Western Riding Bits

Cowboy riding a chestnut horse

LifeJourneys / Getty Images

There are hundreds of different western riding bits with many subtle variations and strange names. Choosing one may seem intimidating. But you only need to remember that most are derivatives of a few basic bits that remain popular amongst Western horseback riders. They may have slightly different features but have the same effect. Here photos and descriptions of some of the most common Western riding bits you'll see used on horses and at your local tack shop.

  • 01 of 06

    Western Grazing Bit

    Western Grazing Bit


    This is probably one of the most common western bits. The shanks were originally angled back so the horse could graze with the bit in its mouth. There was a time when it might have been desirable for a horse to graze fully bridled and saddled, such as when you were working all day with cattle. You won't want your horse to graze in a curb bit at all anymore since there is a danger it could step on or catch the shank and hurt itself.

    This style of bit is very popular and suits many horses. You'll often see them with more decorative shanks and with various types of tongue releases and ports. You'll also see this used on ponies ridden western. 

  • 02 of 06

    Tom Thumb Bit

    Tom Thumb Western Bit


    This common bit is sometimes erroneously called a snaffle bit because it has a jointed mouthpiece. Since it has shanks and uses leverage, it is a curb bit. Many people also disagree about its severity. Since it has short shanks, it appears to be a mild bit, but the jointed mouth adds to the severity. It is a popular bit in the show ring and out on the trail. You'll see these bits with copper, plastic and metal mouthpieces. 

  • 03 of 06

    Western S-Shank Curb Bit

    Western AT Dot Correction S-Shank Bit


    The S shape on the shanks of this bit contributes to the weight, balance, and leverage when the rider pulls back on the reins. The S makes this a more severe bit than a bit with the same length of straight shanks, such as the grazing bit. This bit needs to used carefully to avoid hurting the horse. The port in the middle of the mouthpiece amplifies the rein aids and provides some relief to the horse's tongue.

  • 04 of 06

    Western Correction Bit

    Western Correction Bit


    The name of this bit is misleading. Correction bits are used not to correct problems, but to reinforce the rein aids to an already well-trained horse. In the wrong hands, (like any curb bit) these bits can be severe.

    If you have trouble stopping or turning your horse, the answer probably isn't a more severe bit, but a solid review of the basics. Using a more severe bit isn't the correction these were intended ​for. Correction bits have their place with trainers who want to fine-tune their horse's responses to the rein aids. A bit with long shanks and a high port such as this one has can cause more problems than it corrects if not used wisely.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    The Quarter Moon D-ring Snaffle Bit

    Quarter Moon D-ring Snaffle Bit


    For showing in hand or specific types of competition, this snaffle bit is an attractive choice. It is similar to many other snaffle bits, both English and western. This bit is decorative, but the decorations do not change or affect how the bit works. This is often used on young horses and in the western show ring, there can be special snaffle classes.

  • 06 of 06

    Western Pelham Bit

    Western Pelham Bit
    Courtesy of Amazon

    This bit will be used for training, but won't be seen in any western competitions. Like the English pelham, this bit somewhat combines the action of curb and a snaffle and is used with two sets of reins, one of the large D-shaped rings, and one set on the bottom rings. It will also require a curb chain or strap. This is another bit that should be used to train a horse for more refined aids.