A horse that is unhappy or uncomfortable in his mouth will not perform at his best and may even develop behavioural problems when ridden. These days there are such a range of designs and materials that there should be a bit to suit every horse no matter what the issue is. If you are unsure what to try for your horse's particular problem, contact one of the many "bit banks" available. They will be able to advise you on which bits to try and may even be able to fit one for you. This is definitely worth the time and effort rather than just guessing and spending a fortune on bits that aren't suitable.
First of all make sure that your horse's saddle fits correctly, that his back is not causing him discomfort and that the bit he is currently ridden in fits him properly. Lay the bit over your bare forearm and using your other hand (or a willing volunteer), apply pressure through the bit rings. If the bit pinches, is rough or feels uncomfortable that is exactly what it will feel like in your horse's mouth. Next, fit the horse's bridle and have a look at how the bit sits inside his mouth. It should sit well clear of his canine teeth and he should be able to close his front teeth comfortably together. Now stand beside him and pick up a light contact on the reins. Make sure that the bit does not dig into the roof of his mouth and study his reaction to your contact. He should quietly and willingly accept the bit without offering resistance to it.
Problem: Dropping behind the bit
It is quite usual for youngsters to drop behind the contact until their balance is more established and they are not working so much on their forehand. If a more experienced horse is inclined to come behind the bit it may be that the bit is too severe. Such a reaction is commonly seen when horses are first introduced to a double bridle and ridden with too much curb rein. A gentle, soft bit with a double joint should help this issue. Anatomically formed, double jointed designs follow the contours of the horse's mouth and give a gentle, even pressure on the tongue. Bits and nosebands which apply poll pressure should be avoided as these may exacerbate the problem and encourage the horse to over-bend even more.
Problem: Leaning on the bit, pulling
There are a number of reasons why a horse may be heavy in the rider's hand. This could be a temporary phase as he becomes more engaged and his balance adjusts so that he becomes more in self-carriage and lighter in the forehand. Some horses are naturally built more heavily in front and their natural way of going is rather downhill. Sometimes a double jointed bit will encourage a horse to become lighter in the hand. Horses which are inclined to pull or bear down on the hand might respond better to a single jointed style.
Problem: Fussy in the mouth, unsteady in the contact
Usually, horses which toss their heads do so in an effort to avoid the contact and the pressure the bit places on their tongue. An ergonomically formed, lozenge bit might help this as it lifts pressure away from the tongue. Another possible solution would be a combination bit which divides the rein pressure over three points on the horse's head before the mouthpiece is activated, providing almost complete tongue relief.
Problem: Tongue over the bit
Sometimes this is a reaction to pressure on a sensitive area of the horse's tongue although there can be other reasons for this behaviour. If the horse has a small mouth and the bit is too chunky, he may seek to put his tongue over the bit to relieve the discomfort. One solution would be to use a bit with a double lozenge joint. This design lessens the nutcracker action of a single joint and relieves palette pressure too which is especially helpful for a horse with a either a large tongue or a small mouth.
Problem: Steering failure!
Such communication failure can have many causes. A three ring style of bit that provides some poll pressure may help or a bit with full cheeks which apply a small amount of pressure to the sides of the face can help to correct steering problems.
The manufacture of bits for horses has come a long way from the leather and bone concoctions used by our distant ancestors. Today there are many different options all designed with the horse's comfort in mind.
Aurigan is an alloy containing copper, silicon and zinc. Horses like this material as it has a sweet taste and encourages them to salivate and chew.
Salox gold is a warm metal with a high copper content. Heat transfer from the body to the metal is eight times faster than traditional stainless steel offering a greater level of comfort and promoting better acceptance of the bit by the horse.
Sweet iron is made from black iron and copper. Again, a sweet taste is produced encouraging salivation and chewing.
Titanium is a strong, light and non-magnetic metal which is very resistant to damage and corrosion. This is especially reassuring for me personally as I have a titanium plate and screws in my arm following a fracture I sustained falling off a youngster some years ago!
Nathe is a pliable, soft plastic material. Many horses prefer the feel of nathe to metal in their mouths and it is also allergy free. Although it is pretty strong, be careful if your horse tends to chew on the bit as scuffing can occur which may cause sores.
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