Just like the various materials bits are made of, horse bits come in many mouthpiece styles. Choosing the right bit for your horse can take some trial and error. Some factors to consider include the size and shape of your horse's mouth, how your horse has been trained, and what your riding skill level is. Ultimately, you should pick the mildest bit that still allows for clear communication with the horse.
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A mullen mouth is a plain mouthpiece with a slight curve over the horse's tongue. This makes it more comfortable for the horse to carry than a straight-bar mouthpiece. It's also considered more gentle than a jointed mouthpiece, as there is no pinching effect when the reins are pulled.
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The single joint lets a rider exert targeted pressure on each side of a horse's mouth, offering better control of the horse. However, single joints can create a so-called nutcracker effect that pinches the horse's tongue and bars (the space in a horse's mouth between the incisors and molars). Even so, for some horses, this variety might be more comfortable than a straight-bar mouthpiece.
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A French link is a double-jointed mouthpiece with a small plate in the middle. The two joints help to soften the nutcracker effect, but they still give the rider control on each side of the mouth. Some horses might prefer the rounder version of the French link known as the lozenge or oval mouth.
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Also called a Doc Bristol, this double-jointed mouthpiece has a flat link in the middle and looks similar to a French link. The difference is its link is longer and set at a slight angle, so the edge of the link puts more pressure on the tongue. Like the French link, the Dr. Bristol only has a slight nutcracker action.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Also similar to the French link, the ball link of this mouthpiece sits directly on the horse's tongue and exerts pressure. This bit is slightly more severe than a French link, but it's gentler than a Dr. Bristol because there's no edge on the link to press into the tongue.
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Twisted bits can be made from a combination of materials and may have a straight, mullen, or jointed mouthpiece. The twist is meant to apply strong pressure in the horse's mouth, placing the mouthpiece among the most severe varieties. A slow twist, or one with fewer turns, is less severe than a fast twist with more turns. Some equestrians use twisted bits for horses that don't respond to rounded ones.
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Rollers are usually made of stainless steel, copper, or both. The small, rotating pieces of metal encourage the horse to play a little with the mouthpiece, ideally relaxing its tongue and jaw. This can lead to the horse's acceptance of the bit. But the rollers do slightly increase the severity of the bit, and some designs might cause pinching.
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Keys are small, elongated metal beads most often seen on mouthpieces used to introduce young horses to the bit. There are usually three keys attached to a center ring on the mouthpiece. You might see this called a mouthing bit, and many trainers no longer favor it because it sometimes encourages the horse to play too much with the bit.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Ports have a raised area—typically the shape of an inverted "U"—in the middle of the mouthpiece, which reduces pressure on the tongue. This prevents the horse from using its tongue to soften the bit's effect. There are low ports that only have a slight rise, as well as high ports that put some pressure on the horse's palate. Some ports also include rollers or keys. Both English and Western bits can have ports.
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Quarter or Half Moon Link
The quarter or half moon is another type of link for a mouthpiece. The moon provides room for the tongue, while the double joint softens the nutcracker action compared to a single joint.
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Thick or Thin Bit
In general, the thicker the bit, the softer the effect in the horse's mouth. But some horses with a low palate or large tongue might find thick bits uncomfortable. A thinner mouthpiece is generally more severe, as it concentrates all the pressure on one narrow area in the horse's mouth.
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A hollow mouthpiece is a lighter weight than the same bit made with a solid material. Many horses carry this bit comfortably because of its weight.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Wire mouthpieces can be straight, jointed, or twisted, and they're very severe. Their thin nature, along with any twists, greatly concentrates the pressure in the horse's mouth. Consequently, many people feel wire mouthpieces are cruel.
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Chain mouthpieces use either link or bicycle chain. These bits are very severe, and their use is generally frowned upon.
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The spade bit is rooted in vaquero tradition, and horses only carry this highly technical mouthpiece after extensive schooling. The spade comes in contact with the horse's palate when the reins are pulled, and the pressure can be quite great. In inexperienced hands, this can damage a horse's mouth. It is not a bit for training horses or correcting habits, such as pulling or head tossing.