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Bit Properly fitted and adjusted snaffle
Bit Anatomy of Skull Tongue Palate


Bit Snaffle Bit Comparison SM.jpg


Bit Curb Bit port vs tongue relief compa


Bit Curb Bit strap offset comparison SM.


Bit Leverages comparison SM.jpg


Bit Tongue Tie Training Fork Bit Hobble


Bit Mouthpiece flexibility comparison SM


Bit Tight nosebands skull for quiz.jpg


Bit Jaw Joint Enlargement for quiz



Here is a fun but also "serious" section of our website. It's in the "Horsemanship Improvement Clinics" section because it represents the sort of depth we get into during clinics. We intend to rotate the content of this page because there is more than one interesting topic !  Look for a different quiz to show up here every so often.

Seriously -- how much do you know about bits and bitting? Quiz topics have been selected because they are areas where a lot of people get confused or just haven't had access to the correct factual information. That's one of our core missions -- to "foster higher education in horsemanship."

This is a LONG page so please figure on spending some time. The quiz is structured around boxed pictures. The questions are numbered accordingly. Answers are given on a linked page -- please don't peek before you've had a stab at answering each question.

The questions require thought but there are are NO "trick questions". The idea is not to fool you but to educate and inform you. If you feel a particular question or answer is unclear, please contact us to let us know. If you get some answers wrong, we have resources which go into detail on bitting. Those resources are listed at the bottom ofthe answer page. We hope you will avail yourself of all the help we can offer, and we hope you do this not only as part of your quest for mastery in horsemanship but also, of course, because you care about your horse and want the best for him.

Good luck and have fun with this -- Dr. Deb


Part 1. Refer to PICTURE NO. 1 at left.

( 1 ) Get a piece of paper and number it down the lefthand side from 1 through 20, corresponding to the numbers you see on the drawing. Next to each number, write the name of the anatomical part. Note: the horizontal black arrows pertain to part no. 20.

( 2 ) What is the function of part no. 9?

( 3 ) No. 13 indicates an opening in the front of the skull. In a normal horse, what goes into this opening?

(4 ) What do the blue arrow and blue dotted lines indicate?

( 5 ) On what anatomical part are the mouthpieces of almost all bits designed to lie?

( 6 ) In what zone of the skull does the bit (any bit, all bits) lie?

( 7 ) In a normal horse, on average how much space is there when the horse's mouth is closed between the upper surface of the tongue and the lower surface of the fleshy palate in the area where the bit lies?

( 8 ) Does a horse normally breathe in through its mouth? Briefly explain your answer.

( 9 ) Is the "wolf tooth" the same tooth as the canine tooth?

( 10 ) Assuming the horse has a normal set of teeth, if its mouth is fully closed (its incisor teeth are touching), how far back can the mouthpiece of the bit be pulled?

Part 2. Refer to PICTURE NO. 2 (pink background) at left. These bits are commonly called "snaffle bits" because they have "snaffled" (i.e. jointed) mouthpieces.

( 1 ) On a sheet of paper, number 1 through 4 down the left-hand side. Next to each number, write the corresponding names of the parts marked on bit "A".

( 2 ) What is the difference between a cannon and the mouthpiece in a snaffle bit?

( 3 ) Of the butt types shown, which allow the rein ring to rotate through a hole?

( 4 ) Butts of the above type can catch and pinch the horse's lips or pull on its "whiskers" if they get drawn into the hole in the butt. What can be done to prevent this?

( 5 ) Properly speaking, the term "snaffle" does not describe a type of bit but a type of mouthpiece. However, when you go into a tack store or look at a tack catalog, bits with jointed mouthpieces like those at left will be called "snaffle bits". The vast majority work as direct-pull devices that do not incorporate significant leverage. Which of the bits pictured is meant to be used with a curb strap or chain, and thus (even though it has a snaffle mouthpiece) incorporates leverage?

( 6 ) What is the purpose of the center link in bit "E" ?

( 7 ) What is the purpose of the "cheeks" in bit "F" ? Do they work like shanks to create leverage?

( 8 ) One of these bits is seriously mis-manufactured. Which bit is it, and what is the problem?

( 9 ) Notice that some mouthpieces are textured; others are smooth. Which is more comfortable for a horse (as well as safer for him, if the rider hangs on the reins or reefs) -- textured or smooth?

