a bit when I first put it in, I think just because it was strange. He worked it some as we walked into the arena, and here and there as I bent him and so on (as you suggest), but he settled into it.

    I know I had bad form when I was riding because I was looking down a lot to try and see how he was holding it, what his expression was in his eye, etc…but overall it was very effective after we adjusted to it (10 minutes or so).

    When we both developed some confidence with it, we went to work and it was very effective…he was responsive but not upset…in fact, the opposite seemed true. I am eager to see how it is over the next week or so.

    By the end of the session, he seemed much more responsive on those “problem issues”, and generally more confident and less crabby – I think that having clearer, more effective communication was a very good thing in this case. He wasn’t resisting so much, and I wasn’t being ineffective/nagging. It feels like the “OOMPH” and clear signals in that bit just made things very black-and-white for him – to good effect. I was VERY CAREFUL to pick up ONLY when I had to, and release INSTANTLY when he responded.

    So maybe sometimes a bigger bit isn’t ALWAYS bad…I would like to get back to the snaffle, I guess, but maybe not? I guess my logical next question is “How do you know when you should STAY with a shank (i.e., stronger) bit rather than trying to go back to the snaffle?” (I don’t expect you to answer – just raising the discussion! Thank you so much for your generosity in answering my first query).


  4. Sheryl on March 19, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Stacy one of the most important ways ti be sure a bit works is ti yoir equine dentist..check out shape out of your horses mouth..long mouth short mouth..are canines filed down..high palate low palet..wide palate narrow palet..fleshy ir tight mouth..
    Also the most important reason why I say ask your equine dentist is to be sure the teeth are wolf teeth…
    PLEASE educate on this Important isnt just the bit it is the headstall too..

    You are doing AN AWESOME JOB..!!! LOVE YOUR BLOGS…

    • Stacy on March 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

      Sheryl- I agree! I was very excited to do the Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac-Episode 19-Jac Goes to the Vet
      …I wasn’t excited about Jac needing to go to the vet. I always tell my vets “I hope I don’t see you until next spring!”
      In that video I promoted equine dentistry and I talked about how I have an equine dentist that is AWESOME (like doctors they are not all created equal)
      It was unfortunate that Jac needed it…but good for education!

  5. Ghenzi on March 18, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    the best bit of the world ist hippus

  6. Sally Hansen on March 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I couldn’t get my mare to listen to me about anything. Tried the bitless bridle and its like she became a whole different horse!

  7. Kathy Calloway on March 18, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Love your advise about health concerns. I have had bit issues early on and sure enough teeth here the culprit.

  8. Mary on March 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    My most frustrating thing about bits is naming them correctly. I always thought if the mouth piece was broken, it was a snaffle. I was educated more properly to understand that the major difference between a snaffle and a curb is leverage. The curb will have a purchase and a shank. Snaffles do not. And my major pet peeve are the catalogs that mis-identify them. And of course, the odd ball ones that confuse everyone! Great article and good, simple ideas on checking from the ground. Horses need to be educated to the mouth piece as well as the human.

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