That’s a personal choice, but it’s wise to consider that in spite of your best intentions to keep your horse forever, dire circumstances may mean you may have to part with it. A horse will appeal to a wider number of people and have a better chance at a good home if it is able to go in both a fitted and witless bridle.
A young horse will chew and champ on the bit, and perhaps at first rub its head to get rid of this new and annoying thing in its mouth. The first choice will probably be a jointed snaffle bit with smallish rings that would be unlikely to catch on anything if the horse does try to rub its face.
Quite often, though, these mouthpieces are thicker than a metal bit and can be quite bulky in a younghorse's mouth. If you want to add flavor to make biting a more pleasant experience, it's easy to smear on a bit of molasses, jam, or honey.
Choosing a bit with a similar mouthpiece makes the transition easier. Because the curb bit acts on the horse’s mouth, chin, and head, it can be overwhelming.
The shanks are also a hazard if the horse tries to rub the bit, or its head, against objects in its environment. Giving a young horse the right start to its training is essential to finding its true potential and making sure you are using the right bit is a major factor in doing this.
The support offered by using the right bit for a young horse is essential when starting to build the foundations of the horse’s training that he will need throughout his career. For young horses, Heather recommends mouthpieces with a good weight-bearing surface which then doesn’t target a specific area; around 16 mm thickness is idea.
Heather says “If you put a stronger bit on a horse who runs off when confused or scared it could be disastrous as it is a trust issue, you do need collection and control but if the first thing that kicks in is a strong bit they’ll panic and try and run through it and this could really set them back in their training.” To solve this problem, Heather suggests finding a bit that works on different pressure points collectively in order to give you better control, “The basis of a bit for control is to save the mouth, so you don’t have to haul on the reins, once a horse has experimented with a bit he’ll work within those parameters.” Failure to maintain a contact or being tentative in the contact is another common problem with younger horses.
Heather suggests trying a fixed cheek bit to offer stability, which will help him to reach for a contact more. Heather suggests “Test any new bit methodically in a calm situation like your school.
Working on the lunge can help a horse get to grips with a new bit as it is easier for him to take his neck forward and down without having to think of the weight of the rider as well. “They shouldn’t be tight or restricting his neck, but should offer enough support for the horse to feel secure and confident.
“Horses can get very tense under unfamiliar demand and can revert to old habits or an incorrect way of going, so if you know the penny won’t drop for a while use a familiar bit to support him and give him confidence.” However, you must ensure that your youngster understands all you’ve taught him before you move on, or you risk confusing him and setting your progress back. Bits have been a cornerstone of riding equipment for thousands of years, and remarkably little has changed over the centuries as ancient horsemen to modern dressage enthusiasts have all used variations of the same theme: a metal mouthpiece with reins attached to often elaborate cheek pieces.
In today’s dressage arena, bridles are depended on as a primary means of communication between rider and horse, making it critical for a bit to fit well and be comfortable for each individual mount. Choose poorly and one may be left with a miserable mount who acts out or simply doesn’t perform up to expectations in an effort to avoid discomfort (or even pain) from a badly fitting bit.
“Open any catalog, and you’ll see page after page with hundreds of bits to possibly choose from, with new concepts and styles coming out all the time,” said Hilary Clayton, VMS, PhD, Diplomat ACV SMR, MR CVS, professor and Mary Anne Mikhail Dressage Chair Emeritus for Equine Sport Science at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and president of Sport- Horse Science in Mason, Michigan. Clayton is not only a renowned researcher who has extensively studied the anatomy of horses’ mouths and the mechanical action of bits, but she’s also put the knowledge she gained into practice in the saddle as an accomplished USAF bronze, silver and gold medalist.
Mouthpieces can be jointed or anointed and made of a wide variety of metals or feature other materials, such as plastic, rubber and leather. Cheek pieces can also vary just as much as mouthpieces, affecting the amount of leverage placed on the top of the head, with bits that have a shank exerting the most pressure.
Springer with the Veterinary University of Hanover, in Germany, measured more than 70 horses’ heads and found comparable results. “In reality, the oral cavity is small, the tongue nearly fills the mouth and the available space for a bit is actually quite limited.
Springer recommends that riders try the “two-finger test”: carefully insert two fingers in the horse’s mouth at the point where the bit usually lies. Mouths with a small gap between the upper and lower jawbone will exert strong pressure on the fingers, and will require a bit with a narrower mouthpiece in order to fit comfortably.
Several manufacturers offer a special tool (available through retailers) to measure the width of a horse’s mouth and help to accurately determine proper bit size, but a piece of string or wooden dowel can also be used. Clayton reminds riders that any kind of jointed mouthpiece will hang slightly down on the tongue when in the mouth, so a bit of extra width may be needed to allow for this.
But just as important as choosing a bit that’s not too small is avoiding one that is too big, as it can then hang down too far in the mouth or slide too far sideways when pressure is exerted on a single rein. “We recommend 5 millimeters of space between the corner of the horse’s mouth and the bit ring on each side,” added Bräutigam.
Once you have an idea of the basic conformation of your horse’s mouth as well as the proper bit size needed, the next decision will be to choose from the dizzying array of styles. To help navigate the seemingly endless choices of curvatures and ports, joints and rollers and loose-rings to Weymouth, bit manufacturers offer detailed handbooks and pamphlets to give riders guidance in choosing the right product.
Springer retailers feature test centers that offer a selection of different bit variations that, for a small fee, a rider can borrow to try out on his or her own horse. This rental program provides an opportunity to test a bit over several days without a commitment to purchase if it ends up not being the right match.
“Our test-center program gives our customers the chance to try new styles for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a single bit, which we believe helps riders make the best possible choice for their horse in the long run.” There’s no doubt that with a dressagehorse’s training, performance and even happiness on the line, finding the right bit can be an intimidating and frustrating decision for riders.
• Stainless steel and titanium have good strength and are neutral in taste, but provide no oxidation to promote salivation. Springer for use in a horse’s mouth, and have been proven and tested by the Veterinary University of Hanover and the German Riding School in Waldorf.
According to Bräutigam, these patented materials employ many ideal features for a bit, including high strength for a long life span, nickel and aluminum free, nontoxic and excellent oxidation properties to encourage the production of saliva and chewing activity of the horse. “Buying a second-hand bit is OK as long as you inspect it to make sure there aren’t any sharp edges or wear marks that may cause injuries in the horse’s mouth,” said Make Bräutigam.
“You should replace a bit when it shows sharp edges on the mouthpiece, in the ring holes or in the eyes of the link/joint, or if there are any cracks or deformation,” she noted. Choosing the right bit allows for effective communication through the reins between rider and horse, which is a basic requirement for correct riding and training.
Hilary Clayton believes that many resistances horses display are actually a way of trying to relieve pressure caused by the bit on the palate. “When there’s a problem, a rider’s first assumption tends to be that it’s a behavior issue and often the first thing that is done is to tighten the nose band, which can actually make a situation even worse if it’s related to a poor-fitting bit because it just squeezes everything together even more.
The dressage division of the USED Rule Book includes four full pages of bit diagrams for members to try to navigate the waters of what’s legal and what’s not. At the epicenter of the maze of rules is Halley Griffin, USED managing director of dressage, who has been fielding the popular question of “is my bit legal?” for years.
“The sheer number and types of bits is daunting, and that level of detail in the rules can also be intimidating for people to review and understand,” she continued. In addition, misconceptions tend to persist for quite some time, such as the ‘mixed metals’ rule, which was removed over a decade ago, but we still get questions about it.
“Contact our customer care center at USED, and they will put you in touch with a member of the dressage department staff,” Griffin explained. Also, when we respond, remembers that you can print out the email and take it to the show with you, which can be a useful thing to have especially if it’s a new type or brand of bit that may be questioned by an official.