Lady and The Track | August 21, 2019

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Inside Racing: A Bit About Bits

The Two Most Commonly Used Bits In Thoroughbred Racing Explained

By Christina Lee

A rubber ring bit. Photo: Christina Lee

New fans to horse racing – and even sometimes veterans and handicappers — often wonder about the intricacies of both training and racing Thoroughbreds. Questions like, “What’s the difference between galloping and breezing?” Or, “How do you become a trainer?” And even, “What does a racehorse eat?” are common things many people from the “frontside” of racing wonder about.

From saddles and bridles to bandages and bits and even blinkers, what does each piece do and why do the horses need them? Perhaps some of the most asked questions are about the equipment racehorses wear during training and racing and why.

A “Dee Bit” which is identified by the D-shaped cheek piece. Photo: Christina Lee

Bits are something every racehorse uses, but you’d be hard-pressed to find people (who don’t work with the horses everyday) who know what the most common types are and why they’re used. The “Ring Bit” and the “Dee Bit” are the most commonly used in Thoroughbred racing, but why and how and why are they effective?

A Ring Bit is designed as a “jointed snaffle” which means it is joined in the middle with a smooth hinge. Attached below the snaffle is a thin, circular piece of metal, which goes in the mouth and often is tied to the snaffle hinge with a small string. The ring bit can be straight metal alloy or rubber covered. The “ring” — the circular metal element – is what differentiates this bit and gives it its name.

The purpose of this bit is to give the rider a little more control of a strong-running horse. In theory, the ring does not allow the horse to fully grab a hold of the “snaffle” part of the bit and “run through it” or become completely uncontrollable. A jockey on average weighs only 110 pounds, and a riding a 1,000- to 1,100-pound Thoroughbred with momentum of about 35 m.p.h. is like trying to control a freight train with tiny hand brakes. Bits can make a big difference in getting a horse to settle and/or guide them in and out of tight holes.

On the other hand, some racehorses are easily guided with a simple “Dee Bit.” The name comes from the “D” shaped rings on the sides of the bit, which sit at the horse’s cheeks. The straight shaft of the “D” is where the snaffle is attached giving it a little leverage in the horses mouth. Dee Bits come in various materials — steel, copper and rubber-covered. A trainer often chooses the appropriate bit to use during a race according to the exercise rider or jockey recommendations, based on the horse’s responses to cues, strength and behavior.

Assistant trainer/exercise rider Heather Coops. Photo: Heather Coops.

Ultimately some control, safety and comfort are the purpose of the bit. Heather Coops, a veteran exercise rider and assistant to trainer George Weaver, prefers a rubber ring bit over all other bits.

“The ring bit gives me a little more control with less effort on my part,” Coops explained. “No matter what bit the horse has, really, it’s the riders hands that make all the difference in proper use and effectiveness.”