When riding a horse, your communication tools comprise the bit, the reins, the pressure you exert with your legs and your body positioning. The type of bit you use would depend on your riding style and your level of experience, as also on your horse’s mouth’s condition. Most horses that have been well treated will have soft mouths, a term used to indicate horse mouths not subjected to misuse or uncaring treatment. Horses with an unfortunate history of misuse and cruelty at the hands of their riders usually are hard mouthed. These horses may need special bit combinations.
It is something to be grateful for that most horses have soft mouths, because they have not undergone sustained mistreatment. The ideal bit serves the rider’s purposes of control without damaging the horse’s mouth. Getting the right sized bit is essential to prevent abrasion of sensitive skin at the side of the horse’s mouth and ensure that the horse is able to handle it comfortably. The standard bit for the lighter of horse breeds is a five inch bit, measured across. Some horses may have mouths that are narrower or wider than normal. It is thus essential that you measure across your horse’s mouth from outside of lip to outside of lip. You then add an additional half inch. You can start with a bit of five inches and check to see if it s too wide or too narrow; you can also try out several bits and see which fits best. Don’t forget that the bit should track out about a quarter of an inch from the outside of the horse’s mouth on either side. You can also measure using a string and mark off the correct length, instead of trying out a whole selection of bits. Just start a quarter of an inch out on one side and measure across the mouth to a quarter of an inch outside on the other side. That gives you your correct bit size.
Bits come in various designs: bits for English riding and for western riding, bits for dressage, racing and the other events. For both English and Western riding styles, the most popular bit is the snaffle bit, which is the gentlest that can be used on a horse. Snaffle bits consist of two bars connected in the middle. The Western snaffle bit is otherwise called the snaffle curb, as it has an extra “curb” piece at either side. Snaffle bits make the ideal beginner’s tool, since the horse does not get injured even if the rider pulls harder than required. Hard mouthed horses may require additional bit types like full curbs, Kimberwicks, Pelhams and rollers. It would depend on the riding style. As these bits are capable of causing damage to the horse if they are not used correctly, they are not suitable for use by riders who lack significant experience.
Make sure you clean out your horse’s bit after every ride to remove debris, slobber and goop. Generally, I consider it wise to keep a spare bit that can be attached to the bridle’s headstall for use when the first bit is under housekeeping. You can remove any caked deposits that are otherwise difficult to get rid of by soaking the bit in warm and clear water and then scrubbing at it with a stiff brush of bristles.