Racehorses: Bits Commonly Used in Thoroughbred Horse Racing, Sales & Breeding
I receive a lot of inquiries about the tack used in racing. My hands-on riding experience is with hunter/jumpers, but I’ve learned quite a bit (ha!) by watching and shooting so much horse racing. The basic principles of bitting and horsemanship cross disciplines and continents. The age-old sentiment about even the mildest bit being dangerous in cruel hands is just as true in horse racing as it is in dressage, reining, or endurance riding.
Due to the sheer quantity of bits available to trainers, I’ll share more bits in future posts. Here are five to get you started:
1. The Chifney Bit. The Chifney was invented by a jockey named Samuel Chifney (1753 – 1807). Used for leading in hand and commonly seen at Thoroughbred sales. It’s also called an anti-rearing bit and it can have a straight or ported mouthpiece. Click here for a view of a chifney with a curved mouthpiece. The bit has three external rings: two attach to the horse;s halter and one attached to a lead line. When I see young horses at sales, I’ve noticed that the chifney has an added benefit: the horses play with the mouthpiece, which can be calming for them. During the time when young horses are prepped for a sale, they are trained to lead and stand, but these skills are put to the test in the unfamiliar surroundings of a sale.
2. Regulator. Also known as, “what the heck kind of bit is Curlin wearing?” You can see the leather-covered mouthpiece here. In training, Curlin tended to tilt his head sideways (he did not seem to have the same problem on race day- perhaps it was only at slower gaits). A bit like helps keep a horse travelling straight. Although Curlin always smoothly navigated his turns, I’ve also seen this type of bit on horses who bolt or drift out on turns.
3. Dexter Ring Bit. You can see the mouthpiece here. The ring bit has two mouthpieces: one jointed snaffle mouthpiece and one ring that encircles the horse’s lower jaw. The snaffle portion of the bit can have metal, plastic or rubber coating and the ring is metal. The cheekpieces are of varying shapes, as are the metal “spoons” below the mouth. A ring bit is commonly used on strong horses since it adds stopping power. The bit also increases steering power since a rider has the added leverage on the horse’s lower jaw.
Big Brown raced in a ring bit. Jockey Kent Desormeaux used the bit to rate the strong and powerful horse in the beginning of his races.
Note that Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown trained in a loose ring snaffle in the mornings:
Which brings us to:
4. Loose Ring Snaffle. Dressage riders, you’ve seen this one, right? Jumpers? Western riders? This is one of the most universal bits. It’s also considered one of the mildest bits.
5. Full Cheek Snaffle. Ahhhh, show and pleasure riders, another familiar bit, eh? A full cheek snaffle has a round ring on each end, with a straight piece that rests on the horse’s cheeks. The straight pieces help with steering on green horses and also prevent the rings from passing through the horse’s mouth with one-sided rein pressure. Full cheek snaffles are not as common on track as some other bits but I do see them every once in a while.