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Bit help, please!

This topic contains 42 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  G & S 2 years, 2 months ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 43 total)
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  • hgpaladin Original Poster hgpaladin
    Topics Started: 3Replies Posted: 1

    Hi guys,
    My horse is a 19-year old gelding. He used to show Western Pleasure when he was 5, I’ve had him for two years and so far I’ve just been using a basic stainless steel Tom Thumb bit with him. It works pretty well, but I’m looking to upgrade to something that is maybe easier to communicate with. We ride just for fun, mostly on trails and just around in the arena. He loves to run and sometimes he really takes control of the bit while we’re in the arena.
    I don’t have problems with getting the bit in his mouth. Actually I have to push his head out of the way while I’m getting the bridle ready!
    I’m a bit wary of using sweet iron or copper bits, as sweet iron rusts easier and some horses are allergic to copper. I’ve never used either so I don’t really know. This is my first horse so I’m still not very knowledgeable about bits!
    What would you all recommend I try next?

    Lizzie Lou
    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 14

    If I understand you correctly, your horse takes off with you sometimes, going faster than you’d like, maybe not stopping when you ask, and you are therefore thinking you need a more harsh bit to stop that behavior. Please understand that a bit will not stop a horse if it really wants to go somewhere…. no bit. To cause pain with a bit can actually make a horse more likely to “GO,” as it gets nervous rather than relaxed and it may seem like the horse is trying to run from the bit. You might get the response you need with a different bit, but you might find yourself “riding the breaks” so to speak, where you get a somewhat slow gait as long as the reins are tight. As soon as you loosen, the horse speeds up. Maybe you are already finding yourself in that situation. if not, then let’s not go there. The more we use the reins, the less we and horses use brains. Have you seen people able to ride bridleless? Even without any tack at all? It isn’t about the bit. It is about responsiveness and relaxation. It is about training. Work on circles, spirals, and one-rein stops. If you don’t know them and your horse doesn’t know them, then you need to learn them. It isn’t about controlling the mouth, it is about controlling the horse’s engine (hindquarters) and preventing the horse from rubbernecking and popping his shoulder to go where he wants to go. Please don’t get into the trap that a lot of people get into… that there is some magic piece of equipment or bit that fixes a behavior… you could spend a fortune and have a tack room full and still have one problem after another.

    hgpaladin Original Poster hgpaladin
    Topics Started: 3Replies Posted: 1

    No, I’m not looking for a harsher bit. I am actually looking for something more mild. Part of his problem, I think, is that the bit is too harsh and we are having problems because of that.

    wyoenglishrider wyoenglishrider
    Topics Started: 4Replies Posted: 101

    Perhaps try a loose ring snaffle…I have dumped Tom Thumbs in the past for a loose ring snaffle with nice, soft, happy horse results. If you aren’t ready to try bitless, perhaps a loose ring snaffle would be a good place to start. See if someone at your barn has one you could try before buying one. I am by no means a bit expert-I just know what has worked for me in the past :)—throw out the Tom Thumbs! :)

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    When I first met my horse, he went around with his neck stretched out and his head sideways. I went back to Kindergarten with him, and taught him to relax, balance and collect himself. Also, I taught him the words for what I want him to do (move up you ignorant peasant is used a LOT). Now, he moves nicely framed (this took a year of daily work at just a walk and trot), is collected and carries himself as if he were a hand taller than he is. You have to be able to relax yourself, and pass that on to your horse. If you have a trainer or a very competent barn friend, put him on a longe line and ride with no reins or stirrups. It will help you both. Even a well-balanced horse can be thrown off if the rider is not balanced.

    Lizzie is right – it isn’t the bit that is really the problem.

    It is never the horse's fault

    Lizzie Lou
    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 14

    Oh, I’m sorry I misunderstood, in that case, let’s talk bits, and since you say you don’t know much about bits, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned over the years and most recently. I typed some of this in another post, but I didn’t want you to have to go hunting for it.

