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Does Your Horse Hate His Bit?

Getting to the bottom of any problem typically requires a degree of communication between the parties involved. Speak the wrong language and you might be able to resort to sign language to at least make some progress.  However when it comes to addressing problems between man and beast just ask any Veternarian, communication takes on a different challenge.

Man has been riding horses for hundreds of years and getting the most from the horse has been a continual challenge. When we consider professionals in industries such as horse racing there are proven systems that counter the most common issues. However for the average horse owner they often don't have luxury of training a horse from a very young age. A lot of horses are pre-owned and not only are you inheriting the horse you are inheriting the fall out of possible bad habits of the previous owner.

Fixing your horse problems mayrequire a little behaviour analysis and  maybe the occassional bit of bribery to get your way.

A signifcant part of building a successful relationship with the horse and fixing existing problems comes when choosing horse bits. The communication between the rider and the horse often relies on trial and error to arrive at a satisfactory outcome and there is a big list of horse behaviours that are highlighted as "bad". It can be that some of them are due to a poor choice of horse bit. Shaking their head, refusing to take the bit, clenching their teeth, being unresponsive due to hard mouths often caused by bad bit use by previous owner. Maybe the horse has teeth problems so a trip to the dentist may be necessary.

Fixing real behaviour problems related to the bit is possible. Or at least one should strive to address the common issues. If he refuses the bit maybe you need to try a little cunning. There are a few stories of wrapping the bit's mouth piece in a "fruit roll" or covering it with molasses to get the horse to associate the bit with a joyful experience! On the subject of taste you can of course buy horse bits with sweet iron mouth pieces or copper snaffles that pander to the tastes of the horse. If he just seems to hate the bit then maybe the bit is just plain wrong.  Is it the wrong size? Are you guilty of "over bitting" your horse where the bit is too extreme, maybe with huge shanks that generate too much force. Once size fits all does not apply here .

Check that the bit is wide enough, typically around about half inch each side should ensure it is neither too tight or too loose. Check that the bit is not pinching the sides of the horse's mouth and it should sit loosely in the horse's mouth after letting down the cheek pieces. Bit guards are an option to reduce this chaffing.

Be aware of the effects of broken bits such as the jointed pelham bit where the bit breaks in the centre.  You can also get a nutcracker effect by squashing the tongue and also even hiting the roof of the mouth. These bits are ideal for some horses but not all. Don't forget the horse may not just behave badly when you engage the bit. Think about it, if you were expecting a painful jolt at any time whilst you were running around wouldn't you be somewhat distracted.

Following some basic rules you can address some issues of behaviour related to the bit. Start of simple with basic snaffles and take it from there. If you are dealing with engrained issues in a pre-owned horse then a bit of scientific trial and error can get you on the right track.

One Comment »

  • dazey said:

    Most horses, especially those used for recreational riding, can be ridden without bits. Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse, which is a small paperback narrative available at Amazon for less than $10 explains why and how and recommends using a Bitless Bridle.

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