Owning a horse means having to consider its entire well-being, rather than just treating symptoms that are specific to riding. It’s true that there’s a lot that goes into owning a horse, which may sometimes mean we miss out on an aspect or two of their care.
One of the things that are often overlooked is the mouth area. In the recent years, more equestrians have turned into holistic practices in caring for it as it does not only address their horse’s physical needs, it also improves their emotional welfare by reducing stress and tension.
Bit accessories fall under this category as they can protect your horse’s jaw while also providing comfort, allowing them to stay relaxed throughout a ride. Hopefully, the tips listed below will help you learn more about bits and bit guards as they may drastically improve your horse riding experience.
In this article, we will talk about:
- What is a horse bit?
- Different Types of Horse Bits
- Bit Guards
- How to measure a bit guard
- How to measure a horse bit
- What to do when a horse keeps chewing a horse bit
What is a horse bit?
Communication is an important process, whether for humans or for horses. Riders use various equipment in communicating directors to the horse. The horse bit is one of them.
Part of the bridle, the bit is a piece of metal or synthetic material that is fit into the horse’s mouth. This enables riders to direct the horse by putting pressure in and around the horse’s mouth, allowing control over direction and speed as the horse moves. It also applies pressure on various parts of the horse’s head, including the tongue, lips, cheeks, bars, palate, poll, and nose.
The different types of horse bits
There are two basic types of bits that differ in the pressure points: snaffle bits, curb bits, and hackamores which do not have a mouthpiece.
- Snaffles are made up of a mouthpiece and a ring, working through leverage or curb pressure. When the rein is pulled, it applies equal and direct pressure directly to the mouthpiece, on the tongue, the corners of the mouth, and the bars of the mouth.
- Curb bits are made up of a mouthpiece and a shank. Unlike the snaffle bit, curb bits use leverage, allowing the rider to communicate more complex directions. When the reins are pulled, the mouthpiece tightens and applies varying pressure on the roof of the mouth, tongue, bars, lips, under the chin, and over the poll. Curb bits are generally used on more trained horses that already readily yield to rein pressure.
- Hackamores are used in place of a bit, but generally for horses who do not work well with bits in the mouth. Hackamores exert pressure on the chin, around the mouth, and the nose. The downside is that the pressure is outside the horse’s mouth, and as such may cause the horse to ignore pressure when maintained constantly, compared to pressure from bits.
Speaking of pressure, the horse bit severity chart will tell you how much pressure a bit would apply to your horse’s mouth. However, keep in mind that all horses are different—some do not react to the presence of a bit at all, while others are extremely sensitive, so what might be gentle to one horse might be harsh to another.
Choosing the right bit (and subsequently, the right bit guard too) is important in order to ensure efficient and effective horse control. Different horses prefer different bits, with some preferring hackamores instead.
How do bit guards work?
As bits apply pressure within the horse’s mouth, it may result in discomfort for the horse. The comfort of the horse is still an aspect that the rider must take care of as this will impact their performance and emotional wellbeing. This is where bit guards come in. Mechanically, bit guards provide a better fit, especially when a bit is too wide for the horse’s mouth. In addition, it also prevents bits from being pulled through the mouth. For the horse itself, bit guards prevent chafing or pinching in the mouth area, particularly the lips and tongue. As bit guards protect the horse’s mouth, it then provides ease and comfort and thereby making the horse a more in-tune and willing partner for riders.
There are various bit guards that synergize with the different bits. For instance, curb chains work wonders with curb bits, enhancing the control of the bit while keeping it steady in the horse’s mouth. These bit guards vary in both purpose and effect, in line with how severe the chains and the bits are in order to ease the pressure for the horses.
How to measure your horse for a bit
Getting the right size is a crucial step when selecting the best bit for your horse.
The length of the bit should correspond to the width of your horse’s mouth. This is usually measured from cheek piece to cheek piece and taken in inches. When measuring for length, you may use a Bit Sizer, which you will slide into the horse’s mouth, or a piece of string. Mark the spots on the string that touch the corners of your horse’s mouth, and put it against a ruler to get the desired length of your mouthpiece.
The bit should rest snugly at the corners of your horse’s mouth. The bit rings should also not press too hard against the horse’s face—if this is the case, this means the length is too short. A bit that is too short may pinch at the corners of the horse’s mouth.
On the other hand, if there is half an inch or more of the bit on each side between the lips and bit rings, this means that the bit is too long. A bit that is too long may slip back and forth in the horse’s mouth, cause soreness, and possibly even damage their teeth.
The width of the bit will depend on the conformation of your horse’s mouth as well as their sensitivity. In general, the thinner the bit, the more severe it will feel on your horse’s mouth. The bit should not be too thick to the space in the horse’s mouth as this will exert constant pressure on that area, which may cause swallowing to be difficult. The roof of your horse’s mouth, as well as the thickness of their tongue, will tell you how much space is available to accommodate the bit.
How to choose the right bit for your horse
After confirming the right size for your bit, now you need to consider how thick you’ll want the bit to be. If your horse is young or sensitive, go with a mild, thicker bit; if your horse doesn’t really react to bits in general, perhaps you would want a thinner bit to apply more pressure and hopefully evoke a reaction.
Next, you’re going to want to consider the style of the mouthpiece. A bit that is broken (meaning it has a joint) that is in more than one location, also known as a double-jointed bit shape around the tongue, allows the pressure to distribute equally over the tongue and bars. A bit that is broken in one place, also known as a single-jointed bit, places more pressure on the bars of the mouth. A solid bit, one without joints, places more pressure on the middle of the tongue. Different horses respond to different types of pressure, so finding the right bit will inevitably be a trial and error process.
The material should also be considered. Stainless steel is the most common material used for crafting bits as it does not rust and has a neutral taste. Copper causes a horse’s mouth to salivate, allowing it to stay soft. Sweet iron, as the name suggests, has a sweet taste that also encourages your horse to salivate. If your horse doesn’t like the feeling or taste of metal in its mouth, you may also opt for a plastic, nylon, or rubber material.
Why does my horse keep chomping on their bit?
Now that you’ve got what kind of bit you want for your horse figured out, you may notice that your horse may be reacting oddly once you put it on them. While occasionally chewing the bit is a good sign indicating that the horse is comfortable, aggressively chomping on the bit can point to a number of issues.
One possibility would be your horse isn’t used to the feeling of a bit in their mouth, especially if they are quite young or this is their first time using a bit. If this is the case, you may need to just give them time to adjust. Check your horse’s teeth for any inflammation, sore gums, cuts, or objects that may be lodged in their mouth or stuck between their teeth. Any of these may be giving your horse pain and causing them to chomp on the bit.
Another cause may be that the bit does not fit well, or that the bit itself feels uncomfortable. Getting a bit guard can resolve these problems. You may also consult your routine vet for professional advice, too!
Converted to using bits now? Investing in a bit will only protect the animals’ mouth, but if you get a bit guard to come with it, you will also provide them comfort and reduce their pain or tension.