Horses send out signals if a bit doesn’t fit them. This can be rectified by switching to another (different) bit that fits better. First have a look at the horses teeth before choosing a different bit. Pain can also be caused by problems with the teeth. Less is more. If you want light, go light. Try to stay close to the basic bit.
One of the ways we communicate with our horses is through the bit, via the contact between rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. This is a very delicate connection and it’s important to understand what effect this contact can have. Firstly, if the rider has a restless hand or an unbalanced seat, this can affect the horse’s mouth via the reins. Secondly, a correctly and good fitting bit is essential. With Ipos Technology’s Rein Sensor, it is possible to see how pressure is distributed in the horse’s mouth. With the Rein Sensor, it can also be determined if riding is symmetrical and how the rider uses their hands. In this blog, we will take a closer look at bits. How do you know if a bit fits the horse? What is important to pay attention to when you look at your horse’s mouth?
Behavior of the horse that indicate problems with the bit
Horses clearly show when they are not satisfied with a bit. It is obvious in riding, but it is not always realized by riders that the behavior is caused by the bit. Look closely at the horse, if any of the signals below are seen, you might want to check the fitting of the bit.
If the horse opens his mouth, it means there is too little space in the mouth. The horse opens its mouth to gain more space and avoid pain. This happens when there is pain in the bars and palate. Riding with an open mouth for a long time also causes aching in the mandibular joint.
Playing with the tongue
Does the horse play with the bit with its tongue? This can also be an indicator that the horse is experiencing pain. The tongue is used to cover the area where the horse feels pain. If it sticks its tongue straight forward, it can mean the bit presses too much on the palate. If the tongue hangs out either to the right or to the left side, there is too much pressure on the bar on this side, consequently causing pain.
Horses suffering from an ill-fitting bit can excessively shake their head. The cause of head-shaking can be nerve pain caused by the bit. The nerves in the mouth continue up to the ears and when the bit causes pain it can continue to be felt from the mouth to the head. So, head-shaking can indicate that the horse is experiencing facial pain. Horses that have experienced pain from a particular bit for a long time may also have sensitive ears.
Grabbing the bit
If the horse ‘grabs’ at the bit with its mouth, it can mean different things. It may be because of a problem in the body, or because the horse doesn’t accept the bit. When a horse accepts the bit, it will chew a little on it, now and again through healthy tension, but if the bit causes pain in the mouth, the horse might ‘grab’ at it to try to stop the bit moving in its mouth. Grinding is often combined with grabbing and is a general signal that the horse is experiencing pain from the bit.
Wounds and irritation in the mouth
These signals you can easily check for yourself. Wounds in and around the mouth are a clear sign that the bit doesn’t fit correctly.
Check your horse yourself
You can easily check your horse by yourself. Start with feeling the horse to see if it’s sensitive. Feel the temporo-mandibular joint, the ears, the bars, the tongue and the palate. Then look at the space in the mouth, in the lower jaw, between the bars, and check the thickness of the tongue. Finally, measure the width of the mouth. These are the most important factors to keep in mind when choosing a bit.
Cook R, “Bit-induced asphyxia in the horse.” (2002) Gessica Giusto. D.V.M, “Effects of bit chewing on right upper quadrant intestinal sound frequency in adult horses.” (2014).
Clayton H, “Radiographic study of bit position within the horse’s oral cavity.” (2005).
Manfredi Jane, “Fluoroscopic study of oral behaviours in response to the presence of a bit and the effects of rein tension.” (2010).
Manfredi J, “Effects of different bits and bridles on frequency of induced swallowing in cantering horses.” (2005)
Cook R, “Bit-induced pain: a cause of fear, flight, fight and facial neuralgia in the horse.” (2003).