ADVICE: Bitting made easy

horse biting made easy

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horse biting
A correctly fitting, well-chosen bit can make a huge difference to your horse’s happiness and way of going. We take a look at expert opinion on how to determine which bit is right and when it’s time for a change.

There are hundreds of bits on the market, each one designed to have a slightly different effect on your horse than the next. Some encourage a softer mouth or a better online, while others will suit a stronger horse.

As a result, choosing the right bit is about much more than just its size. Pick wisely and not only will you get the outcome you’re looking for in your horse’s ridden work, he’ll be much happier and more comfortable in himself too.


Of course, it’s fair to assume your horse is already working in a particular bit - but are you confident it’s right for him? It’s all too easy to stick with the same bit your horse came with, or that you’ve been using for years, just through habit. But if he struggles with certain movements in the school, starts to misbehave for no apparent reason, dislikes being bridled or tries to evade the bit, you need to investigate.

What’s right for him?

When choosing a bit it’s important to take your horse’s mouth into consideration. Here we run through the areas of the mouth you need to keep in mind - and why.

SOFT TISSUE Although, skeletally, there’s little variation between horses regardless of their breed, age, gender and size, the tissue that covers the bone can vary greatly. Some horses have fleshy lips, and if this is the case with your horse, watch out that his bit doesn’t squash his lips into his mouth. This will be painful, especially if his upper lips are pushed between the teeth of his upper and lower jaw.


The length of the lips from the end of the muzzle to the corner of the mouth is what is what bitting experts call the ‘smile’ and this can be very short. Fortunately, there are bits designed to fit further back in the mouth.

Whatever ‘smile’ your horse has, it’s important to make sure his bit’s positioned at the correct height - too high and your rein aids will become ineffective and the pressure on the corner of the lips will increase and could cause rubbing.

Too low and the bit may move too much risking damage to the teeth. You may also see over activity in the mouth, with some horses regularly getting their tongue over the bit.


THE PALATE This part of the horse, is on average, 0.5-2.7cm deep, which is important to consider as some bits, like the French link, sit with the plate angled up into the palate. Depending on the size of the plate and the depth of the palate, it could dig up into the upper palate or tongue, which could be very painful.

The average distance between the upper and lower bars is different for each side of the mouth. The left side is between 25-39mm, while the right side is between 25-44mm. When you consider that some snaffles are 23mm in diameter, you can see that putting a thick bit in the mouth isn’t always as kind as you’d think - in many cases, there simply isn’t room for it. The tongue also fills the oral cavity of a closed mouth and bulges across the bars. It can protrude through the teeth at the sides, which highlights just how little room there can be.

THE TONGUE Horses have a bit tongue in general, but some can be bigger than others, so ask your equine dental technician for advice as he’ll have lots of experience for comparison. These are bits designed for horses with bigger than average tongues.

THE BARS OF THE MOUTH Another thing  to consider is the distance between the left and right bars on both the upper and lower jaw, but particularly the lower. This is narrower that you’d expect at an average of around 50mm.

Usually the bars are protected by the tongue, but if the horse draws his tongue back out of habit or discomfort, the sensitive bars will be exposed. So you need to consider which part of the bit could potentially come into contact with them, based on their width apart. Look for a design of bit that encourages your horse to relax his tongue.


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Content: Your Horse  Images: 'Naylors'; iStock; Practical Horseman; and Spruce Capital Feeds.