Let’s talk bits. What is the purpose of a bit?
It’s a tool used to communicate to your horse what it is you want to do.
Like stopping (aka whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa), you pull back on the bit and when your horse stops you release the bit, and the world is good. When you rein to the right they go right and when you rein to the left they go left. Well, that is what’s supposed to happen in a perfect world.
The not so perfect world could look like this:
You give your horse the signal to whoaaaa as you pull back on the bit and say whoaaaaa but, your horse starts moving faster and is acting as if he doesn’t have a clue as to what you want, maybe he starts to back up, which is making you squeeze with your legs telling him to move forward, but you’re not realizing your doing this because you are so focused on the whole “whoaaaaaaaaaaa” request and now both of you are frustrated and not gracefully moving across the dance floor. Consequently your horse is doing the rhumba and you’re trying to bring the dance to halt, but provoking the boogie.
OK now it’s time to STOP the confusing dance moves and glide across the floor as if you and your horse were doing the waltz. How do you get started at accomplishing this goal? Focus on what could be causing the problem, by going back to basics and rebuilding the foundation.
Methodically go through a mental or physical checklist to figure out where to start analyzing and fixing the problem.
Does the bridle accommodate the correct seating of the bit?
- Are the cheek straps long enough to allow the bit to sit on the bars correctly/comfortably? Not too tight and not too loose
- Is my horse comfortable with one lip wrinkle or two lip wrinkles when the bit is seated in their mouth? This depends on the horse. Too loose a bit could cause the horse to have to constantly hold the bit in their mouth to prevent it from bumping the teeth in front of the bit or they can set their tongue over the bit. Too short and you could be pushing the bit back so far that its difficult for the horse to move forward; this constant pressure is confusing for the horse because it simulates the whoa command.
- Is the curb strap/chain too tight or too loose? The general rule is to allow enough space for two fingers to comfortably fit between your horse and the strap. If it’s too tight it’s restricting movement of the bit and making your horse uncomfortable. You want your horse to hold the bit comfortably in its mouth. You don’t want the bit to be pressed down against the bars, and clamping down on the jaw which could happen if the curb strap/chain is fastened too tightly.
- Is the throatlatch too tight or too loose? A throatlatch is there to prevent the bridal from coming off over the head and should have a space of about three to four fingers.
Does your horse stand comfortably with the bit in its mouth?
- Is the bit wide enough for your horse’s mouth? If the bit isn’t wide enough and you’re using a jointed mouth piece (aka snaffle or Pelham) you could be causing some discomfort for your horse in the form of pinching the cheeks and squeezing the jaw and bars.
- As for curb bits the action of the curb bit could cause callouses in the palate of the mouth if the bit was not seated correctly. These callouses could result in hardening of the mouth. Hardening of the mouth means the horse can no longer feel your communication so you need a stronger harsher bit to get the message through.
- Imagine yourself walking in shoes that are too small for you…. Think of all the problems you would encounter present and future. I say future because there are long term affects associated with small bits and small shoes.
What more could there be?
- The main purpose of the bit is to communicate to your horse which way you want to go and if you don’t want to go. So the bit should sit in the horse’s mouth and only come into action when you move the reins. Large rein movement can cause discomfort for your horse as well.
- It shouldn't be setting so far back in the mouth as if to gag you’re horse. • It should not be setting so far forward your horse has to hold on to it to keep it from dropping and hitting the teeth in front of the bit.
- When switching to a new bit give your horse some time to adjust to the new bit. Monitor their reaction before venturing out on a trail ride. Confirm they are comfortable with the new hardware as a safety precaution bring their old bit with you.
- You may have to try several bits till you find what you’re looking for, but always measure to make sure your horses bit fits.