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Horse Bit Severity Chart With Bits in Order of Harshness

Horse Bit Severity Chart With Bits in Order of Harshness

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Many riders consider horse bits an essential piece of tack as they provide full control over the horse.

There are many types of horse bits out there, each with a different purpose and severity.

However, determining the severity of a horse bit is not an exact science.

There are many factors that influence how harsh a bit is, such as the hands of the rider and the properties of the bit.

Knowing the severity of various horse bits is important when it comes to choosing the right bit for your horse. This is essential to effectively communicate with your horse and reach a mutual understanding that will help you progress in your chosen discipline.

Horse Bit Severity Chart

We rated the severity of the most common horse bits based on our knowledge and research.

The table below scores the severity of each bit, with 1 being the softest and 10 being the most severe.

Horse BitSeverity (1-10)
Eggbutt Snaffle1
Loose Ring Snaffle1
D-Ring Snaffle2
Hanging Cheek Snaffle2
Full Cheek Snaffle3
Western Grazing Bit4
Kimberwick4
Pelham5
Weymouth5
Tom Thumb6
Western Correction Bit7
English Shank Bit8
Western S-Shank Bit8
Spade Bit9
Gag Bit10

For a full guide on horse bits, read our article What is a Horse Bit? Types of Horse Bits & Uses.

What is the Softest Horse Bit?

The softest horse bit is a rubber mouth snaffle with no joints. This flexible bit is perfect for introducing a young horse to the bridle as it exerts minimal pressure on the mouth.

Rubber mouth snaffle horse bit with no joints
Rubber Mouth Snaffle

As a rule of thumb, bits with thicker mouthpieces are milder than thinner ones. Thin mouthpieces create a sharper sensation in the horse’s mouth when the rider applies rein pressure.

Bits with fixed rings are also more comfortable for horses to wear as they don’t pinch the corners of the mouth.

Alternatively, you can use rubber guards against loose rings to prevent pinching.

Also, read our guide to bitless horse bridles.

What is the Most Severe Horse Bit?

The most severe horse bit is any curb bit with a twisted wire mouthpiece. The wired texture of these bits creates a sharp effect on the horse’s mouth that’s further intensified by the leverage action of the shanks.

Curb horse bit with a twisted wire mouthpiece
Curb horse bit with a twisted wire mouthpiece

Most horse riders condemn such severe bits as they are almost always painful for the horse. Because they are associated with poor welfare, wire curb bits are frowned upon in the horse world.

Another particularly severe horse bit is the Duncan gag bit. When using this bit, the reins are a continuation of the bridle’s cheekpieces that run through the holes on the rings.

This combination means the rider can exert considerable force on the horse’s poll, potentially damaging this sensitive area.

How Do I Choose the Right Bit for My Horse?

When choosing the right bit for your horse, consider the horse’s level of training, temperament, preference, and the discipline you’re training in. Always try to use the mildest bit possible as switching to a stronger bit often aggravates the problem.

Unless you compete at a higher level, a snaffle bit will probably give you enough control over your horse. The bit you choose should never make up for lack of training and understanding between the two of you.

Horse wearing a bridle and close up of the mouth
Christina Dutkowski / Shutterstock.com

With that being said, a stronger bit in the right hands can allow for finer communication between horse and rider. This might be necessary at higher level dressage, show jumping, or eventing disciplines.

Last but not least, remember to pick the right size bit for your horse. When attached to a bridle, you should see no more than half an inch of the mouthpiece sticking out on either side.

Factors Affecting the Severity of Horse Bits

The severity of a horse bit depends greatly on the rider’s hands and experience in using that particular type of bit. However, there are other factors that contribute to the severity of a bit, such as the amount of leverage, the type of mouthpiece (joint, port, texture, thickness, material), and the type of ring.

Below, we are going to discuss each factor in detail.

Mode of Action

Horse bits are categorized according to their mode of action. Depending on whether the bit uses direct pressure, leverage, or both, we can distinguish between snaffle, curb, and combination horse bits.

Direct Pressure

Direct pressure is a milder form of controlling the horse than leverage and is the mode of action of snaffle horse bits. These bits transfer rein pressure in equal amounts to the horse’s mouth.

For example, if the rider exerts one pound of pressure with the reins, this will equate to one pound of pressure in the mouth.

Leverage Action

Black horse with a severe bit in it's mouth
Au_Cr / Shutterstock.com

Bits using leverage action multiply rein pressure in the horse’s mouth, giving the rider greater control over the horse. However, this comes at a cost, as these bits are easily abused in the wrong hands.

