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English Horse Bits With Leverage: Your Questions Answered!

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Want the inside scoop on leverage horse bits? Dive into the world of equestrian gear with our in-depth analysis. Learn about their purpose, how they work, and when it's appropriate to use them. Click on the pin to unravel the mystery of leverage horse bits!

Wondering what a leverage bit is and how it works? Maybe you are considering a leverage bit for your horse and you want to learn more about them? Maybe you are wondering if a leverage bit is harsh compared to other bits. 

I thought I would share with you what I have learned because I too was curious to learn more about these kinds of bits. I have never used them on any of my horses personally. But I wanted to learn more about their purpose, how they work, and which situations should call for a bit with leverage.

Whatever your questions may be about leverage bits. I am going to do my best to provide you with some answers and hopefully answer all your questions. If not answered feel free to write your question down in the comments.

How Does A Leverage Bit Work?

Leverage bits have a lever-like action. When you apply pressure to the reins it engages the lever action. The amount of pressure applied to the reins with a leverage bit is multiplied and the effect on the horse mouth is much stronger than the amount of pressure applied.

For example with a snaffle bit which is a non-leverage bit, 1 pound of pressure on the reins is 1 pound of pressure on the horse’s mouth, so the ratio is 1:1. 

But with a leverage bit the ratio of rein pressure to pressure on the bit is different. 

The amount of pressure or “leverage” from the bit will depend on the shank length, shape of the mouthpiece and the angle of the bit in the horse’s mouth.

Leverage bits typically put pressure on the horse’s poll, lower jaw and tongue. 

Any bits with shanks are considered to have leverage.

The longer the shank is the more pressure the bit will put on the horse’s mouth and poll.

The pressure from a leverage bit is supposed to encourage the horse to lower their head and give the rider more control or refinement.

Essentially the rider is getting more power from the bit with less work. So also hence the bit giving you more leverage.

Which English Bits Have Leverage?

The following bits are used in english riding and are considered to have leverage.

  • Pelham
  • Dutch Gag
  • Kimberwick
  • Weymouth Bit
  • Universal Bit

Pelham Bit

  • Has both parts of a curb bit and a snaffle bit.
  • Can work like a snaffle bit until the curb reins are engaged with pressure.
  • Can use two or one set of reins with a bit converter.
  • One set of reins alone on the lower rings would basically turn this bit into a curb bit.
  • Mouth pieces vary.

Video: About The Pelham Bit:

Dutch Gag

  • Not actually a gag bit like the name implies.
  • Usually has 4 rings, cheek piece attaches to the top ring and 3 lower rings offer different placements for the reins.
  • The lower the ring the reins are on the more leverage and pressure on the horse’s mouth and poll.
  • Not legal for dressage.
  • Mouth pieces vary.


  • Has a D shaped rings with two fixed rein placement options or can be used like a snaffle and has a curb chain.
  • Kimberwicks are used with one set of reins.
  • Shanks are shorter than other leverage bits.
  • The action of the Kimberwick is milder than other leverage bits.
  • Kimberwicks are also called Kimblewick or Kimberwicke and used to be called the “Spanish Jumping Bit.”

Video : About Kimberwick Bits

Weymouth Curb Bit

  • This bit is used in combination with a bradoon bit on a double bridle.
  • This is a fairly strong and harsh bit.
  • How severe the Weymouth bit is will depend on how big the port is, how tight the curb chain is, and how long the shanks are.
  • There are different ways you can hold the Weymouth bridle.
  • The longer shanks and higher ports make the Weymouth bit stronger than the other leverage bits.
  • They are common in Upper Level Dressage where the rider is to have very subtle and soft hand movements and communication.

Video: About Weymouth Bit:

Universal Bit

  • Similar to a Dutch Gag Bit but has 3 rings instead of 4 rings.
  • This bit has mild leverage when the reins are attached to the bottom ring.
  • The poll pressure is milder than that of the Dutch Gag Bit.
  • Also known as a Continental Bit.

Video: About The Universal Bit

Are Leverage Bits Abusive?

Leverage bits are stronger than snaffles. Different leverage bits have different levels of pressure and strength. There are leverage bits as well as snaffles that are abusive and hurt the horses mouth when used.