( 10 ) Notice that some mouthpieces are thick, others are thin. Which is more comfortable for a horse, thick or thin?

Part 3. Refer to PICTURE NO. 3 (blue background) at left.

( 1 ) Which of these bits has a port? Which has a tongue relief instead? What is the functional difference between a port vs. a tongue relief?

( 2 ) If no pressure is applied to the reins, where do the cannons lie in the horse's mouth if the bit has a shallow tongue relief? Where do they lie if the tongue relief is deep? Which design is more potentially painful to the horse ( "more severe" ) ?

( 3 ) Where do the cannons of the ported bit lie when the bit is placed in the horse's mouth? Does the ported bit provide any tongue relief?

( 4 ) Does the orientation of the port on bit no. 2 change when the reins are used to pull the shanks back toward the rider?

( 5 ) In bits 2 and 3, through which ring does the curb chain or strap go? Is there any other strap or chain which also goes through this ring?

( 6 ) In bit 1, through which ring does the curb chain or strap go? Is there any other strap or chain which goes through this ring? What is the purpose of the "extra" (double) ring?

( 7 ) Which bit provides more than one option for the attachment of the reins? This bit normally would be used with a curb strap or chain. Assuming that this is attached, when the reins are attached to the ring at the level of the butts, does the bit function as a leverage device?

( 8 ) Why are the shanks bent backwards in bits no. 1 and 2?

( 9 ) Why are the rings for the bridle-hanger bent outward in bit no. 2?

( 10 ) What is the function of the small rings located midway down the shanks of bit no. 3?

Part 4. Refer to PICTURE NO. 4 (Yellow background)

All of the bits in this picture are curb bits with solid mouthpieces having a tongue relief, so we're comparing apples to apples here. This section teaches how much difference apparently small design changes can make to functionality and to the comfort of the horse.

( 1 ) What is the purpose of doubling the ring for the curb strap in bit no. 2?

( 2 ) Bits no. 3 and 4 are set up for use with a curb chain rather than a leather curb strap. The curb chain is normally attached to the upper ring by means of hooks. What is the difference between the hooks seen on bit no. 3 vs. those on bit no. 4?

( 3 ) Why is it important to carefully select the length of the curb hooks?

( 4 ) In a properly fitted and correctly adjusted leverage-type bit, where should the curb strap or chain lie as it passes under the horse's jaw?

( 5 ) Is the curb strap or chain supposed to ride up and down on the hide of the bars of the jaw? Is it supposed to hang completely loose? How can you tell whether the curb chain or strap is adjusted tight enough but not too tight?

( 6 ) Bit no. 4 is designed so that the shanks swivel at the white ring. This means that the shanks can swivel (black arrow) yet the mouthpiece does not move and the tongue relief does not change its orientation. Does this add to the horse's comfort or the bit's functionality? If so, how?

Part 5. Refer to PICTURE NO. 5 (green background)

All of the bits pictured here are grazing curbs with ported mouthpieces. The purpose of this section is to teach you how to calculate the amount of leverage designed into a bit, and to realize that some leverage bits affect the horse's poll as much as different parts of his mouth.

Bit no. 1 is the design most commonly seen, with a ratio of 2-to-3 (upper shank 2 units in length, lower shank 3). Note that the length of the upper shank is measured from the upper edge of the inner surface of the upper ring downward to the center of the butt (because the upper edge of the inner surface of the upper ring is the point of attachment of the bridle-hanger). By contrast, the length of the lower shank is measured from the center of the butt downward to the center of the lower ring (because this is the level where the reins attach).

( 1 ) Which bit (or bits) work to compress the tongue downward against the bars of the mouth? Which work to tighten the curb strap or chain upwards against the chin groove? If a curb bit is properly designed, fitted and adjusted and it is used properly by the rider, which of these actions is supposed to occur first?

( 2 ) Which bit (or bits) can compress the tongue so far that the canons crush down against the flesh of the bars of the lower jaw? Which of these bits exerts the MOST leverage?

( 3 ) Which bit (or bits) exert upward pressure against the commissures of the horse's lips?

( 4 ) Which bit (or bits) press forward and upward against the fleshy hard palate when the shanks are pulled back?

