Ron Anderson has enjoyed a life-long career in the stable industry and he and his wife Marilyn currently operate Sylvancrest Stock Farm east of Calgary. In addition, Ron has provided horse auction pedigree and commentary for over 35 years. His voice is familiar to many as a premier agricultural event announcer. In 2003, Ron was named Western Horse Review’s Horseperson of the Year.

First and foremost I don’t consider myself an expert on bits. I don’t pretend to be an expert on horse anatomy. I am just a layman like you who has usedaRAsmall bits to hopefully communicate with horses. Some of what I may know about horses and bits came from thoughtful sharing horsemen. Some came from experience. Not all of which was good. But it was educational if I remembered what happened just before what happened…….happened.

Bits are thousands of years old. The earliest horsemen were trying to communicate with the horse. It was about control and getting the horse to perform the rider or driver’s wishes. Several thousands of years later we are still working with that in mind.

The thoughts I share here were not initiated by academic research. They are not profound. They were developed in dust, dirt, round and square enclosures and discussions on hay bales with horsemen. As a result they are my opinion. I believe they are more or less logical. They do (for the most part) work for me.


We must first accept that the choice of a bit for a horse is an inexact procedure. That means we have to be observant about what the horse tells us in response to what we are trying to tell him. Armed with some fundamental knowledge of how bits work maybe we can do a better job of communicating with our horses.

Categories of Bridle Bits
Bits come in two broad categories. The snaffle bit and the leverage bit. Within these categories are enough iterations of each to fill bit wall after bit wall in tack stores around the world. This all without mentioning the confusion it provides for horse owners who can’t even name most of the bits they come in contact with.

The Snaffle Bit
The snaffle bit is characterized by a direct connection from the bit in the horse’s mouth through the rein to the riders hand. There are no shanks. No leverage. Any pressure applied through the reins applies the same pressure to the pressure points of the mouth of the horse affected by the snaffle bit.

 Pressure Points of the Snaffle

- The bars of the jaw, the tongue and the lips are the major pressure points.

- Discussion of these areas and the particulars of each area.

- The importance of examining the mouth physically.

 How does a snaffle bit work?

- Determining the severity of a snaffle bit.

- Discussion of the various materials used to construct bits.

- The anatomy of the snaffle bit.

- Identifying and naming the more common snaffle bits and discussing the uses for these bits.

 How common is the snaffle bit in equine disciplines?
The snaffle bit is virtually universal because of the simplicity of its signal to the horse. Regardless of riding discipline or sport choice, the snaffle bit is either the initial use bit or in some cases almost the exclusive bit of a horse’s career. Most trainers will confirm that this is a bit of choice for starting a young horse and maintaining the older performance horse.

The Leverage Bit
A leverage bit is any bit with a shank regardless of mouth piece. Now we have a whole new situation of physicality for the horse. The major pressure points expand from the lips, tongue and bars. Pressure points now include the chin groove, the poll and the palate. Analysis of the action of any leverage bit requires some thought because of the number of areas affected. I tend to classify leverage bits as transition bits or finish bridle bits. This distinction accounts for the transition from snaffle bit to leverage. By classification some bits provide a smoother transition for the horse. The required responses from the horse are the same but the signal from the bit is now totally different.

 How does the leverage bit work?

- The anatomy of the leverage bit.

- Discussion of the leverage ratio and pressure point evaluation.

- Transition bits and finish bits.

- Fitting the bit.

- Curb straps fit, material and adjustment.

- Identification of bits and classifications or families of bits.

- Shank style effects on function.

 Hackamores, bitless bridles, sidepulls

- Discussion of some of the reasons to use alternate types of headgear.

- How do they work – pressure points and fitting.

The choice and use of bridle bits is a formidable task. Through a logical approach and awareness of the horse’s response, we can do a better job of communicating with our horses. The fundamentals of horsemanship should always trump an intriguing new innovation (gimmick). A bridle bit cannot overcome horse behavior problems. If your knowledge and experience has resulted in a stalemate with advancing your horse you need professional training assistance – not a different bridle. Health care for the horse is paramount especially in the dental area. Teeth problems are very often part of undesirable behavior problems.

Horsemen are continually in quest of more knowledge of horse behaviour. Horsemen are continually questioning how to communicate with the horse in a seamless manner. Equipment and its proper use is one of the major bridges in the efforts to become a better horseman. By your attendance at the HBOC you have indicated that you want to become a better horseman by gaining knowledge. I applaud that because that is my journey as well. Good luck and happy trails.


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