Leverage bits on their own are not abusive. A horse wearing a bridle with a properly fitted and positioned leverage bit will not hurt the horse. 

However the action of the bit as well as how the rider uses ANY bit can determine whether the horse is being abused with a bit.

Riding with a leverage bit, the rider must be experienced, with educated and soft hands. However some leverage bits are painful no matter what when pressure is applied and that is abuse. even if it’s accidental and the rider is unaware. In that case “accidental abuse” still abuse though.

Riding with heavy, harsh or uneducated hands can be abusive to the horse wearing any leverage bit. However riding with a snaffle this way is abusive as well. The difference between snaffle and leverage is that the action of the snaffle bit wouldn’t be as strong of an effect on the horse as a leverage bit.

There are also mouth pieces in both leverage and snaffle bits that are harsh on the horses mouth, like

  • high ports that are angled to go into the horse’s pallet when rein pressure is applied
  • Waterford
  • twisted
  • Bristol

The stronger the bit the softer and more subtle the rider must be with the reins. And then some bits should just not be used at all.

Leverage bits are meant to be for more refinement and less movement of the riders hands, a little bit stronger communication, not to force the horse into a frame or submission.

Video: Correction Port Pelham: Harsh Bit

It seems that the way a port is positioned in the mouth will also determine how much it will press into the horse’s pallet.

Video: Waterford Pelham: Harsh Bit

Are Leverage Bits Legal In Competition?

Each discipline has different rules for bits that are allowed to be used in competition. Usually some leverage bits are allowed and some are not.

  • Pelham bits are not allowed in dressage. 
  • Kimberwick bits are illegal in hunter show classes and dressage.
  • Dutch Gag is illegal in dressage competition but common in show jumping.

 However you would need to check the rule book for your discipline or association to find out what bits are allowed or not.

What Is The Severity Level Of A Leverage Bit?

Leverage bits are more severe than snaffle bits in the sense of the amount of pressure being applied to the horse. The pressure is multiplied in the horses mouth and added to the lower jaw and poll from the leverage.

The kimberwicke would be the mildest leverage bit, whereas the Weymouth double bridle would be the most severe pressure. A pelham can be severe when the curb rein is engaged but it can also be mild when the snaffle rein is being used. 

The severity level will also be determined by the mouth piece being used. Such as a port, how high the port is, the angle of the port and the action the of the port when the shank is engaged.

I mentioned above in the section about abuse with leverage bits, the severe mouth pieces, like the Waterford, Bristol and twisted. Those bits are very severe and should be avoided.

Which horses would benefit from a leverage bit?

  • Small riders on strong horses that may ignore a mild bit. 
  • Well trained horses where the rider wants to use very soft and subtle rein aids. 
  • Horses that tend to go hollow with a raised head can benefit from the poll pressure which tells the horse to lower the head and flex at the poll, as long as the horse understands, accepts and is comfortable with poll pressure and release. 

Which horses should avoid a leverage bit?

Leverage bits are not for green horses or for green riders. The horse must first learn and be trained to respond to direct pressure before using a leverage bit with added power and poll pressure.

Green riders will have heavier and clunkier hands that don’t understand how much pressure, when to give, how much to give and take. Where leverage bits are stronger this is not fair to the horse and could result in the horse acting out in discomfort.

Horses that are uncomfortable with poll pressure. Horses with this issue may overreact to the poll pressure and go behind the bit or even rear up to try to get away from the pressure.

They are for horses with a good understanding of bits, a finished horse, that has a good level of obedience.

Final Word About Bits In General

I believe the horse should choose the bit. And you should always aim for the mildest bit. If the horse doesn’t seem content and is really bothered by a certain bit, then keep looking until you find a bit the horse can relax in and yet still respond to.

Horses can be trained to have lighter responses. You shouldn’t immediately go to a stronger bit but instead teach the horse to respond to a lighter touch.

I wanted to share a video by Elisa Wallace because she talks about the bits she uses with her horses and gives a good example of someone finding bits that work and are suitable for each horse as an individual.

Video By Elisa Wallace About Bits She Uses:

I am sharing what I have gathered about leverage bits. I am by no means a pro when it comes to leverage bits. So if there is more information to share or experiences you have using leverage bits please share down in the comments and share what you know.

Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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