How to Choose the Right Bit for Your Horse
Selecting the Right Style of Bit for Your Horse
Bits are designed for every discipline, ranging from very mild to brutal, depending on the manner in which they apply to the bars of the mouth (the soft tissue area located behind the front teeth that you can readily see), the tongue, and the roof of the mouth, with even the slightest touch of the rider's rein. In practice, it is best to stay with the gentlest bit possible while still getting the response needed from your horse.
Take the time to learn about the various types of bits. The different “families” of bits include the snaffle, gag, and curb. Research the “action” of each of these “families”, and their common uses. The D-ring or Dee Ring bit (looks like a “D” from the sides), for example, is the most common type of English bit. The D-ring is part of the “snaffle bit family”, and is one of the easiest bits on a horse, meaning it is less harsh than other bits.
If you have purchased the horse from a previous owner, find out as much about the horse as possible, including what type of bit, and size of bit was previously used on your horse.
Once you have decided what style of bit is best suited for your horse be sure to consider whether or not the style of bit has the potential of pinching or irritating the horse’s mouth. Any bit that has a hinged attachment at the corners, such as the loose-ring snaffle, tom thumb, wonder bit, or any bit with a gag action (a bit that allows the mouthpieces to slide), has the potential to pinch and create sores, especially if the bit is incorrectly sized for your horse. Round rubber bit guards can be placed on each side of bit to eliminate/reduce pinching. If irritation does occur, allow the horse to rest several days, treat the wound(s) with a soothing antibiotic ointment, and implement the use of the rubber bit guards before further riding.
Proper Placement of the Bit:
The bit should sit over the bars of the mouth (the soft tissue area located behind the front teeth that you can readily see). When properly placed, it should appear that the corners of the horse's lips are being slightly lifted. Many people use the rule of "one wrinkle" at the corner of the mouth to determine proper placement. Adjusting the length of the headstall which attaches the bit to the bridle will raise or lower where the bit rests on the bars of his mouth. If the bit is set too low, it will knock against the horse's teeth, which is both uncomfortable for him and ineffective for the rider. If the bit is set too high, your horse will be strained (pinched) at the corners of his mouth. He will not only be uncomfortable, but he won't receive your signals well.
Measure for Proper Fit:
“One Size Does Not Fit All”. After deciding on the right style of bit you will use it is very important that you now find the “Right Fit” for your horse’s mouth. Many bit styles are manufactured in sizes of whole or half-inch increments, however, if the bit is not a perfect fit it will be worth your while to either, special order the correct size of bit for your horse or have it made. Rule #1 is measure your horse’s mouth before you buy a bit.
To measure for bit size, use a piece (8” to 12” long) of soft rubber tubing, garden hose, ½ inch pvc, or similar item. Place the tubing in the horse’s mouth horizontally, over the tongue and behind his teeth (in the same manner you would place the bit when bridling).
Once you have established the correct position, use a marker to indicate where the edge of the horse's lips meet the tubing on each side. Remove the tubing from his mouth and use a measuring tape to determine the length between the markings in inches. As a general rule, the bit size will need to be 1/4 of an inch longer than this measurement to allow enough room so that the extra width of the bit rings or shanks do not squeeze inward on the horse's mouth.
You may find that your final measurement including the additional 1/4" allowance is not a nice round number. Remember that this measurement it important, so if the resulting measurement is not a standard size, find a manufacturer who carries your bit in the correct size or is capable of custom-making one for your horse. It may take a little longer, but it is an investment that will pay off in the end.
Improper Bit Fit or Mouth Problems?
Signs of an Improperly Fitted Bit or Mouth Problem:
(Mouth problems or a reaction to a painful bit can cause a horse to appear to be resisting his rider)
1. Visible mouth or lip irritation indicates an improper fit of the bit or the need for bit guards.
2. Behaviors that indicate that your horse may be attempting to escape or avoid mouth pain. This could be due to a poorly fitted bit or a mouth / tooth problem.
All of these behaviors could indicate that the horse is attempting to escape or avoid pain.
- Frequent chomping at the bit
- Persistently hanging the mouth open
- Hanging out of the tongue
- Head shaking or tossing
- Carrying the head stiffly, with his nose high in the air (often with his jaw stretched open and chomping almost compulsively.
- Running away with his rider or leaning against pressure on the reins.
- Staying behind the bit; putting his nose into his chest and creating an unnatural / stiff bend in his neck.
3. If in doubt have your Vet examine your horse for any signs of problems with teeth, tongue or mouth problems.
4. A heavy handed rider could also invoke some of the symptoms in #2 above.