What is good welfare? Discuss. This was the opening line…
My last article offered some thoughts on bitting and the horse’s mouth and wow, what a response! It was shared via social media hundreds of times in just 24 hours and certainly got people talking about this very important subject. The article was intended as a starting point, to encourage people to think, research, look at every individual and not just follow fashion and it prompted a few people to ask ‘So what is a good bit’? Alas, I cannot wave a magic wand and offer solutions and an answer to this question for every horse and rider, impossible anyway, let alone in a few hundred words. However in the space I do have I hope to offer some further information that some people will find helpful.
Firstly, a good bit is one that suits the conformation of the horse’s mouth and facilitates communication between horse and rider without causing unnecessary discomfort or pain in good hands. Just like a saddle should conform to the individual horse’s back, a good bit will fit the individual too, therefore avoiding peaks of pressure. Generally, horses have very little space in their mouths, they have big tongues and the space available for a bit is tiny. So thinner mouthpieces are often better, as although a fatter mouthpiece might distribute pressure over a wider area, many horses simply cannot take fat mouthpieces comfortably as they don’t have enough room in their mouths.
Horses that are intolerant to tongue pressure are better off in a jointed bit, as a straight bar mouthpiece will lie across the tongue and compress it more than a jointed mouthpiece. Conversely, horses that dislike contact on the bars can prefer an un-jointed bit, however these do have pitfalls, such as not conforming to the mouth shape very well and they can also press on the edges of the upper palate. A mullen or curved mouthpiece would therefore usually be preferable to one that is just straight.
With regards to jointed mouthpieces, I personally would never use a single jointed bit. Double joints enable the bit to be much more anatomically correct and therefore more comfortable. They also avoid the v shape created by the single joint when a contact is taken; this undesirable shape can pinch the tongue, create more pressure on the more sensitive outer tongue and create a single ‘sharper’ point that can easily poke the palate. In double jointed bits, lozenges are usually more comfortable than French links, as the latter are less flat and therefore the roundness of the link at each end can also create pressure points. The orientation of the joints also contributes to whether a bit is good for the horse or not. The rounded parts of the joints should not protrude upwards as they can dig in to the palate. Many bits, even some costing over a £100 and marketed as designed for the horse, have their joints the wrong way around! One bit that has more than 2 joints is the Waterford, which while not being dressage legal, can be successful in some sensitive horses because it wraps around the mouth and can be moved to relieve pressure, some horses are much happier for this.
Whilst the design of the bit rings are not really influenced by conformation beyond aesthetics, they are still an important consideration because they influence the action of the bit. For example, some horses prefer loose rings as they offer movement, enabling a horse to transfer pressure. Not many people can sit still on a soft chair, let alone a hard one for any length of time before movement is needed to transfer pressure. It is unreasonable to expect a horse to not find ways to move the bit if it is pressing somewhere in the mouth- even worse to strap the mouth shut, ignore the problem and even make it worse!
I will repeat the most important point- bitting, just like saddle fitting, is very individual and will be most successful when the horse is considered above all else. Just because skinny jeans are fashionable, doesn’t make them suitable for everyone- nor that they will be liked by everyone! Some people like going naked and so yes, bitless may be better for some horses too! The bit has considerable potential to cause damage and discomfort, so research first then make a choice, then most importantly- LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE!
Happy Riding. Natalie x
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