Add: The search for the perfect bit can be quite challenging. How you recognize if your horse is happy with the bit and when you should rather change to a new style is discussed in the following.
How do I know if my horse likes its bit?
The easiest way is to feel it while riding. If you have a relaxed horse that is confidently stepping forward to the bit and responds well to your rein aids, there is no reason to worry about your bit. Of course as a rider you can also feel if the horse is not as happy and should find out if this is rather a rideability or a bitting problem, or even both. If the horse is unsteady in the contact, opens the mouth while riding is sensitive to pressure or even shaking the head, you might be better of checking the style and size of your bit. Tongue vices can also be a reason to change the bit although in most cases the bit is not the reason that causes the problem. Even if there are several other reasons that can cause tongue vices, it is still helpful to use a bit that is most suitable to the anatomy and character of your horse.
If you find yourself in the above described situations it may be time to question your bit. An improperly fitting bit primarily affects rideability, but in the worst case it can also cause injuries and lead to longer-term problems.
What other reasons speak for a new bit?
Not only an unhappy horse should be a reason to question your bit but also a bad fit, the wrong bit size or a worn out bit. At first glance, a worn bit is hard to spot, but if you take a closer look at the ring holes or the joints, you may find sharp edges that have been worn during use. In such a case you are better of getting a new bit. In general it is helpful to check the bit for sharp chewing marks or damages regularly, especially if you use a plastic or rubber bit that has a soft surface and does not withstand a horse chewing on it. The life span of a bit depends on the material and wear. High-quality Sprenger metal bits have an average life span of five to seven years.
When should I use which bit shape?
Basically, you should always aim to ride with a “normal” bit, such as a loose ring snaffle or eggbutt bit. Whether the horse prefers a single or double jointed bit is best found out by trial and error. The effect differs mainly in the pressure distribution on the horse’s tongue.
A more special or stronger bit shape often results from increasing requirements in the training of horse and rider. Bits with leverage action can be useful if the rider needs more control over the horse, for example when the horse gets strong and evades upwards. In such cases, however, the trainer or a specialist should always be consulted and the rider should be able to give sensitive rein aids from an independent seat.
By the way, when you try a new bit, you usually can’t judge the effect after riding it once. Over a period of 1 to 2 weeks you get a feeling for whether the horse feels comfortable with the bit and whether you notice a lasting improvement.
Why are there so many different types of bits?
Horses are as sensitive and as individual as humans. This concerns both the character and the anatomy. On the one hand, bits are a foreign object in the horse’s mouth and on the other hand, they serve as a means of communication between rider and horse, which should possibly not send any wrong or misleading signals. This is exactly why it is so important to choose a bit that is suitable to the individual and anatomical needs of the horse and horse’s mouth.
The effect of a bit results from two different factors: the design of the mouthpiece and the cheek piece. In order to decide which mouthpiece-cheek piece-combination makes sense for one’s own horse, we recommend that every rider take a close look at the problems that come up in the communication between rider and horse. Thus, you should analyze exactly in which situations the problems occur and also question yourself critically. Do you have an unsteady contact? Does the horse get stronger when you use more hand? Does it push or pull or lean on the hand? These are all indications that should be taken into account when choosing a bit.
The fit makes the difference
Not every bit fits every horse. Small details can make a huge difference. It starts, for example, with the correct buckling: a bit can only work properly if it has been buckled correctly. Also, bits work in conjunction with the noseband. Therefore, it is highly important that the entire bridle is properly fitted.
You can tell if the snaffle has been buckled correctly by looking at various features. The bridle should be easy to slip over the ears, but the cheek piece should not flap. The bit should be minimum 1-2 fingers underneath the first molar, so that it does not come into contact with the teeth when the reins are taken. The same applies to too deeply buckled bits as a bit should not sit so deep that it hits the canine teeth (if present).
An unsuitable bit can leave redness or pressure marks on the tongue or palate. Therefore, it is essential to take a look inside the horse’s mouth regularly. You can also see on the bit itself whether it fits properly. If you find a shiny surface at the top of the joint, it indicates that there is contact or even friction on the sensitive palate.
Please also regularly check the corners of your horse’s mouth from the inside and outside. If you find injuries there, these usually result from a poorly fitted bit. The width of the bit often plays a decisive role. If you stand in front of your horse and pull the bit slightly apart at the rings, there should be 2.5-5 mm of space between the bit ring and the lips. The ring of a loose ring snaffle must be able to move freely. Under no circumstances should the bit ring pinch the mouth corners. Eggbutt bits, D-rings or other fixed cheek pieces should fit closely to the corners and there be a size smaller. If this is the case, these bits lie more quietly and provide additional lateral support.
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