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Bit Guide: Choosing the Best Bit for Barrel Racing Horses


Choosing The Best Bit For Your Barrel Horse

For most pleasure riders, bits are used primarily for slowing down, stopping and steering a horse. Yet did you know that by using the right bit, you could help correct the action of your barrel horse? For example, certain barrel racing bits are more effective in lifting your horse’s shoulders; while other bits are useful for stiffening a mount that has too much bend around a barrel.

Barrel Racing Bit Guide


Because the O-ring smooth snaffle is generally considered a mild bit, it is almost always the one chosen by trainers and riders to use on young horses. Many riders also prefer to use this bit rather than a stronger one while schooling or conditioning their older horses so that they can keep their mouths soft and responsive.

There are a few common misconceptions about snaffles. One is that all snaffles have a break in their mouthpieces or are jointed. That is not true. The Mullen mouth snaffle is a solid mouthpiece with a slight curve. Another misconception is that the Tom Thumb is a snaffle because it has a jointed mouthpiece. However, the Tom Thumb is actually a curb bit because it has shanks and employs leverage to control your horse.

Curb Bit

Any bit with a shank is considered a curb. Because a curb gives a rider extra leverage in comparison to a snaffle, it is one of the better barrel racing bits for strong horses.

Gag Bit

A gag bit is designed to slide up and down on the bit rings or on a steel or rope draw. These bits are available in a variety of styles and are popular with riders looking to lift their horse’s shoulders and to gain flexion. This bit will also give a rider more control than a traditional O-ring snaffle. Some gags — such as a double gag — give a horse time to react to its rider’s commands before it will feel the full force of the bit’s pulley effect. With other gags, though, the curb pressure is almost immediate, and the horse’s response will also be very quick.

Is a Mild Bit Always Best?

It is important to note that while a snaffle is considered a mild bit, you could easily cause your horse’s mouth to become numb or “hard” if you’re in a constant tug of war with the reins. While using a lighter bit, in theory, may seem like it would be kinder to your mount, a horse that pulls a lot on the reins may be better off with a stronger bit that doesn’t cause it to lean.


Bits come in a large variety of mouthpieces. When selecting one for a horse, consider these general rules:

  • Bits that have a larger diameter mouthpiece are considered milder or softer than ones that are thin.
  • The more breaks or joints in a mouthpiece, the better they are for getting improved bend out of a horse.
  • The less breaks in a bit, the better it will work on horses that have too much bend. For example, solid mouthpieces, such as a Mullen mouth, are good for stiffening a horse that has a tendency to over-bend or get limp when turning.

Switch It Up

Many top riders and trainers will practice in one bit but then have another one that they use only for competitions. For example, they might use an O-ring snaffle as their everyday bit. They will then find a bit, such as a gag bit, that their horse likes to run in and keep that one strictly for competition use.

Competing in the right bit can mean the difference between winning and losing. The same holds true for your saddle pad. That is why it may be time to consider purchasing a custom pad that will help elevate your horse’s performance during competitions — such as the high-quality ones available through Best Ever Pads. Our custom pads are made to your specifications here in the USA.

For more information or to place an order, please call 805-528-8009 or email [email protected] today!

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