Comfort is important.
At the start of any of my Bitting Days or Clinics I feel it is always important to stress that the Horse has to be entirely comfortable both physically and mechanically. Every piece of equipment he wears must fit correctly and be comfortable. And I always say this but will just say it again anyway! No bit is going to be a “quick fix” as there will never be any substitute for lack of riding ability or time spent training. A Horse works on repetition, if every day he comes out and is resistant or strong he thinks this is normal and only by first of all improving our communication and then by schooling him into a new way of going can we make a change.
Resistances to the bit:
When a Horse resists the bit to me he is just saying “ I am not happy/comfortable with this shape of mouthpiece or is it not giving me the right signals, so I am mentioning it to you in the only way I know how”. A Horse can only communicate with us in two ways, either by being obedient and relaxing into his work or by being resistant and what we assume to be disobedient. Resistances to the bit can be very mild and barely a problem with some Horses and very pronounced and a big problem with others.
If when you ride your Horse and use your reins to ask the Horse to do something and the Horse more or less immediately does what you want and you in return relax the pressure the Horse is going to be comfortable with the bit he is wearing and will be able to swallow freely. But for those Horses that you are having to use the bit more than you would like, maybe because it is difficult to maintain control or you are struggling to sustain a certain head carriage, then the more you use the bit the more restricted the Horse is and the more he feels the need to resist to relieve pressure or pain.
How does the Horse resist bit pressure?
Head up in the air: The Horse that either carries its head very high or tosses its head up at intervals is actually throwing the bit upwards in the mouth towards or actually into the molars.
Head low down and heavy into the hand: The Horse that carries its head low and hangs heavily onto the riders hand has again changed the angle of the rein and has taken the action of the bit up into the corners of the lips.
Head tucked into the chest: A Horse that tucks his chin into its chest has actually dropped the contact with the rein. The rider wants to re-establish contact so will give the rein and encourage the Horses head back out with seat and leg and not pick up the contact again until the head is back out at the end of the rein.
Tongue over the Bit: A Horse that lifts its tongue over the bit has taken all the pressure off its tongue and taken the action of the bit down into the lower jaw and onto the bars of the mouth.
Mouth open: The Horse that opens its mouth is actually lifting its tongue further up into its mouth but as the tongue is already so thick up were the molars are, it has to open its mouth slightly to accommodate the thickness. Sometimes the tongue actually rests between the molars if it is very thick and the Horse often bites its own tongue but as it is so high up unless we look right up and back in the mouth we do not know this has happened.
So in reality I feel that when a Horse resists the action of the bit he is simply trying to place its face some were to make the bit in its mouth more comfortable, and alleviate pressure.
The use of force:
Sadly instead of saying to our selves when our Horse does one or more of these resistances, what part of the bit that you are wearing do you not like or are you not comfortable with, can I change the shape of the bit so that you can relax into your work again. Instead we try to force the mouth shut with a Flash or a Grackle or Crank Noseband and try to close the mouth over the problem instead of solving it.
The use of tongue grids or any mechanical aid to press the Horses tongue down into the lower jaw is also not solving the problem but simply preventing the Horse from lifting the tongue up or over the bit. We should be looking to allow the Horse to be as natural as possible in all his equipment. The tongue should lie down in the Horse’s jaw and he should be able to swallow freely. If you press your own tongue down into your lower jaw with your finger you cannot swallow at all and neither can your Horse if the bit is pressing his tongue downwards.
How to make a difference:
In my experience when you change your Horses bit three things make a tremendous difference to in the bit you choose .
One is to use a bit with a mouthpiece that does not pinch or hurt the Horse when we use it.
The second thing is to stabilise the bit in the mouth so that it is placed in a better place for the Horse to carry the bit and a better place for him to receive signals from the bit.
And the third is to create more tongue room by using bits that have more space for the tongue to lie naturally in the jaw.
These three things improve the Horses comfort.
Then to improve communication for the rider the bit should give much clearer signals and a much quicker release as a reward. All these factors combined improves the Horses comfort and his ability to understand what we are trying to tell him.
When you change your bit to something that your horse can respond to that is the start of the process not the end you now have a tool to improve the way your horse goes with patience and repetition and reward.
Having a tight Cavesson or Cavesson Flash or a Grackle or any really restrictive noseband on your Horse does not actually teach your Horse anything. It just creates the same relentless pressure around your Horses face for as long as the Noseband is fastened. Making your horse think that wearing a bridle is an uncomfortable experience.
It also makes no sense to try to control the face from half way up instead of at the end it actually opens.
When you work out the effect of a tight Cavesson Crank or any of the other restrictive nosebands, what actually happens is the upper parts of these nosebands are placed around the Horses face directly over the molar teeth, which means as the noseband is tightened the flesh on the inside of the Horse’s cheeks gets crushed onto the molar teeth and the horse has relentless pressure all around its upper jaw making it very hard for it to relax the face or move its mouth and jaw at all. This can cause lesions inside the cheeks ulcers and bruising.
As with all forms of training you are trying to encourage an obedient reliable horse through repeating good experiences so the horse gains knowledge, strength and ability. If part of this method involves discomfort then that is not really fair and builds resistance and fear into the equation. A much better way is to pick training equipment that it dissuades the horse from large gestures and encourages it to work within parameters.
So if you need any form of Noseband that allows the horse to move its mouth freely but dissuades it from opening the mouth too wide, the Drop Noseband is one of the only Noseband designs that does not sit over the Horses upper jaw. Because of the design of the nosepiece when a Drop Noseband is done up correctly the Nosepiece is just snug against the face but if the Horse starts to open the mouth to resist the Bit the Nosepiece tightens on the face [as the horse opens its mouth the face expands and the noseband tightens as the mouth is closed there is an immediate release of pressure]. This gives the Horse a humane but firm signal to close the mouth and relax the jaw again and as he closes the mouth the Nosepiece goes back to just a snug fit. A correctly made and fitted Drop Noseband should fit at almost Cavesson height at the front of the face which allows the nostrils to blow to their capacity without restriction and the back strap should be long enough to arc down below the bit to fit the lower jaw snuggly.