    The first thing to know is how much space the horse has in its mouth for a bit. If the palate (roof of mouth) is low, then one type of mouthpiece will work better than others. If the tongue is thick, then it takes up a lot of space in the mouth. If the horse has a low palate and a thick tongue, then that mouthpiece had better be thin and of a shape to not poke the horse in the roof of the mouth. Thick tongues kind of poke out, overflow, through the teeth when viewing from the side of the mouth. The palate is harder to inspect. It isn’t true that a bigger diameter means a milder bit if the horse doesn’t have the room in his mouth for it. It isn’t true that a classic one-joint nutcracker mouthpiece is mild if the palate is low. That joint might be hitting the roof of the mouth. There are ways to check the palate, but the easiest and safest in my opinion is to check when the teeth are checked by a vet or equine dentist and the mouth is held open with a speculum. My favorite bit is a Herm Sprenger Ultra KK because it is made for mouths with low palates. I figure that way, it will fit inside the mouth of any horse I’m working with. Loose rings can sometimes pinch lips, so bit guards might be in order, and one might want to order a slightly larger bit to accommodate the bit guards. Now for two more pieces of information about bits since some people get them confused (even some famous experts I won’t name)…

    A snaffle is a non-leverage bit. It has everything to do with rings, lack of shanks, and nothing to do with the mouthpiece. The mouth may be a solid rod or rubber covered rod (mullen mouth), or any other kind of mouth.

    A curb bit is a leverage bit. It has everything to do with shanks and has nothing to do with the mouthpiece.

    Both a snaffle bit and a curb bit may have a jointed mouthpiece. The jointed mouthpiece doesn’t make a bit a snaffle.

    Each side of a jointed mouthpiece is called a cannon.

    And finally, what I’ve learned in the last few years is that the rule I learned as a teenager, the “three to four wrinkles in the corners of the mouth” rule doesn’t have to be followed. What matters is the length of the horse’s mouth (viewed from the side) and where its teeth are, whether it has wolf teeth to avoid. So now I adjust the headstall without wrinkles in the mouth, check the placement of the bit in the mouth to make sure it isn’t touching teeth, and try to read the horse’s opinion of where the bit is most comfortable.

    I started this message January 14, but we lost electricity and I couldn’t get the internet back and get back to this until now.

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    A French link bit may be your answer, if changing bits seems to be what you need to do.

    It is never the horse's fault

    tjedhorsegirl tjedhorsegirl
    Topics Started: 2Replies Posted: 4

    I’d go with a short shanked dogbone bit if I were you. The way a tom thumb is designed, it pinches their mouth and it’s hard to have a supple horse when using one. The dog bone mouth piece keeps their mouth moving and relaxed. Also, make sure your chin strap is properly adjusted. Horses can have a hard time knowing you want them to stop if there’s no pressure on their chin.

    G & S
    Topics Started: 16Replies Posted: 249

    If you decide to try out a single jointed snaffle, make sure the bit is the most appropriate thickness (mouthpiece diameter), but also make sure it is the right size (mouthpiece length). It a single jointed snaffle is used that is to long, the joint will pop up and could interfere with the horses top palate. Double jointed snaffles don’t have this potential problem, but they do tend to lay more heavily on the horse’s tongue and while most horses are okay with this, some have serious objections. Also keep in mind that the thicker the diameter of the mouthpiece, the gentler the bit will be, because the force will be exerted over a wider area. Conversely, a bit with a narrower diameter will always be harsher because the same amount of force will be exerted on a small area, so more pounds of force per sq. inch.

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    G&S – I do not disagree with anything you said, but the size of the horse’s mouth is also important when considering the thickness of the bit. Neither of my horses go well in thicker bits (and finding thinner ones is not so easy). So long as one has light hands and understands the dynamic of whatever bit one is using, no bit need be severe. More problems are caused by heavy handed riders than bits.