To achieve leverage action, curb bits have long attachments called shanks that connect to the reins. The longer the shanks, the more pressure is multiplied in the horse’s mouth.

A curb strap or chain must also be used with these bits to prevent the mouthpiece from rotating too far.

Unlike snaffle bits that mainly exert pressure on the bars of the mouth, curb bits also act on the poll and chin groove. Hence, they are generally considered more severe than snaffle horse bits.

Related: Do Horses Miss Their Owners?

Type of Mouthpiece

Alongside mode of action, the type of mouthpiece is a major factor that determines the severity of a horse bit. This is the part of the bit that sits inside the horse’s mouth, between the incisors and the premolars.

There are many aspects of a mouthpiece that affect the severity rating of a particular bit.

Joint Type

Snaffle horse bit with a joint type of a mouthpiece

The joint type of a mouthpiece determines how the two halves of the bit are joined together. The most common joint types are single-jointed, double-jointed, mullen mouth (straight), and chain.

Single-jointed mouthpieces have one joint in the middle and are common in snaffle bits. While many people consider these gentle bits, the position of the joint can cause some discomfort in the horse’s mouth.

Double-jointed bits, on the other hand, are generally milder as they have two joints in the middle. This reduces the “nutcracker” effect and puts less pressure on the hard palate.

The mildest of all mouthpieces is the mullen mouth, which is essentially a straight bar across the horse’s mouth. This type is common in curb bits and spreads the pressure evenly on the tongue.

Chain mouthpieces are relatively rare and are by far the most severe type of mouthpiece. They are usually thin and may have sharp edges that intensify the pressure in the horse’s mouth. Their use is generally frowned upon among horse riders.

Port

Horse bit Port piece

Mullen mouthpieces sometimes have a slight arch in the middle called a port. This feature provides some relief to the tongue from the pressure of the bit and is typical in curb bits. However, it can increase pressure on the hard palate, especially if the horse’s mouth is tied closed.

Texture

Most horse bits have a smooth metal, plastic, or rubber surface. However, a twist is sometimes added to increase the horse’s responsivity to the bit.

Variations of textured horse bits include the slow twist, corkscrew, and twisted wire. These bits are typically used with horses that tend to ignore rein signals. Naturally, the sharper the edges of the twist, the more severe the bit will be.

Thickness

The thickness of the mouthpiece also plays a role in how severe a horse bit is. Thinner mouthpieces concentrate pressure on a smaller surface area and are therefore harsher than thicker ones.

Whereas, thicker mouthpieces distributed pressure more evenly across the tongue. Some of these mouthpieces are even made hollow, further reducing the pressure in the horse’s mouth.

Material

While most horse bits are made of stainless steel, rubber and plastic bits are becoming more popular. These soft materials greatly reduce the severity of the bit, although they don’t last as long as traditional metal bits.

Other common horse bit materials include copper and sweet iron. These elicit a salivation response in the horse’s mouth which relaxes the jaw and lubricates the bit. They also produce a sweet taste through natural rusting, which can help the horse accept the bit.

Related: Do Horses Like Being Ridden?

Types of Horse Bit Rings

To a lesser extent, the type of ring also influences the severity of a horse bit. This is most noticeable in snaffle bits, where the rings directly connect the reins to the mouthpiece.

Loose Ring

Loose ring snaffle horse bit type white background

Loose ring is a common ring type in snaffle bits used with young or sensitive horses. They allow the mouthpiece to move freely in the horse’s mouth, which is often more comfortable than a fixed position.

At the same time, loose rings can also cause pinching and chafing of the horse’s mouth

D-Ring

D-Ring snaffle horse bit

Unlike loose rings, D-rings are fixed and prevent the mouthpiece from rotating, which some horses prefer. However, due to their shape, they also apply slight lateral pressure to the horse’s mouth.

Eggbutt

Eggbutt snaffle on a white background

Eggbutt rings are oval-shaped and fixed on the end of the mouthpiece. As a result, they offer more consistent contact without creating pressure points like the D-ring.

Hanging Cheek

Hanging Cheek snaffle bit

Hanging cheek rings have a short bar pointing upward on either side of the bit. These connect to the bridle’s cheekpieces via a ring and encourage the horse to soften in the poll. They are also ideal for horses that have difficulty turning.

Full Cheek

Full Cheek horse bit

Full cheek rings are more powerful than hanging cheek rings as they have long bars extending both above and below the bit.

By putting pressure on the horse’s muzzle, these bars prevent the horse from ignoring lateral signals.