Bits are considered soft or hard based on their construction and method of action. The softest bits are generally snaffle bits made of rubber. Rubber offers a smooth fit on the bars of the horse's mouth, while the snaffle's rings fit softly in the corners of the horse's mouth without pinching. Most young horses begin their training in a soft snaffle bit, which may be changed to a more severe bit depending upon how well the horse responds.
What Makes a Bit Soft?
Bits help the rider communicate with the horse by means of the reins. The type of bit indicates how soft or hard the communications are between the rider and horse. Soft bits have low or no ports, a solid bar shape, and no pinching action at the corners of the mouth. Rubber or plastic bits, or metal bits covered with synthetic materials, are also considered softer than traditional metal bits.
Bits may be made of metal, rubber or plastic, or some combination of these materials. Metal bits are made from stainless steel or "sweet iron," which has a taste that horses like. The softest bits are those made from synthetics, especially rubber. These bits are nicknamed "happy mouth" bits because they are considered very mild.
Bits act with pressure, leverage or pinching to communicate signals to the horse. Milder bits act with pressure alone. The height of the port (the raised middle section that hits the roof of the mouth) can also make the bit softer or severe. The higher the port, the more severe the bit. Lastly, a smooth, solid bar bit is milder than one jointed in the middle or twisted.
Snaffle bits allow the rider to communicate with the horse through the direct action of the reins. When the rider pulls on the reins, this produces a direct effect on the bit where the reins attach to the side rings of the snaffle. Snaffle bits are considered the mildest type of bit because the reins act with gentle pressure, rather than overall leverage. A rubber-bar snaffle doesn't pinch the tongue or corners of the mouth, but exerts smooth pressure.
Jeanne Grunert has been a writer since 1990. Covering business, marketing, gardening and health topics, her work has appeared in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, "Horse Illustrated" and many national publications. Grunert earned her Master of Arts in writing from Queens College and a Master of Science in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.