Does your bit suit your horse?
With many contradicting theories around bit fitting, it is difficult to decipher whether your horse’s bit is sitting correctly in their mouth.
An ill-fitting bit can cause a large number of unwanted issues including cuts, abrasions, behavioral problems and general discomfort.
This blog post has been devised to give advice on those hard to answer questions, for instance, does my horse’s bit fit right? Does the style of my horse’s bit suit? Does material really make a difference?
Read on to find out!
Fitting a bit correctly…
Firstly, the theory of mouth wrinkles is not specific enough to solely rely on. You should always fit the bit to your horse’s individual and unique mouth. Many horses may naturally have dimples in the corner of their mouths – this does not mean the bit is ill-fitting.
The bit should fit through the horse’s mouth leaving just enough room so that the metal rings do not pinch the sensitive skin. A good way of gauging this is to stand in front of your horse and slot both your index fingers in each corner of the mouth.
You should be able to rotate your fingers around the bit without your skin catching or feeling restricted (there should still be a touch of pressure, however).
When you’re checking the bit you should also make sure the bit is central – there should be equal amounts of the bit visible at each side of the horse’s mouth.
The bit must also sit correctly in the mouth when attached the cheek pieces on your bridle. A bit sitting too high may cause head shaking, and if it is sitting too low it will be difficult to maintain regular contact between you and your horse.
When checking your bridle’s cheek pieces, you should have a little tension and flexibility in the leather straps. If your horse’s cheek pieces are loose-fitting it will cause the bit to sit too low in the horse’s mouth. By raising, or lowering, your buckle a few holes you can often resolve this issue!
Having the right amount of leverage in the bridle can be the difference between al ill-fitting bit and an excellent fit!
What bit should I choose?
Choosing a bit style to suit your horse is often viewed as a minefield. With so many options available, it is hard to know which bit will suit your horse.
Whether you have a young horse in training, or you have just purchased a new horse that you are kitting out with a new saddlery wardrobe – you should always start off simple!
A snaffle bit is an ideal starting point, remember you can always build on this. Essentially, you are looking for the mildest possible bit that allows you to communicate efficiently with your horse.
The Outer Bit
The outer rings of bits are designed to assist in one way or another. However, many people fail to see that less is more.
If your horse is accepting and working well in a simple bit there is no need to swap and change – this will only cause unsettlement after all if it is not broken don’t fix it!
It is important to highlight that changing equipment does not provide an overnight result, it takes practice and patience to start seeing the results you desire.
The number of bits now appearing in the equestrian world can be confusing. Some of the old time/traditional bits are explained below – and remember as mentioned previously, sometimes less is more!
The clue is in the name, the loose ring bit allows greater movement in the horse’s mouth as it is not a fixed structure. However, fitting this bit correctly is important as there is the potential for the skin to get caught if not.
The Eggbutt design is a fixed structure that does not offer the horse as much freedom in movement. This bit is designed to encourage the horse to work low over the back.
It is worth mentioning that horses with a tendency to lean on the bit may not perform well in this fixed bit style.
Similar to the Eggbutt, the D-Ring offers stability in the mouth. The difference is in the shape of the ring.
The ‘D’ shape limits rotational movement in the mouth of the horse, and therefore slightly more lateral pressure is applied when been ridden.
The full cheek is a snaffle bit, the large prongs attached to the ring simply help with lateral guidance and in keeping the bit still in the horse’s mouth.
This bit can be good for schooling and getting the correct shape.
The severity of your bit very much depends on the mouthpiece. There are different styles, shapes, materials and textures that can affect how a bit works in your horse’s mouth.
However, with this in mind, it is important to remember the bit is only ever as severe as the rider’s hands holding the reins.
Rather than the outer rings, the internal mouthpieces are what affect the severity of the bit. A simple loose joint bit is the mildest of mouthpieces. The single joint acts as a nut-cracker action on the roof of the horse’s mouth if too much pressure is applied.
With this in mind, it may not be a suitable bit choice for a horse with a low palate. A steady pair of hands will see that this bit remains mild and useful for training purposes.
The link is added between the joint in the mouthpiece to create the French link bit. The lozenge in the middle of the bit means there is more movement.
Be aware that if your horse has a sensitive tongue, the pressure applied by the French link mouthpiece may not be suitable.
The Mullen mouthpiece is a straight bar that goes in the horse’s mouth. The pressure is applied to the tongue and lips. The thickness of a Mullen mouth can also vary a great deal.
Generally speaking, the thinner the mouthpiece the greater the severity on the horse’s mouth.
The type of material a bit is made of can also affect acceptance of the bit. Traditionally most bits were made out of stainless steel.
Stainless steel offers good salivation and keeps the mouthpiece cool with use. However, with equestrian advancements, there seems to have been a shift to alternative materials such as rubber, plastic, copper and sweet iron.
Materials that undergo oxidation have been proven to increase salivation. Plastics have become a popular bit choice due to additional flavouring. However, it is important to remember that materials such as plastic are generally thicker and generally cause more friction in the mouth.
Each material type has benefits and sometimes negatives – after all, it does depend on your horse specifically, as every animal is unique.
To conclude, there is no specific set of instructions to fitting a bit correctly, as every horse is different and unique.
You know your horse more than anyone else, therefore you are the best judge. Just remember to check for the right amount of leverage in the mouth and cheek pieces, also to ensure the rings are not too close to the mouth.
If you are unsure of the style of the bit, just try a few – start simple with the snaffle and listen to what your horse is telling you.
The end goal is to find the mildest bit that your horse works well in and does not object to.