Equestrian Issues: Are bits abusive?

Maggie Dempewolf, Staff writer

For years, there has been a stigma going around the equestrian community saying that bits are abusive. I personally believe this is false information. Personally I feel that bits are great for helping you gain control over your horse. Now, let’s look into why people think that bits are abusive to horses.

Firstly, bits can cause some pain for horses. Using a harder bit on a horse with a soft mouth can cause discomfort. Even using a soft bit on the horse can cause discomfort when the rider themselves is rougher with their horse or is inexperienced. Let me clarify what I mean when I say that a horse has a ‘soft mouth’; a horse with a soft mouth is one that is calm and easily responsive to the reins. Thus, a horse that has a soft mouth would be better-suited with a softer bit. On the other end of the spectrum, a horse with a hard mouth—or a horse that is less responsive to their rider—would be better suited to a harder bit. Though there are many different bits, they fall under two categories: snaffle bits and leverage (or curb) bits. There are five varieties of snaffle bits: eggbutt, D-ring, loose ring, full cheek, and half-cheek. There are also many curb bits, and these bits can feature a mullen mouth, broken mouth, linked mouth, or port. Some curb bits can also feature a twisted mouthpiece, which is the most severe of all bits. The softest bit for horses are the mullen mouth curb and the eggbutt snaffle.

In order to get your horse to listen to your commands better—whether the horse is young or old and whether the horse has come from an abusive background or not—you should always start your horse with a soft bit and then work up if needed. Bits are great for providing the rider the ability to que their horse better enabling both the horse and rider to perform better. Bits apply pressure to the horse’s mouth which in turn helps to better control the horse’s speed and direction of movement. So yes, bits can hurt the horse, but only if used incorrectly. Bits can be very beneficial for both horse and rider at any level of skill or in any discipline.