Monday, March 16, 2015


     There’s an old cowboy saying…. “a bit should fit a horse’s mouth like boots fit a cowboy’s foot”.   So, if a bit hangs too low or is jammed to high both can be uncomfortable and can discourage a horse from learning to “carry” the bit properly.
     Many people including professionals often don’t understand that a young horse has a shallow mouth because its teeth have not grown.  So an older horse might very well be comfortable with a thicker bit but that same but can be too much for the younger horse’s shallow mouth.   I usually bit up young horses with an average or slightly thicker-than-average bit.  Some older horses benefit from thicker bits depending on what you are trying to accomplish.  A note here:  You can usually tell if a horse is comfortable or not by how much he is chewing and adjusting the bit in his mouth. 
     Horse’s mouths change with age and they also change with training.  Horse’s mouths become educated and they learn to accept bits as their training progresses.  I’ve found that wet mouths make for better mouths but it’s not necessary that a horse be “drooly” to have a good mouth.
     The conformation of individual mouths must be considered also.  Some horses have narrow, shallow mouths with thin lips and some have wide mouths with lots of depth.  Some are small and some are large.   The thickness of their tongue should also be considered as well.  Horses with thick tongues will need bits that offer tongue relief.   
     Young horses often do well with bits that have some play and “pre-signal” in them.  It is just the opposite though for finely-tuned older horses.  The discipline you are training for also makes a difference.  Some horses just need to pack the bridle willingly and quietly while others must do complex maneuvers.  
      When fitting a curb, I look for one or one and a half creases at the corners of the mouth.  Classically, the curb strap should be adjusted so two of your fingers can fit between the strap and your horse’s jaw and the curb shanks should have a 15 to 30 degree swing but the mouthpiece should not rotate too much in their mouth.  And, with a snaffle I look for one to two creases at the corners of the mouth.
     With any equipment, the user – in this case the rider - is a major factor.  With the bit, the rider’s hands can be an issue.  Some bits are just not appropriate unless or until the rider has developed “soft hands” and has a real feel for a horse’s mouth.  
     I expect to and do change bits, sometimes frequently, as my horses age and develop and as they evolve through their careers.  Take a good look at the bits you use and if you’re not sure how each one is designed to work talk to your trainer to learn more.  Bits aren’t just common pieces of equipment; they can be fascinating studies in leverage and pressure and often, workmanship too.   I hope you enjoy learning more about them!  Talk to you next week.  JD

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