( 5 ) Which bit (or bits) exert downward pressure (via the crownpiece of the bridle-hanger) against the horse's poll area?

( 6 ) Which bit exerts the MOST downward poll pressure?

( 7 ) Which bit tends to draw the commissures of the lip upward MOST?

( 8 ) What is the main purpose for using any type of bit?

( 9 ) Name some other justifiable purposes for using a bit (of any type).

( 10 ) Do most horses require a leverage bit in order to learn that bit pressure means "stop" or "slow down" ?

( 11 ) Is a leverage bit required to get a horse stopped in an emergency (i.e. the horse bolts out of fear or surprise) ?

( 12 ) When is it safe to take a particular horse out on a trailride?

Part 6. Refer to PICTURE NO. 6 (gray background)

This is a drawing of a flat-track jockey and his horse at the end of a race.

( 1 ) On your paper, number 1 - 3 down the lefthand side. Then fill in the names of the equipment indicated.

( 2 ) What is the purpose of the bit hobble?

( 3 ) What is the purpose of the training fork (a.k.a. running martingale)? Is it correctly adjusted? Are any parts missing?

( 4 ) The jockey braces his feet forward in the stirrups while he holds his butt up in the air by hanging onto the reins. This is called "water skiing". When the jockey water skis, what supports almost his entire weight?

( 5 ) If a tongue tie is not used, most racehorses will "swallow their tongue", in other words they will pull their tongue back in their mouth so as to avoid touching the bit. This causes the thick rear portion of their tongue to press backwards against the palatal drape, partially blocking their airway. Does this have a negative effect on a horse's racing performance?

( 6 ) What is the purpose of the tongue tie?

( 7 ) Are horses at the racetrack commonly taught how to perform "down" transitions? When and how does a racing Thoroughbred perform a "down" transition when at the track ?

( 8 ) Thoroughbreds are often "claimed" (purchased) from the racetrack by people who want to make them into pleasure-riding horses or for hunters, jumpers, dressage, etc. Will the horse's new career entail teaching it to respond to the bit differently than it was taught to do at the track?

The last two questions in this section are really more about biomechanics and training philosophy than bitting, so you can regard your answers to these as "extra credit":

( 9 ) Why do OTT's (off-track Thoroughbreds) often suffer from back and stifle troubles when their new owners are trying to convert them into dressage horses, but much less often if their new career is to be a hunter, jumper, or three-day Event horse? (HINT: Do racehorses do most of their conditioning and work at a trot?)

( 10 ) In our school of horsemanship, we notice that racehorses such as the one pictured react to backwards pulls on the bit by bracing the muscles of their necks. What is the first area of the neck that should be addressed to relieve the brace and to teach the horse to respond to bit pressure by slowing down rather than speeding up?

Part 7 PICTURE NO. 7 (Lilac background)

In selecting and fitting a bit, it's important to choose a mouthpiece that is comfortable to the horse as well as one that communicates the rider's desires clearly. The rider should know which parts of the horse's mouth the bit primarily touches or pressures, and how much and what type of pressure the bit may create when the rider applies pressure.

( 1 ) The rubber that is used to make mouthpieces for horse bits ranges from very hard and stiff (or it may actually be plastic), down through varying degrees of flexibility and softness. Which of the following are problems peculiar to plastic or rubber mouthpieces, such as the one shown in the pelham design at the top of Picture no. 7? Answer "true" or "false":

     a. Horses commonly chew on the bit (they bite it with the most forward cheek teeth -- refer to Picture no. 1 ). Over time, chewing erodes and roughens the surface of rubber and plastic mouthpieces, eventually making the bit very uncomfortable for the horse.

    b. Chewing weakens the bit, so that it can fall apart in the horse's mouth while the animal is being ridden, an extremely dangerous occurrence.

     c. Hard plastic mouthpieces are no more "cushiony" than are metal mouthpieces, so there's no reason to use them instead of metal.

     d. Rubber mouthpieces, even the softest that are made, are still too stiff to conform to the shape of the tongue or the contours of the mouth, and most do not flex enough to conform even when the reins are pulled.

     e. To be strong and substantial enough to stand up to use, rubber mouthpieces must be thicker than metal mouthpieces and are often 7/8ths inch diameter or more, but that's OK because thick mouthpieces are more comfortable to the horse.

