Keeping your bit in good shape — your horse will thank you!

By Dr. Mike Guerini (

When I teach lessons or riding clinics I like to take a few minutes to discuss with people how to care for the bit they are using with their horse.  It is important that you regularly inspect the bit for dings or abrasions and clean some of the feed or grime off the bit.

Cleaning your bit — 

Scrubbing with plain hot water usually gets most of the grime off. If you need a little more power, add a splash of white vinegar in the wash water. Soak the bit if there is a lot of really gummed on grime. Scrub the bit, being sure to get inside any joints. I recommend that water and elbow grease are your best options for cleaning a bit.  I do not like to put any chemicals on bits since that could get into my horse’s mouth.

After you have cleaned the bit thoroughly, dry it off with a cotton terry cloth.  always you something soft when drying or wiping off your bit (I will explain why in just a few more sentences).  If you have a sweet iron bit, do not try to remove the ‘rust’. This is considered part of the seasoning that makes horses salivate with the sweet iron bits.  Just wash it and scrub off the grime.

Checking your bit for abrasions and dings –

Take a few minutes before each ride to rub your fingers all over the bit.  Feel the bit for rough spots, dings, abrasions or anything that comes into contact with your fingers that you think feels rough.  Look the bit over and see if you find teeth marks or small holes and ridges on the bit.  Anything that takes away from the bit feeling smooth can be a sign of wear and the need to either fix your bit or get a new one.

Why am I concerned about these dings or rough spots?  Well when you put the bit into the horse’s mouth, all of these rough spots come into contact with the mouth and tongue of the horse.  These rough spots can cause cuts or sores on the horse’s mouth or tongue.  If the bit is hurting your horse, this will lead to problems when riding.  Any hurt from the bit will cause the horse to try and get away from the bit.

My rule of thumb is that when I clean my bits, if I find any abrasions or dings that are rough on my hands…I replace the bit.

Copper bits (either entirely copper or large parts of the bit being copper) are the most prone to getting dings and abrasions.  If you use a copper bit (and they can be really good for promoting saliva and good taste as well), be especially careful with checking your bit for dings and abrasions.

As with all pieces of tack, if you have any questions or are concerned it is not right for you or your horse, consult a professional trainer, rider, groom, or someone you trust to help you make sure your tack is in good shape, good for your horse, and safe to use.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (