One of the ways we communicate with our horses is through the bit, the contact between rider’s hand and the horse mouth. This is a very fine connection and it’s important to understand what can affect this contact. Firstly, if the rider has a restless hand or an unbalanced seat this affects the horse’s mouth. Secondly, a correctly good fitting bit is important. With the rein sensor it’s possible to see how the pressure is distributed in the mouth. You can see if the rider is symmetrical and how the rider uses his hands. In this blog, we are going to have a closer look at bits. How do you know if a bit fits your horse? What is important to pay attention to when you look at your horse’s mouth?
- Horses send out signals if the bit doesn’t fit, this can be avoided by trying another different bit.
- Before choosing a different bit, first have a look at the horse teeth. Pain can also be caused by problems in the teeth.
- Less is more. If you want light, go light. Try to stay close to the basic bit.
Behavior of the horse that indicate problems with the bit
Horses clearly show when they are not satisfied with the bit. It is clearly showed in riding, but often we do not realize the behavior is caused by the bit. Look closely at your horse, if he shows any of the signals below, you might want to check the fitting of the bit.
If your horse opens his mouth, it means he has to little space in his mouth. He opens his mouth to gain more space and avoid pain. This happens when the bars and palate is hurt. Riding with an open mouth for a long time also causes the mandibular joint to hurt.
Playing with the tongue
Does your horse play with his tongue? This is also an indicator that he is in pain. The tongue is used to cover the area where the horse feel pain. If he sticks his tongue straight forward, it means the bit presses too much on the palate. If the tongue hangs out either to the right or to the left, there is too much pressure on the bar on this side, consequently causing pain.
Horses suffering from the bit can show it by excessively shake their head. The so called ‘head shaking syndrome’. Dr. Robert Cook has done research on this. The cause of head shaking can be nerve pain caused by the bit. The nerves in the mouth continue up to the ears. Through these nerves the pain continues from the mouth to the head. So, headshaking sometimes means that your horse suffers from facial pain. The nerve in the head has a small ‘disturbance’. Horses who have suffered from the bit for a long time may have sensitive ears.
Grabbing the bit
If the horse grabs the bit, it can mean different things. It may be because of a problem in the body or that the horse doesn’t accept the bit. When a horse accepts the bit, he will be chewing on the bit through healthy tension. But if the bit cause pain in the mouth, the horse might grab the bit to avoid the bit moving in the mouth. Grinding is often combines with grabbing and is a general signal for pain.
Wounds and irritation in the mouth
These signals you can easily check for yourself. Wounds in and around the mouth shows 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 temporomandibular 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 the thickness of the tongue. Finally, you 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 aldult 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)