Archive | December, 2011

Choosing the Right Bit for Your Horse

2 Dec

A lot of my training projects come in with problems stopping, turning, accepting the bit, or keeping a steady headset. There’s no doubt heavy hands can cause these problems, but what about the bit? If your horse’s mouth isn’t comfortable, he’s not going to be as willing to follow rein cues or accept the bit. This can lead to a lot of different training issues.

Before running off to the tack shop and buying whatever you assume would work best for your horse, take into consideration the level of training in both you as a rider and also your horse. Ideally, you will use the mildest bit your horse will respond to correctly. You will also need to know the size of bit you’re going to need and the shape of your horse’s mouth. there are bit sizers available at most tack shops. If you dont have access to a formal bit sizer, a wooden or plastic stick (that will not shatter if your horse bites it) will work as well. You’re measuring from corner to corner of the mouth right where the bit lies, and whatever that measurement is, that is the size of bit you will need.

I like to train younger horses in something simple like a double jointed D-ring snaffle. They work great for starting a younger horse or when you’re a horse with plenty of “woah.”  Remember, the thicker the cannons of the bit, the milder it is for your horse. Most  horses can go in a snaffle for the majority of their career.

For horses with turning problems, I have always referred to a full-cheek snaffle. The full-cheek gives the “push-pull” action a clearer signal, for instance if you’re turning right and use the right rein as a turning aid, the left side of the bit will have a pushing action on the horse’s cheek, which will make the turning aid more accurate and easy to understand for your horse. I have also seen this bit help horses accept the outside rein as a stabilizing rein for circling and turning.

For a horse that is having trouble accepting the bit and understanding proper head and neck position for dressage, I resort to a triple-jointed loose ring snaffle, preferrably with wider cannons. Most horses are more willing to accept the connection of the riders hands to the bit when the bit rests in a more connected fashion against the tongue, which will allow him to flex his neck and lift his back, achieving collection.

I use Myler bits on horses that get their tongue over the bit. The reason a horse does this is because he’s uncomfortable in the mouth. The Myler bits drastically decrease tongue pressure on a horse’s mouth, which will make him more comfortable and as a result, less likely to get his tongue over the bit. If I still am having a problem after swapping to a more ergonomic bit, I have his mouth examined by an equine dentist to see if there’s anything else making him uncomfortable.

Finally, for horses with stopping problems, I always make sure he’s comfortable in the mouth. If an equine dentist or a vet clears him of any painful mouth disorders, I start the process of retraining the horse to accept the rein aids. This is a lengthy process, but putting a horse that fights rein aids in a more and more severe bit will create more issues. Nine times out of 10, the issue is a training issue and not a bit issue. I will discuss how to fix a hard-mouthed horse in an upcoming post.

Happy Riding! and Happy Holidays.