Your horse’s bit is one of the most important parts of his tack, and choosing the right one can enable you to communicate harmoniously with him and ensure he’s happy in his ridden work. Selecting a bit can be a minefield, though, and there are many things you need to consider, with fit, comfort and rider skill at the top of the list. It needs to be the right width and thickness, have a suitable mouthpiece and an appropriate action, and be made of a material your horse is happy with. If you compete, it must be appropriate for your discipline, and the success of the bit will also depend on your aids.
Time for a change?
If your horse is unhappy with his bit and bridle, he’ll do his best to tell you through his behaviour, so it’s important to know what to look for. Common signs that your horse’s bit may be causing him discomfort include…
- resisting when you try to put his bridle on, such as lifting his head or clamping his mouth shut
- leaning on the bit when you’re riding and pulling your rein contact down
- dropping behind the vertical or tucking his head into his chest
- lifting or flinging his head up
- nodding, shaking or tilting his head
Ask your instructor or a knowledgeable friend to watch you ride, or ask them to video you so you can see for yourself whether your horse is fussy or uneven in the contact.
Getting to know you
You might not give too much thought to what your horse’s mouth looks like on the inside and probably just have a quick peek at his teeth over your vet or equine dental technician’s shoulder when they visit. However, if you have an understanding of the shape and size of your horse’s mouth, you’ll be able to make a more informed choice about his bit. Take a look at his mouth from both sides and consider how much space is available for a bit.
Bitting groups and actions
When shopping for a new bit, many riders focus on the mouthpiece, but the side sections are equally important, if not more so, as they influence the action of the bit. They determine where pressure is applied and can rotate the mouthpiece so it acts on different parts of the mouth. To get the right combination, you’ll need to understand how a mouthpiece and the side sections work together, and how these will affect and influence your horse.
Find out more about choosing the right bit for your horse in October Horse&Rider, on sale 23 August.