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Study: Every fourth bit does not fit properly

by Jil Wiedemann
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A properly fitting bit is essential for the well-being and communication with horses. Nevertheless, a study shows that every fourth bit does not fit properly.

The bit serves the fine communication between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. A horse’s bit lies on the ark. In the toothless area between the cheek teeth. Here it causes pressure on the sensitive structures. Therefore, it is especially important to find the right bit for the horse. But according to a study in the Frontiers in Veterinary Science journal, one in four bits does not fit properly.

In the study, 308 geldings and 236 mares aged between five and 29 years were examined by three researchers. The horses were due for a routine visit to the dentist. The researchers used this opportunity to take a closer look at the horses’ mouths. They measured the width of the mouth, the distance between the upper and lower jaws, the thickness of the tongue and the width of the lower jaw.

Afterwards, they had the horses’ bit given to them. When selecting the horses, the researchers made sure that the horses were of different breeds and from different areas of use. Half were show horses, 218 leisure horses and 62 trotters.

Results of the study

The researchers found that the width of the mouth and the distance between the upper and lower jaws were influenced by the age, breed and sex of the horse. The measurements were significantly smaller in mares than in geldings. In addition, cold-blooded horses’ mouths were also larger than a pony’s mouth.

In total, the researchers were able to accurately record the respective dentition of 465 horses. The result: “Unfortunately, a bit was often used that did not fit the horse”. “The bit was either too short or too long. In some cases, the bits were even over ten millimetres longer compared to the width of the mouth. This squeezed the tongue between the upper and lower jaw. Or the middle piece was as long as the lower jaw width, which could possibly cause pressure points or the so-called nutcracker effect on the lower jaw chests.”

In the tests, the researchers found dentures that were up to 20 millimetres too short and up to 30 millimetres too long. On average, the bits were 3.6 millimetres longer than the width of the mouth. In 313 of 422 horses, the bit length was correct. But in 109 horses it did not fit. This means that every fourth bit was either too long or too short! The thickness of the bit was only too thick in a few cases, so that it pressed on the tongue. On average, however, there was 0.3 millimetres of space between the upper and lower jaws.

Conclusion: Check your bits

Overall, the researchers found that the biggest differences in mouth measurements were between horse breeds. “This supports previous findings that the largest differences in skull dimensions between breeds are found in the nasal part of the skull,” the authors said. All the mouth measurements of the geldings were larger than those of the mares. The researchers explain this with the effect of sex hormones in horse growth.

“Although breed, age and sex explain some of the variation in the mouth measurements of adult horses and ponies, individual differences exist,” the researchers say. They recommend checking the bridle, or more precisely the fit of the bit, regularly as the horse ages.

Source: Frontiers in Veterinary Science 

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