2 Types of Western Horse Bits + How to Use Them

Are you having trouble finding the best western pleasure bits? Best western bits?

You’ve come to the right place.

I’ll make sure you know exactly what type best suits your horse.

Let’s not waste any more time and dive right into the process.

2 Types of Western Pleasure Bits and How to Use Them 

The first thing to know is Western pleasure bits are separated into two classic horse bits types.

Each horse owner will need to decide whether a snaffle bit or curb bit best suits their individual horse.

#1 Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are generally considered the gentler option of these two types. These options are “direct pressure” bit, meaning the reins are opposite the mouthpiece.

As a result, it creates direct pressure on your horse’s mouth when the reins are pulled.

snaffle bit, one of the western pleasure bits

There’s a lot of variation with these devices as there are many types of snaffle bits.  For instance, snaffles can come with a jointed, broken, or straight mouthpiece. 

Riders can expect snaffle bits’ cheekpieces to be rings that come in many varieties (sizes and shapes). Of course, the rings will attach to sets of reins.

Another interesting tidbit is snaffles aren’t always milder or gentler than curbs.

Plenty of curbs are more comfortable for advanced horses than certain types of snaffle bits. 

A snaffle is used for more green horses (five or younger) and can be ridden two-handed in Western pleasure.

It’s the general consensus when it comes to the various rule books. 

READ MORE: Types of English Riding Bits

#2 Curb Bits

Curb bits, also known as shank bits, work very differently than a snaffle option. A shank bit works by using indirect pressure to direct your horse. 

curb bits, one of the western pleasure bits

It functions by the bit’s shank, providing leverage that increases a command’s force. This shank is the piece of your bit that distends down from the horse’s cheek.

Curb bits are also typically used with curb chains. The curb chain will be made from twisted metal (stainless steel) or flat leather straps.

It’ll attach to the curb bit’s cheek pieces and go under your horse’s chin.

As you can imagine, the presence of curb chains helps offer extra leverage from the bit. Using one of these bits applies pressure to the horse’s mouth underneath its chin and on the poll. 

If you aren’t familiar with the term poll, it’s the area between the ears at the top of the head.

The amount of leverage bit delivered to this area also depends on the shank’s length.  

Most horse owners save these types of horse bits for more advanced Western pleasure horses.

Likewise, most Western pleasure competitions require curb bits for six-year-old and older horses. 

For our equestrian readers, you’ll want to read our guide ‘How to Measure a Horse Bit‘ for accurate and safe sizing!

Also Check: The Women Western Riding Boots

Guidelines to Find the Best Western Pleasure Bits

Finding the perfect type of bit can be a rather annoying process. But there are a few common practices that a horse can follow to ensure there aren’t multiple trips.

side view of a horse wearing curb bits

Choose the Gentlest Option Possible

Finding the perfect type of bit can be a rather annoying process. But there are a few standard practices that a western horse owner can follow to ensure there aren’t multiple trips.

Choose the Gentlest Option Possible

Riders will want to find the gentlest option that meets their needs. In other words, they’ll need to select a bit with a balance that allows effective communication.

A beginner rider is often better off with a snaffle bit and then advancing later toward curb bits. However, more experienced riders often end up with a curb model once the level of the training process increases.

But even with bits made for western pleasure competitions, going as gentle as possible remains essential. 

Consider the Right Bit Fit

Every horse owner needs to consider the bit’s fit before putting money down. This product needs to be a comfortable and proper fit for your individual horse, or it’s not worth buying.

Snaffle Bits

In terms of snaffle bits, you should adjust to rest snugly around the corner of your horse’s mouth. But this process needs to be finished without any wrinkle

The adjustment allows a horse to pick up the snaffle bit and hold it in its mouth.

Plus, it stops the bit from placing consistent pressure on their lips. It ensures they can pick up on a specific release when you loosen the reins. 

A nylon or leather curb strap is pivotal if you’re using these types of horse bits with a western headstall. It’ll stop the snaffle from sliding through your horse’s mouth. 

Curb Bits

Curb bits are a little heavier and often moves all around in a horse’s mouth when they’re too low. Therefore, these bits need to be set with a single wrinkle. 

You’ll know a curb bit’s width is correct when its shanks or rings contact the lips’ corners. It’ll get this contact without pressing against your horse’s skin. 

Any curb bit that’s too narrow will press a horse’s lips against its teeth. It puts the horse in a very uncomfortable position.

Meanwhile, a bit that’s wider than their mouth will slide and irritate your horse.

CHECK: What is the Softest Bit for a Horse?

Don’t Buy it Before Trying it

If it’s possible, make sure to try out the bit before purchasing it. Owners will have a hard time determining what bit will work without using it first.  

Honestly, it’s an almost impossible task for even the most experienced riders. Most riders go through several western riding bits before finding the perfect one for their horse.

READ MORE: Western Vs English Riding

 Western Pleasure Bits FAQs

Why do horses chew on the bit?

Constant chewing on a bit is a “sign of nervousness, particularly in younger horses, or discomfort.” You might want to consult with a vet to figure out the reason behind this chewing issue.

Is Tom Thumb a Snaffle?

Yes, the Tom Thumb is a snaffle and one of the more popular bits for horses. Many owners consider a well-crafted “finishing and fine-tuning bit for the Western horse.”


Our discussions should’ve provided some clarity about bits and western disciplines.

But if you have more questions or need advice about training horses, please let me know in our comment section. I’d be happy to help!


  • American Cowboy. 2017. “How a Curb Bit Works.” American Cowboy | Western Lifestyle – Travel – People. American Cowboy | Western Lifestyle – Travel – People. February 8, 2017. https://www.americancowboy.com/people/curb-bit-works-55181.
  • “Bit for Western Pleasure.” 2021. Barnmice.com. 2021. http://www.barnmice.com/profiles/blogs/bit-for-western-pleasure-1.
  • Dennis Moreland Tack. 2020. “A Little Bit about Curb Bit Measurement and Function – Quarter Horse News.” Quarter Horse News. February 19, 2020. https://www.quarterhorsenews.com/2020/02/a-little-bit-about-curb-bit-measurement-and-function/.
  • https://www.facebook.com/thespruceofficial. 2021. “Learn How Your Horse’s Snaffle Bit Works.” The Spruce Pets. 2021. https://www.thesprucepets.com/how-snaffle-bits-work-1886099.
  • Moreland, Dennis. 2014. “How Many Wrinkles Should Your Horse Have? – DM Tack.” DM Tack. November 12, 2014. https://www.dmtack.com/many-wrinkles-horse/.
a brown and white horse wearing western pleasure bits

What types of western pleasure bits do you use for your horse? We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts about them below!

Ben R.
Ben R.

My name is Ben Roberts, and I absolutely love animals. So, naturally, I love writing about them too! I have three dogs and one old cat, plus experience with horses. Each one of them provides me with a new adventure every day. And the best part is they’re all best friends. Well, except the cat when he gets a little annoyed. FIND HIM ON: TWITTER.
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