Updated: Jul 31, 2021
If only I had a £1 for the times I have heard “I didn’t realise a Bit could make that much difference”
Of course, it’s clear to me but for many people Bits and Bitting are the nemesis of the equestrian equation.
It seems that we all want to have our horses in a ‘simple snaffle’, but if you are struggling and progression feels to have plateaued, even with the help of your instructor, you have had the teeth, back and saddle checked, then it's most definitely time to address the bit.
Why is bespoke bit advice important?
There are many things to consider when changing bits, and it's important to remember what might suit one horse and rider, may be completely unsuitable for another combination. We all ride slightly differently and have different levels of skill, confidence, and goals also we are governed by discipline legal requirements.
The main goal for a bit change should be for the horse to be relaxed, so they can be soft and supple and work in a natural outline, corresponding with their level of education and muscle build. If the horse is tense or evasive with the bit, albeit slight or dramatic it will be reflected by a negative responsive compromising straightness suppleness and the all-important connection.
The way I approach Bitting is by building up the suggestion or signal from the bit to the horse, until they understand what they are being asked. There are several pressure points, the tongue being the main pressure point alongside the lips, poll, jaw and nose. Using more than one pressure helps disperse the pressure away from the tongue.
Most evasions start with the horse trying to avoid excessive tongue pressure by lifting the tongue into the jaw, or to the side or out of the mouth. In the main caused by the ‘simple snaffle’.
Bits should be used as a pressure release tool, however, once the pressure crosses the line of what is tolerable and excessive this is when the horse, quite rightly, objects. We mustn’t forget that on the hole evasion is the only way a horse can communicate that they are in discomfort/pain, or not understanding what is being asked. The answer is NOT to use and tighten a restrictive noseband which only serves as a sticking plaster effect, but to get professional specialist help as you would for your saddle, teeth and back.
When the horse evades the bit it not only is detrimental to the horses way of going but also effects rider position and can encourage busy hands, stiff straight arms and twisted position, continually trying to adjust to the actions of the bit evasion.
Make it easy!
When the right bit has been selected by assessing the mouth conformation, which is the base for choosing any bit and taking into consideration relevant history. The response I would look for is ‘it should just all be easier’, the horse should seem more relaxed and be visibly seeking forward to accept a contact, stretching from wither to ear. This will gain a connection, lift the core, engage the hind legs, and release the shoulder. The gait will become more even, allowing a softer neck and better flexion. All working toward a consistent light contact, with the horse responding willingly to the aids of the leg and seat.
The rider will feel that the horse is carrying them with more ease, not heavy or pulling through the rein, this will help to maintain the riders position and effectiveness.