( 2 ) When both reins are applied equally to the bar bit, does the bit shift position in the horse's mouth and if so, in what direction? Which part(s) of the mouth does this bit press on most when both reins are applied equally?

( 3 ) When one rein is applied more firmly to the bar bit, which part(s) of the mouth does this bit press on most? Does the bit shift position in the horse's mouth when only one rein is pulled? If so how does its position change?

( 4 ) What is the purpose or advantage of the center link in a French-link snaffle? What is the downside to having a bit with two knurls instead of only one? When buying and fitting a French link, need you consider the length of the center link?

( 5 ) This chain bit is made by modifying a curb chain. When placed flat (not twisted) in the horse's mouth, it drapes over the tongue, closely conforming to the shape of the tongue, bars, and lips. What is the purpose or advantage to this?

( 6 ) Not all chain bits are made with a type of chain that is wide, smooth, and lies flat; some are made out of bicycle chain, which has rough, sharp teeth that can cut the tongue, bars, and lips like a saw. This is why chain-bits (of all types) are illegal at most horse shows. While there are good, justifiable training purposes for the use of chain bits with soft, smooth mouthpieces, they still must be used ONLY in what situation?

( 7 ) Returning to the rubber-mouth pelham, what are the flat (usually red or black-colored) washer-like rings at the ends of the mouthpieces called? What are they for? Can such rings be used on any type of ball-butted or drill-butted mouthpiece?

Part 8 PICTURE NO. 8 (tan background)

The noseband, like a training fork or martingale, may seem like it has only a minor effect because it is "auxiliary equipment". Quite the opposite is true, and in view of the popularity of flash and dropped nosebands these days, it's important to think through whether you want or need to use this equipment.

( 1 ) Give a good rule of thumb for how loose or snug a standard noseband or cavesson should be adjusted.

( 2 ) What are the two problems that tight adjustment of a standard noseband can cause?

( 3 ) Name three problems that tight adjustment of a flash or dropped noseband can cause.

( 4 ) If the horse's mouth is closed and its incisor teeth are in occlusion (i.e. the upper teeth are in contact with the lower teeth), can tightening a noseband close the mouth any farther?

( 5 ) Does tightening the noseband cause the horse to take a firmer or more positive contact with the bit?

( 6 ) Does tightening the noseband cause (or force) the horse to "accept" the bit?

( 7 ) The horse's jaw joint (called the temporo-mandibular or "T-M" joint, photo 8A at left) is shaped so that the lozenge-shaped condyle of the lower jaw fits into a cup-shaped surface on the skull. This surface, called the glenoid fossa, is open to the front which has a smooth roller-shaped surface. At the rear, however, there is a flat downward-pointing flange which acts as a bony "stop". Both the flange and the jaw condyle are visible in Photo 8A. What is the function of the flange (its proper name is the glenoid process)?

( 8 ) When the horse tucks its nose (brings its head into a more vertical orientation), its jaw slides forward -- this action is permitted by the smooth roller-joint surface at the front of the jaw joint. (You can prove this to yourself -- your own jaw works the same way. Sit comfortably upright in a chair with your jaws relaxed. Tuck your chin. Which way does your lower jaw move?) Forward movement of the jaw relieves pressure on the highly sensitive soft tissues which pad the interior of the jaw joint. When the horse is asked to tuck its nose, can the jaw slide forward if the noseband is tight?

( 9 ) Some horses react by "gapping the mouth" when the reins are pulled back or bit pressure is applied. Which of the following might cause a horse to open or "gap" its mouth?

a. Painful or maloccluding teeth

b. Sharp points on the buccal surfaces of the upper cheek-teeth

c. High port on bit gouging the fleshy hard palate when reins are pulled

d. Shanked bit with snaffle mouthpiece (i.e. Tom Thumb type) twisting in mouth and pinching lips and/or tongue when one rein is pulled

e. Knurl of snaffle bit with straight canons forms "A" shape when reins are pulled back, so that the knurl jumps up and gouges palate

f. Rider pulls too firmly

g. Rider "reefs" on the bit (gives short, sharp jerks on one or both reins)

h. Rider hangs on the bit (water skis or death grip or banjo-string reins.

i. Noseband is loose enough to allow the horse to accept a chunk of carrot as a treat.

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