Why use a bit in a horses mouth?

Snaffle or shank? Why not free, nothing in the mouth of your horse. 

Sidepull, that’s all. One of my horses reacted real good when we stopped with the snaffle. He was very stiff in the neck and became easy and willing, bending his neck in both left and right directions. I’ve noticed this before with other horses. No one seems to think of what it feels like to have a piece of iron resting on your gums. Our horses haven’t seen a bit for more than ten years now. Thanks for all your good advice.” -Hendrik D

Hendrik, That’s a choice too! If your horses respond to a side-pull as a motivator and you are happy with the results then I say go for it! For me, it is important to recognize that each horse gives us feedback on what works and what doesn’t. It sounds like a side-pull works for your crew. -Stacy Westfall

Hi all, so, why do we use a bit?
I am no expert!!! but I wonder if a bit is always necessary to ride/ enjoy a horse-companion. Sorry if I sound ignorant…I probably am…that’s nothing bad…just IS?

I love questions and you do not sound ignorant. The two reasons we use any equipment are motivation and education. Some horses require more motivation at times than others. Picture someone leading a horse and that horse decides to leave…dragging the person along. This horse likely has an education issue and a motivation issue. Right now I have Presto who is very large and part draft…and he is often noticeably more willing to ignore requests. This is partly because of his education level and partly because he is tough. Other horses kick him in the pasture and he frequently ignores them…unless they persist or escalate. That is who he is.

Often professionals ride in bridles so that they can communicate more clearly. I use bits to help refine, improve, and raise the level of training with my horses. When trained correctly horses do not resent bits. When trained incorrectly…things go poorly with or without the bit. It matters more that the horse is understood and is part of the process.

Roxy understood many bits before we rode bridleless. So did Vaquero. And Hailey…and more… I trust the feedback from my horses:)


  1. Mark Gabron on June 8, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Hi Stacey,
    I am a long time admirer and respect your work and methods. Thanks for all you share and offer.
    I am an old school horseman with experience in varied disciplines and levels of horse handling science and am in transition from “ reactive “ to natural training … thanks to you.
    My experience is somewhat “ seasoned “, I am returning to the welcome challenges of training under saddle.
    My first challenge is the mouth and the maze of bit selection and options.
    I used to have an assortment of head stalls with different bits so I could easily find what suited any horse best, based on results or lack of, and attitude
    On two of my own horses, I chose to change over to a bosal with cotton reins and swore by it.
    The foundations and layers were very solid so transition was almost seamless and response was improved and bridged easily to bridleless.

    I have listened to your podcasts, read your blogs and watched your video diaries and other than briefly in Jac 39, you do not mention liking or not and pro’s and cons of using a bosal.

    I am preparing to start a young horse and am thinking of starting right off with a bosal and think that I can build the base and layer up in the same manner as with a bit, provided that the response and effectiveness with flexion and softness are positive.
    Any thoughts ?

    • Stacy Westfall on June 24, 2020 at 7:26 am

      I agree that you could do that. I didn’t include it in the bit discussion mostly because I don’t think of it as a bit, lol!

      My thought on bosals is that they have a slightly different feel than riding in a bit. If you’ve ridden in one then you have felt the way that it is a slightly more indirect feel. What I mean by that is that the way the bosal will twist if you pull hard will often cause the horse to turn the opposite way (until they really understand it) does that make sense?

      • Mark Gabron on June 24, 2020 at 10:12 am

        Hi Stacy,
        It makes total sense and thanks so much for the response !
        I guess the key is to keep the ” pull hard ” element out of the conversation which means building the supporting foundational cues well and independently, which may mean starting with a snaffle and then transitioning and I guess every horse should know how to work with a bit for future rider change possibilities.
        I appreciate what you do …keep doing what you do. You are awesome !

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