    It is never the horse's fault

    G & S
    Topics Started: 16Replies Posted: 249

    I am in total agreement, Joe-Joe. And if all riders had your understanding of good hands and their relationship to finding the best possible bit, many problems would never occur. Unfortunately, the % of riders with this knowledge remains well below the optimum level. I threw the comments on bit diameter & bit length out there because this particular set of basics are not being taught to beginner riders, possibly because many riding instructors who teach beginners don’t know this, and can’t teach what they don’t know. The more knowledgeable riding instructors don’t want to bother with beginners, so by the time these beginners get good enough to justify the expense etc of the more knowedgeable instructors, they have already established bad habits, not out of intent, but as a result of lack of knowledge. My very first horse, an probably Arab cross, cost $325 complete with tack because he consistently dumped his previous owner. Turned out she had a 5″ bit on him, with would “V” and rub on the roof of his mouth, so he would get his tongue under it to try to make it stop hurting, then everything would come to a dead halt until he got his tongue untangled. By the time he came to me, and I figured out the problem (because nobody had told me about it either), he had developed an aversion to any single jointed bit, and the double jointed ones where still a twinkle in some bit designers eye. I rode him quite happily in a soft rubber 4-1/2″ mullenmouth until at a show one day he decided to exit the warm up ring unexpectedly, complicated by the fact that there was a pony & rider partially blocking the gate. It happened so fast that I still don’t know how we ended up on the other side of a suitably outraged pony rider, but he was smart enough to have immediately realized that I had virtually no breaks on a soft rubber mullenmouth bit. It was the spring of 1970, so no internet or on-line retailers, and nobody carried a 4-1/2″ standard hard mullenmouth, or had any idea where I could find one. I ended up with a 4-1/2″ pelham, learned to use double reins, and rode him on the snaffle and we both sort of ignored the curb reins. The bit was legal as we were riding hunt seat, and with the popularity now of dressage, and on-line retailers, odd bits are easier to find. More bits, but not more always knowledge being disseminated to people who need it so they can make good bit decisions.

    I did not mean to imply that bit diameter & length were the only important factors. But even good hands could not have helped my first horse cope with a bit that was too long for the width of his mouth, was v-ing at the joint and hurting him. I made myself figure out what the real problem was, and spent several months finding a solution. The intent of the my original comment was to save someone else the time and bits I went through because nobody had ever thought to tell me that the length of the bit had to be correct for the width of a specific horse’s mouth.

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    I thought your comment was great, I just felt that there was even more for people to consider. Even today, with all the choices available, how often do we find information from online or catalog venders that include the diameter of the bit? People too often just don’t know or understand the importance of finding the correct bit for each horse. After decades of riding many different horses, I think I could open my own bit store! It took me months of experimentation to find a bit my horse likes. Response and behavior were not issues, because I taught him vocabulary, but if he dislikes or is uncomfortable with a bit, he will toss his head, grind his teeth or find some other way to show his discomfort. Finally found a bit in which he carries himself correctly without me having to ask for it.

    It is never the horse's fault

    abimcgee100 abimcgee100
    Topics Started: 0Replies Posted: 4

    Personally, I would go back to the basics and shoot for a snaffle bit. They are great bits, and I use them often, epically on my older horses. My 20y/o mare loves her full cheek snaffle, and rides so nicely in it! If I were you o would get a nice, smooth edge, snaffle of your choice. I hope to be of some help!

    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 31

    I’m going to go with a different approach here, because bits are one of those things you can get a million opinions on (ask 10 people, get 10 answers). It’s also a tough one to provide anything but a generic response to when you aren’t actually seeing or experiencing the issue in person.

    So . . . my recommendation would be to find a trainer you respect and take a lesson. Even if you aren’t regularly taking lessons, consulting a professional who can actually see your horse, see your riding style, understand what you want to accomplish, and maybe even hop on themselves for a ‘feel’ could save you a lot of trouble and hassle with buying and returning (or getting stuck with) bits that don’t work. Heck, if they like you, they may have a tack room full of bits they’ll let you try before you go out and buy anything new. It’s also just a good idea to establish a relationship with someone ‘on the ground’ that you trust, even if you only take lessons sporadically.

    Another point – – bits are often blamed for problems that really originate somewhere else & it’s easy to get tunnel vision when you decide to focus on one issue. Even if you’re an experienced rider, a new trainer may very well see something you don’t, make a slight adjustment to your riding or another aspect of your tack, and you’ll find you’re getting the response you want with the bit you’ve already got.

    Good luck!

    Joan Fry
    Topics Started: 11Replies Posted: 324

    Lizzie, I think I read your earlier post because when my new mare wasn’t doing as well in a single-link eggbutt snaffle as I had hoped, I thought about the “roof of the mouth” thing and decided to add another bit to my collection. She is now lovely and soft in a French link (the middle link is copper and rounded). Joe-Joe, I took her back to kindergarten too–a leadrope, at first.

    All of you–this is a fabulous thread, and one of the most interesting “bit” discussions I’ve ever read. Thank you!

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