Bits and Bridles

Western Horse UK presents you with the basics of western bits and bridles. Parts of the bridle


The Western bridle is made up of three main parts: the headstall, the bit and the reins. The headstall consists of a head or crown piece, cheek pieces and, sometimes, a brow band and throatlatch, which help hold the bridle in place.

The reins usually consist of two separate pieces of leather which can be anything up to eight feet long. They attach to each side of the bit and are commonly either 1/2” or 5/8” wide.

1. crown piece

2. brow band

3. cheek piece

4. throatlatch

5. where the bit attaches


Over the ears

1. The brow band can be straight across the brow, while other brow bands are two pieces of leather joined in the middle to form a knot, sometimes known as a Futurity Knot.

2. One and two-ear headstalls do away with the brow band and use either a piece of leather with openings in, or loops of leather attached to the crown piece, that fit over one or both ears.


Snaffles are commonly used on horses at the beginning of their training when direct rein aids are applied. A leather curb strap prevents the snaffle from slipping.

Snaffle bits are ‘non leverage’ bits that act directly on the tongue, palette and corners of the mouth when the reins are shortened. The mouthpiece can be jointed or solid.

The thinner the mouth piece the more severe the action. Twisted wire snaffles are used by experienced trainers to ‘lighten’ a heavy mouth but must be used with care.

Parts of the Bit


Bits influence pressure on a horse’s mouth, chin and poll and, when trained correctly, allow the rider control.

1. bar

2. mouth

3. port

4. roller

5. shank


Curb bits are used on more advanced, necked reined horses as a refining aid which causes a horse to lower his head and shape his body.

Their action is potentially severe so a horse in a curb bit must be ridden with care.

Curb bits have a ‘leverage’ action and are used in conjunction with a curb chain which runs under the horse’s chin. As a rider takes the slack from the reins by raising their hand, the curb’s action is felt in the mouth, over the horse’s poll (where the bridle runs behind his ears) and under the chin through the curb chain.


The leverage action of an S shaped shank will be slightly different than a bit with straighter shanks. The weight of the bit and how the curb chain is adjusted will also make a difference to what a horse feels when the bit is activated.


A port is an inverted U-shaped in the middle of a mouthpiece. A low port makes room for the tongue and prevents the horse from putting it over the mouthpiece.


A high port also places pressure on the palate of the horse’s mouth and must be used with care. Some ports will also have a roller – a moveable part which gives a nervous horse ‘something to play with’ causing it to relax its jaw and accept the action of bit. It is said that copper and sweet iron metals also cause the horse to salivate and accept the bit’s action.

Ports that are solid, rather than made of a U-shaped bar are called spoons or spades.

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