Bits usually relate to their discipline as the intention is to support the rider with the sporting task at hand. Western bits reflect the intricacies and unique requirements of Western riding, which demands pinpoint precision and the ability to turn and stop on the hand with instantaneous effect.
Control is the buzzword with Western bits, and so, you will see long angled shanks – the longer the shank, the greater the leverage and, therefore, the more refined the control can be. The style of shank angled away from the horse towards the rider was originally designed to allow the horse to graze whilst wearing tack during long days on the prairie. Some shanks have one rein fitting, whilst others have a choice of attachment points to offer a variety of settings for different environments and perhaps for different horses.
The mouthpieces of Western bits are usually jointed as a minimum and often ported to allow room for the tongue and to place pressure on the roof of the horse’s mouth when the rein is used. Some mouthpieces are twisted and others chain. There are variations which are plainer and allow a gradual transition, from a simple snaffle to the more refined Western bits and these are used as part of a horse’s training programme.
Western bits aim to control the horse via the mouth, the poll and also to place the shoulder, all essential acts for rounding up cattle and turning and cutting away quickly. Stronger bits can look fearsome, but often provide a greater control, which means they can be used more moderately. These bits are usually a mix of metals, some sweet metals designed to encourage salivation, and there are working bits for use in the field and show versions for demonstrations and competition.