If you’ve ever walked into a tack store, you’ll know that they usually have a large selection of bits. There are so many to choose from because each one serves a different purpose, and it’s important that you select the right one for your horse, your discipline, and your experience level. Take the process of choosing a new bit step-by-step so you don’t get overwhelmed. Here are a few things to help you get started:
-Determine your needs. Are you buying a new bit because of a training problem? Or are you simply looking to update your tack for a show? It’s important to determine why you’re looking for a new bit because oftentimes, training problems won’t just go away by changing the bit. Have your horse’s teeth floated once a year to be sure that any reactions or discomfort aren’t coming from the teeth themselves.
-Start with size. There are ways to measure bit size, such as the rope trick, or if the previous bit fit properly you can usually use that size. The rope trick consists of taking a thin rope, tying a not in one end, and placing the rope in the horse’s mouth like a bit. Mark the side of the rope with no knot where the horse’s mouth is, and measure the distance between the knot and the mark to get your (average) bit size. Make sure you check the fit with a trainer to make sure it’s right.
-Do your homework. Even small variations to the same style bit can create pressure or leverage in different places or at different strengths. Make sure you fully understand how the bit you’re looking at using works so you can translate that into your riding.
-Try to set a budget. There are a lot of bits out there with a wide variety in pricing. Fancier bits tend to be more expensive but there are reasonable options out there for all disciplines and styles.
-Decide on type. There are tons of different bits so make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. Training bits are good for certain things but I always start in a plain D-ring snaffle to see where the horse is under saddle. Snaffles are also great for riders that are harder on the hands or less experienced. It’s also important to check your discipline’s show rules as many associations disqualify certain bits.
-Try it out. If you bought a used bit, sanitize it! You never know what another horse using it might’ve had. Pay close attention to the horse’s reaction to the bit starting right when you put the bridle on. Test it at all gaits as well as whatever discipline or event you’ll be showing in (if that’s your plan). It’s ideal to have a trainer, or another set of eyes, on the ground while you ride to catch any bit reactions that you might miss in the saddle.
There are a lot of great resources out there for choosing a bit, but your best bet is to consult with a trainer. Don’t be intimidated by this process; a lot of the time a combination of research, help, and trial and error will be enough to get you what you need.