Loose ring or fixed ring: which should you use?

Today I changed Freedom’s bit. I had been riding him in a full cheek snaffle with a jointed quarter moon mouthpiece but he was very fussy when I rode him yesterday, not accepting the bit and getting very busy in his mouth.

I went back to a bit that I used a year or so ago: a simple single-jointed loose ring snaffle. My ride today was much better. He stopped trying to evade the bit and was reaching into the contact with a quiet mouth.

So, was it the change of bit? or was he just in a better mood? To a certain extent it’s just hard to tell but the two bits do act very differently in a horse’s mouth and they could well have made a difference. While the mouthpieces certainly are a consideration, today I’m just going to discuss how a fixed ring and a loose ring work.

Fixed Ring Bits

The boucher bit stays very quiet in the horse's mouth because the bit attaches to the cheek piece and the ring where the reins attach is solid.

With a fixed ring bit like an eggbutt, a D ring, Full Cheek or Boucher, the mouthpiece is attached to a fixed, non-moving cheek piece.


  • The bit stays centered in the horse’s mouth.
  • Bits such as a full cheek or a D ring can help with turning aids by providing lateral pressure on the side of the horse’s mouth when rein pressure is applied.
  • full cheek bit with keepers
    The full cheek bit stays stable in the horse's mouth and provides pressure on the sides to aid in turning. When used with keepers it concentrates pressure on the bars and tongue.

    The bit stays quiet in the horse’s mouth and is not as susceptible to extra movement (especially good if your hands are not as quiet as they should be).

  • The orientation of the mouthpiece in the horse’s mouth is constant even when there is rein pressure.

Fixed ring bits are traditionally used in the hunter ring. D ring bits have migrated there from the racetrack where they are commonly used to start horses.

I usually use a full cheek snaffle with green horses as they aid in turning. Read more about this type of fixed bit at Fitting a Full Cheek Snaffle.

Loose Ring Bits

With a loose ring bit the mouthpiece moves freely around the side piece rings.


Loose ring bit
With a loose ring bit the mouthpiece rotates on the rings. It's important to buy one that's long enough; otherwise it can pinch the horse's lips.
  • Because the bit moves around the rings the motion makes it more difficult for a horse to lean on the bit.
  • The loose ring bit is more sensitive to the rider’s hands and gives more “warning” of any corrections. This works for you and against you. If you have a horse that hates motion in its mouth, then the noise created by the loose ring bit can be a distraction.
  • The mouthpiece moves so that it is always 180 degrees from the rein pressure. Some horses like the consistence of the position.
  • If a loose ring bit is fitted too small, the action of the rings rotating can pinch the horse’s lips. Some people use a bit guard to prevent that. I’ve found that as long as you buy a bit that’s about 1/2″ larger than you’d buy for a fixed ring, it’s not a problem (see fitting a loose ring snaffle).
  • Because the side rings are not fixed it’s pretty easy to pull the bit through the horse’s mouth. It’s important to keep contact on both sides of the horse’s mouth and help keep the bit centered.

Loose ring bits are very common in dressage. In fact, most dressage horses are ridden in a loose ring snaffle unless they have a problem with them.


Sometimes it’s hard to tell what type of bit a horse will respond to best. Sometimes it changes. Kroni, my Trakehner, never liked a loose ring bit. I tried several times to introduce them to him. Bogie, my QH, loved his single jointed loose ring snaffle. Freedom? Sometimes it’s hard to tell!

3 thoughts on “Loose ring or fixed ring: which should you use?

  1. Have you put any thought into that metal rein clip on metal bit feeling in your horse’s mouth? Hold the bit in your hand, and have a buddy tug on the reins a little. Use the metal clip connection, and then a direct leather or nylon connection to the bit. Feel a difference?

    I hadn’t considered this until I tried it, and I felt a difference. If my hands can feel it, my horse’s mouth magifies that feeling.

    1. Interesting point! I used the clip ring just because I was taking photos and it made it easier to change the reins. Most of the time I use a standard rein (although I prefer buckles). So, the comparison rides were both done with standard reins on different bits.

  2. My OTTB very strongly prefers loose rings. He also requires thinner bits – I tried a nice, fat, gentle bit in his mouth… and never even got on before changing bits. He just stands gaping his mouth open like “I’m choking on this thing!” If bitless were legal in dressage, I would totally try it with him – because I believe it’s perfectly possible to have contact and work well without having a bit in the horse’s mouth. I have a feeling if we went bitless he’d be furious if I ever put a bit in his mouth again.
    The Friesian cross has a much larger mouth and prefers fatter bits. She also definitely prefers fixed rings. She is one who was uneducated about contact and would yank against her rider when we got her. The fixed ring bits we tried made a significant difference before we could work her enough to get her behaving better.

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